Sporadic Sequential
Sunday, December 21, 2008
How Manga Ruined Superhero Comics for Me

Reading the second hardcover collection of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's Immortal Iron Fist, I was distracted by two nagging thoughts:
  1. The tournament fights in Naruto were much more captivating.
  2. I liked the whole "perfect society is in reality rotten to the core" angle better in Bleach.
To be fair, I should really judge Iron Fist on its own merits, but I just can't help comparing it to other (and, in my opinion, superior) comics that have covered similar ground. But even if I try to push those other works out of my thoughts, I fear Iron Fist would still fail to entertain me in its own right. Part of the problem is the book's disjointed nature: We're promised a grand martial arts tournament featuring intriguingly named champions (Fat Cobra, Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother #1) but the book is constantly cutting away to other concerns: societal unrest within the city of K'un-Lun; the machinations of someone named Xao and his Hydra henchmen; the exploits of the previous Iron Fist, Orson Randall; and, most perplexing, flashbacks detailing the conflict between Wendall Rand (father of the current Iron Fist, Danny Rand) and Davos, now known as the Steel Serpent/Phoenix. I could see how all the other elements come together to form a tense atmosphere that surrounds the tournament itself, but the flashback's to Danny's father don't really add anything to the present-day material. Every time the perspective shifted from the present to the past, the book would grind to a halt, and the flashbacks comprise a fair segment of the book, so it's not an inconsiderable drag on the book's momentum.

It doesn't help that the book also changes artists every time it jumps into the past. The credits page lists five artists that assisted main artist David Aja with issues 8-13, and they mostly handle the flashback segments. In theory, having separate artists handling separate story threads could work, but it doesn't help that there are multiple assistant artists working on the flashback sequences. The end effect is a loss of integration. It should also be noted that the final chapter in this epic tale is by yet another artist, Tonci Zonjic. Zonjic's style is close enough to Aja's that the change isn't too jarring, but it still underscores the piecemeal feel one often gets when reading corporate comics.

Another aspect of the book that doesn't work for me is Danny Rand's characterization. He comes across as a bit spacey and unsure of himself, something that seems at odds with the notion of a martial arts master. Perhaps I'm reacting based on a misremembering of Iron Fist's classic characterization, but I always pictured him as suave and self-confident, stoic to the point of perhaps coming across as a bit aloof, so his "shoot, aw shucks" depiction here seems off-key.

Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven features stunning art by David Aja and hints at some great ideas by Brubaker and Fraction (e.g., the all-female revolutionary army of K'un-Lun; the various special fighting styles of the different immortal weapons (I want to see what such tantalizingly named moves as "Vaulting Mantis Spine-Snap" and "Mistress of All Agonies" actually look like in action rather than just being teased with a static image and a cool-sounding caption)), but the promise behind those ideas is never fully realized. Ultimately, the book never manages to come together into a satisfying whole. Which is disappointing, because it's interesting to see Marvel attempt to do a book that is almost completely divorced from its own usual superhero trappings.

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