Monday, January 14, 2008

The Internet is Right Again: The Immortal Iron Fist really is really good

Man, I am terrible at this “wait for the trade” business—I honestly don’t know how people do it.

I enjoy the monthly soap opera of super-comics, and the unique way universe comics like those of Marvel and DC relate to one another, and the ritualistic aspects of going to the shop and reading new comics every Wednesday way too much to ever drop all monthlies in favor of trades. Despite the fact that I realize trades are often cheaper, don’t contain ads and usually make for a more enjoyable reading experience.

The only ongoing super-books I have been successfully able to resist in monthly installments, opting to “wait for the trade” on have been those I started reading in trade (Daredevil, Captain America, Manhunter) or those that are so obviously paced for a trade that there’s little point in reading them monthly (Astonishing X-Men, most of Garth Ennis’ work, just about all of Warren Ellis’) or are so rock-steady in quality that I know ahead of time I’ll want the trade (Angry Youth Comix, Conan, The Punisher, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy stuff).

Marvel makes it particularly hard because they release their collection in a succession of formats, so even when I decide to wait for a trade collection, there’s an intermediary temptation when they release the more-expensive hardcover collection, and I often succumb to that, rather than waiting a few more months for the cheaper trade (Beyond! and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. got me this way).

I’ve tried waiting for the trade on a couple other more recent series—The Immortal Iron Fist and X-Men First Class—and damn, it’s hard to resist picking up new issues.

Especially when all you read about the title online is a bunch of gushing from fans and critics who simply cannot shut up about how totally awesome the comics are.

Like The Immortal Iron Fist. Does anyone who read this book just kind of think it’s okay? I’ve never heard a single “meh” or seen a single shrug about it; it’s always a bunch of exclamation points. Even those relatively far afield from the core audience of people who enjoy seeing Danny Rand kick dudes in the face really seem to dig it.

Well, in an act of iron will that I’m completely shocked I was able to accomplish, I managed to hold off on Immortal Iron Fist after reading the first few, ad-crammed issues until the trade paperback came out.

And I just wanted to say, yeah Internet, you’re right again. This is a really good comic book.

The legacy aspects, the phenomenal guest artists who illustrate the flashbacks (including John Severin and Russ Heath in this volume), the acknowledgement of the Marvel Universe and character history without enslaving the book to it, the practically imperceptible drift from straight street-level heroics into martial arts fantasy, the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil meets Akira Toriyama Dragonball aesthetic—this is pretty much an ideal Marvel monthly.

As much as I loved the art on this book (and that’s why I originally dropped the monthly; all those ads featuring the Green Goblin riding brand new cars and Spider-Man bedding really broke the flow of Aja’s obviously carefully constructed layouts), I find myself idly wondering what it would be like if rather than the grittier, photorealistic style it were told in something more abstracted, cartoonier and Eastern looking. Say, if instead of Aja it was drawn by Kaare Andrews, and instead of their standard trade format, Marvel was putting this into digest-sized trades.

Would that ruin Brubaker and Fraction’s story? Would it fly off shelves and into kids’ hearts? As a reader, I don’t think that would necessarily make for a better comic (I do love Andrews’ work, though), but as someone who wonders a lot about the comic book industry, I’m curious about how this might sell as a Western manga. Mainly because it seems clear form this first arc that the book is moving into what I understand is a story arc that is as much fight manga as it American superhero (if not more so).

And as a final aside, I think this book is pretty much a perfect argument for why Marvel and DC should be a lot less cavalier when it comes to killing off their characters. Ten years ago, five years ago, two years ago, who would have thought a freaking Iron Fist ongoing series would a) exist, b) be any good at all, and c) be relatively popular and critically acclaimed?

It took the stars aligning just right—the right creators with a particular vision and the cachet to convince the publisher to greenlight a rather unlikely project, the availability of the character from other writers or editors trying to do something particular with him—for this book to come about.

And if it were Danny Rand who caught a chest full of Clor lightning in Civil War, we wouldn’t have an Iron Fist series right now. It makes me wonder if the future Fractions and Brubakers with these really neat ideas for a new series starring Goliath or Elongated Man or The Question will miss a future star aligning because the character got killed off to make a Civil War “matter” more or because Judd Winick needed to do something to see that first issue.

Now I wonder how I’ll be able to keep resisting the urge to pick up the monthly issues, now that I’ve read the first story arc and no first-hand just how good the series is…


John Foley said...

I agree- a Bill Foster Goliath series would have been great.
Or did I miss the point entirely?

adam-0oo said...

Winnick!!!! *shakes fist in fury*

Mike Lorah said...

I'll get around to reading this. I keep telling myself that. Right after I catch up with Bru's Captain America run....

Ed Ward said...

While I agree that characters are killed off way too readily in the Marvel and DC books, your example actually kind of makes your point moot. Danny Rand's death was one of the 'big' comic moments amongst my group of friends when I was a kid and he stayed dead for *years*. Any character within the Marvel or DC U can always, always, always, always be brought back.
Crap. Now I'm actually starting to see potential arguments as to why it might be better in the long term, for some characters to die. That way they get put in a sort of stasis and they don't have to endure too many crappy storylines weighing them down. They just hang out in comic book limbo until the right team comes along with the spark and the fuel to do something with them.

Mike Lorah said...

I can also see the value in a death.
As a huge fan of the upbeat, high-adventure, Karl Kesel-era Superboy, I know I was glad to see the character slaughtered rather than continue to see him reduced to a depressing, mopey suckfest in Teen Titans.

Caleb said...


It would have been great. I think it could have been big. Huge, even. Ha ha!


I honestly didn't even know Iron Fist died! His history between the Essentials and the new series are a complete blank to me.


I wish Cassandra "Batgirl" Cain died at the end of her own series for just the same reason.

Anthony Strand said...

I've heard the praise, but paid little attention because I don't read much Marvel. Looking at your review though, Caleb, I got to thinking -

Is this book as much like a Marvel version of Robinson's Starman as you're making it sound? Because if so, I should probably read it.

Caleb said...

Is this book as much like a Marvel version of Robinson's Starman as you're making it sound?

Well, I've only read six issues of it vs. all of Starman, but so far I don't think I'd say that IF is the Marvel equvialent.

Both have that legacy aspect going, but the Starman legacy was much longer and, um, realer (as in, there were comics featuring a Starman in the real world back in the 1940s and 1970s and so on).

Starman had a narrative complexity that's hard to touch, I think, in terms of this thread here in issue #3 will be important 50 issues from now, and like that.

John Foley said...

The Iron Fist Annual is even better. It's just sheer brilliance.

Scott said...

See, some problems with finances and lack of transport stopped me from buying weekly comics. I missed making a special trip to the (somewhat)local comic shop and picking up a batch of stuff every Wednesday at first, but Iron Fist is one of the first TPBs to come out since I stopped buying weekly. It is supremely awesome, like all things written by Brubaker.

Once my other titles start collecting the issues I've missed in trades, I think I'll like trade-waiting a lot more than weekly collecting(simply because it occured to me the other day that "I haven't bought any shitty comics for a while...") Buying the majority of my comics in TPB form means I don't feel as obligated to maintain an unbroken line of issue numbers.

Leigh Walton said...

I'm right with you except for two things:
1) tradewaiting on books that "are so rock-steady in quality that I know ahead of time I’ll want the trade"

I see what you're saying, but this implies that for books that you don't have this much confidence in, you buy the singles. And then you're spending $18 for six issues of Wolverine or whatever, whereas the trade would be $15 -- and much easier to get your money back if you don't like it!

2) "a perfect argument for why Marvel and DC should be a lot less cavalier when it comes to killing off their characters"

I don't buy that the key factor that determines whether Marvel greenlights a self-contained story by quality creators is the question of whether or not the character is dead. If Marvel wants to launch a story, they'll launch it, pretty much regardless of whether the character was dead or not. And they're not going to approve my proposal for an Adam-X the X-Treme miniseries just because he's still alive.

I, too, wish that we had more books like Iron Fist and Daredevil and Nextwave, but I think the way to create books like that is to hire quality creators and allow them to tell creative stories -- "stop killing characters" is kind of a red herring.

Mike Lorah said...

Scott has pointed out one of the prime benefits I've found in waiting for trades rather than buying monthly/weekly...

When I'm spending $12-18 for a story, I'm more likely to ask myself "Do I really want this?" than I would be if I were spending $2.50 for an installment of said story.
Price resistance is your friend.