"The Last Iron Fist Story: Part 6"
Writers: Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja, Russ Heath (p & i), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Immortal Iron Fist wraps up its first arc with this issue, giving us the much-anticipated showdown between three Heroes for Hire, two Iron Fists, and one evil super-villain. For an issue which is mostly action, it manages to give us quite a few fairly resonant character beats, wrapping up the current story in a satisfying manner and setting the stage for the next arc seamlessly.
Like many readers of this title, I've really warmed to the character of Orson Randall (the previous Iron Fist) over the past few issues, and the young, straight-laced Danny Rand that we know and love has made for a great foil for his gruff, world-weary persona. However, in this issue Brubaker and Fraction follow the principle of "leave them wanting more" and take Orson off the stage in a powerful sequence which manages to balance the undeniable (if shallow) cool of his two-guns-blazing fighting style with some more poignant moments of quiet honour and self-sacrifice. It's a great sendoff for a character who seemed to have the potential to stick around for much longer - although I have a feeling that we might not have seen the last of him, as this issue's flashback shows that there's plenty of history left to explore for the character, and his legacy is bound to affect future storylines thanks to his teachings (and the power boost that Danny receives as a result of his death).
The guest-starring Heroes for Hire are resolutely old-school, as Brubaker and Fraction cannily sidestep the current post-Civil War shenanigans to unite Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing in all their glory, acknowledging the retro cool of the characters through the choice of their more old-fashioned character models (although Luke sadly doesn't don his yellow shirt and tiara) but updating the cliché banter to sound more palatable for a modern audience. I'm guessing that Fraction is responsible for some of the cheekier, light-hearted touches (such as Cage's "Sweet #%&%$!! Christmas!," "Y'all should get Gay-married", or Danny's opening "We're Dooooomed") which are never overdone to the point where they detract from the tension and drama but help to convince us that the book isn't taking itself too seriously, lending the book a charm that might not be apparent if everything was played completely straight.
David Aja provides the bulk of the issue's artwork, and he really comes into his own here, providing some great visuals as the heroes team-up to fight Davos and his cronies. Aja has already proved his aptitude for action sequences which really flow with his work on earlier issues, and he gets even more toys to play with here, with a great take on the Heroes for Hire and a clear visual distinction between the two Iron Fists. It's nice to see the creative decision to choreograph the fight through a number of regular-size panels rather than opting for a showy splash page or two - which might have had a "wow" factor but wouldn't give us the satisfying sense of continuous mayhem and carnage that we get here. Aja still gets one or two moments to really shine, though, notably at the climax of the fight, during which both Davos and Danny get to really show the extent of their powers. The scripting is also sharp during the action sequences, with Brubaker and Fraction proving that you can inject a story with wit even when there's very little dialogue to speak of: I love the "sssswoooord" sound effect that accompanies the use of Colleen's blade. I wasn't as impressed with Russ Heath's work on the flashback sequences, but we've been so spoilt with the roster of guest-artists on this title so far (such as Travel Foreman) that Heath has a lot to live up to, and although his work is perfectly serviceable, it doesn't quite compare.
Immortal Iron Fist has succeeded in resurrecting the martial arts superhero genre from its 1970s heydey without ever succumbing to the temptation to make itself camp or self-referential, giving the character of Danny Rand a new lease of life in the Marvel Universe and proving that it's possible to make kung-fu chopsocky seriously fun for a modern audience. The teasers for the next arc that we get at the end of this issue make me eager to see if Brubaker, Fraction and Aja can take the book to the next level, with an epic martial arts tournament which promises to pay homage to classic movies like Enter The Dragon, with a twist of superheroics and historical fantasy. I'll be there.
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