Comic Book Review: The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story written by Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction, primary artist David Aja
When Daniel Rand was nine years old, his father Wendell Rand took him, his mother Heather, and business partner Harold Meachum on an expedition to the mystical city of K’un L’un, which appears in the mountains of China only once every ten years. When Danny slipped into a crevasse, endangering his parents, Meachum, who was in love with Heather, treacherously murdered Wendell. Heather refused to go with Meachum, and continued onward with her son. They came across a bridge that hadn’t been there before, but a pack of wolves attacked. Heather sacrificed herself to give Danny time to cross the bridge. Archers from K’un L’un attempted to rescue Heather, but were unable to drive away the wolves before her death.
As the years passed inside the mystical city, Danny Rand became the best martial arts student of Lei Kung, the city’s guardian. Eventually, he was allowed to battle the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying and plunge his fist into its heart. This branded his chest with the crest of Shou-Lao, and gave Danny the ability to focus his ch’i energy into his fist, making it like unto a thing of iron. He is not the first Iron Fist, but questions about the past ones are not encouraged.
At the next opportunity, Danny left K’un L’un to seek revenge upon Harold Meachum, a quest that ultimately proved hollow. He instead embarked upon a career as the martial arts superhero Iron Fist.
Iron Fist was created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane as part of a martial arts fad at Marvel Comics inspired by the popularity of kung fu movies at the time. He first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15 in 1974, ran for ten issues, then got his own starring series. It was notable for the rare second-person narration. (“You are Iron Fist, and you are about to die!”) When sales fell, Danny Rand was teamed up with blaxploitation-inspired character Luke Cage in Power Man and Iron Fist. As the “Heroes for Hire”, they became an iconic team for Marvel.
The volume under discussion here appeared in 2007, after several status changes (including being dead for a while) for Iron Fist. As of the opening of this series, Daniel Rand is the head of Rand International, the company his father and Harold Meachum had founded. They have been approached by the Chinese corporation Wai-Go Industries, which wants to buy mag-lev train technology and infrastructure from Rand Intl. Danny senses something wrong with the deal, and cancels it, much to the dismay of Jeryn Hogarth, the person who actually runs the company for Danny.
Investigating the offices of Wai-Go as Iron Fist, the hero learns that the company is actually a front for the terrorist organization HYDRA, and is forced to battle their agents and their latest weapon, the Mechagorgon.
Ordinarily, Iron Fist would call in his allies in the superhero community to assist with a threat of this size, but this series takes place during the Civil War event, when all superhumans are required to register their identities with the government or else. Many of his friends have joined the pro-Registration side, which Danny is opposed to, and the remainder are now fugitives. (Iron Fist only remains free due to a legal loophole.)
At about the same time, the Steel Serpent resurfaces. Davos, the son of Lei Kung, believes that the power of the Iron Fist is his by right, and has frequently tried to steal it from Danny. He has come to believe there is a conspiracy to keep him from attaining the Iron Fist. (Mild spoiler: he’s not entirely wrong.) Steel Serpent has allied with HYDRA and a previously unknown being called the Crane Mother, and is looking for a man named Orson Randall.
Orson Randall (the name is probably not a coincidence) turns out to have been the previous holder of the Iron Fist title, one of the Immortal Weapons. He relinquished the title and disappeared for reasons not adequately explained in this volume, but can still tap into the power of Shou-Lao. Flushed out of hiding, Orson seeks out Danny Rand to give the newest Iron Fist some vital information about their legacy.
Lots of kung-fu action ensues!
As the original Iron Fist stories were inspired by the low-budget kung-fu flicks of the early 1970s, this one is heavily influenced by the special effects extravaganzas of the more recent wuxia movies. There are mystical kung fu powers being unleashed right and left, and huge battle scenes. The art goes well with this, including some nifty effects to show how Iron Fist finds the precise areas to attack.
Iron Fist’s backstory is somewhat problematic these days, given its use of the Mighty Whitey trope (white person goes to foreign land and is better at what the natives do than they are themselves.) This series tries to mitigate it somewhat by revealing a more diverse array of past Iron Fists, and hinting in this volume that there’s a specific reason the last two have been Caucasian. (It remains to be seen how the upcoming Netflix series will deal with the issue.)
Orson Randall is a good guest star as a pulp hero gone sour, and with hints at his own extensive backstory and heritage.
Most of the plot threads are still left dangling at the end of this volume, to be resolved later in the series. The volume also contains a short piece referring to a period when Danny Rand was wearing the costume of Daredevil while Matt Murdock was otherwise occupied.
Overall, a good update to the Iron Fist concept and a rollicking adventure story.