Robert Goode writes,
To say that Iron Fist has been the subject of quite a few reviews over the last few weeks would be an understatement. Still, however you might feel about a certain live action version of Marvel's classic martial artist character, Iron Fist fans once again have the option of following his adventures in the medium he was originally created for, starting with the premiere issue of this new series.
Spoiler warnings from here on out…
As would be expected, we are immediately re-introduced to Danny Rand, champion of K'un-Lun. Our story starts with Danny entering himself in underground fights. This Danny Rand is a man searching for something he has lost, beating up underground fighters and drowning himself in booze when he doesn't find what he is looking for. The artwork, by Mike Perkins with colors by Andy Troy, creates a brooding, moody story that quickly shows off the visceral fight scenes.
The very first page introduces the grittier tone and the following wordless pages set the initial scene quite well. Black sketchy line work combined with saturated colors give the look of perpetual sunset.
The panel layouts of the issue do well to serve the kinetic martial arts combat, and each time we see the splattered blood, shattered teeth, and broken bones.
Perkins creates movement with a variety of overlapping or turned panels that makes the eye move around the page, letting us both see and feel the brutality.
Yet, during the quieter scenes, the layout is much more static. Those dark shadows and intense colors give the feeling of the oppressive world Danny is living in, but each fight scene is contrasted with a stillness of movement that highlights Danny's turmoil over his physical abilities. A short scene with Danny on a plane to Vietnam includes a brief conversation with the passenger next to him. The passenger identifies himself as a veteran of the Vietnam Conflict and describes his urge to travel back there one last time despite the horrors that he experienced. Like Danny, he is looking for something, be it some form of closure or just understanding. For his part, Danny chooses to excuse himself to the restroom rather than truly delve into what he is chasing after. Just like the passenger does not fully understand his urge to return to Vietnam, neither does Danny fully understand what he is looking for.
The crux of the story by Ed Brisson is itself rather familiar. The hero, trying to find himself and nearing rock bottom, is approached by a mysterious stranger who claims to have the only solution to what the hero seeks. Naturally, he cannot say no. The last fight scene of the issue differs from the rest in that you can see the skill of Danny and his opponent. It has no less movement but it has a preciseness that the earlier fights do not. This is highlighted by the use of text boxes to specifically name each move with stylish names like "Tiger Tail Sweep" and "Upward Lightning Strike".
The stranger describes Danny's previous fights as like "watching a lion step into the ring with a kitten" before offering the invitation to a mysterious tournament. Danny accepts the invitation, hoping to challenge himself in way that restores what he feels he has lost.
It's a basic story that had been told many times. Fans of the character will likely be fine with this. The prospect of what is to come (i.e. Mystery, intrigue and plenty of martial arts action) will definitely draw them to the next issue. Those less familiar with Iron Fist may be less interested however. It's fair to assume a reader will have at least a passing knowledge of who Iron Fist is, but there is no explanation as to what has put him into his current state, nothing to pull us into Danny's internal struggles. Unless you have followed Iron Fist from earlier appearances into this series, there is no context for what sent him on this journey. In the end, we are left with a mild curiosity of what might happen next, but no strong pull to care.
Overall, it's a solid, if vague, start to the series. Most of the work is done by the superb artwork and the story does at least have potential. As the start of a new series, old fans will be happy enough. Those checking out the character for the first time may only have a mild reaction to the story itself. However, the art is striking enough that it may hook the reader even if the story does not. If you picked up this issue mostly because you like Kung Fu action and are willing to check out further issues, perhaps the story will be able to draw you then.
Iron Fist by Ed Brisson, Mike Perkins and Andy Troy is published by Marvel Comics.