Review by Frank Plowright
Essential Iron Fist combines in monochrome paperback what previously occupied two hardcover Marvel Masterworks collections presenting the entirety of Iron Fist’s 1970s solo adventures.
Roy Thomas and Gil Kane provide an excellent origin story to kick matters off, and when they take over the feature around a third of the way through this book, the energy and enthusiasm of then largely unknown creators Chris Claremont and John Byrne still impresses.
That origin story sees the young Danny Rand witness the death of both parents as they journey to the mystical city of K’un Lun in the Himalayas. Existing in an alternate dimension, it only manifests on Earth every ten years for a brief window, permitting new arrivals and departures. Danny remains, undergoing intense martial arts training and eventually inherits the power of the city’s protector enabling him to channel his spirit into his hands resulting in what’s eccentrically referred to as “like unto a fist of iron”.
The inevitability of its use as a deus ex machina device sustains the following material by Doug Moench and Larry Hama (okay) and Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones (a step down) before Claremont is given his first regular series work, initially with Pat Broderick as artist. Even when Byrne supplants Broderick two issues on there’s some feeling their way, but they rapidly develop an exciting and still unpredictable strip.
By the time Claremont and Byrne arrived the TV and film enthusiasm for martial arts had proved to be a passing fad, so their work moves Iron Fist into a mixture of urban vigilante and superhero. The latter is best represented by a battle against the Wrecking Crew, but separate conflicts with Captain America and the X-Men are also very entertaining. Iron Fist also deals with drugs in New York, those wanting to see a reformed Irish terrorist dead and a villain able to induce hallucinogenic visions when he screams. Simmering beneath the whole time are sub-plots connected with K’un Lun, a city with its share of rogues despite the serene mystical trappings.
As well as improving from issue to issue, creating ever more startling ways to tell the story (see sample page), Byrne is very astute at the subtleties of visual characterisation, often supplying Danny with reactions missed in Claremont’s initial one-note portrayal. That improves, and to be fair to Claremont he provides depth to the supporting cast from the start, both those he’s inherited and those required for a single story. His strongest character is Misty Knight, introduced by Isabella, but given a purpose and personality by Claremont, who also supplies her with a prosthetic arm. He further beefs up Colleen Wing, and adds more dimensions to Joy Meachum, who wrongly believes Iron Fist has murdered her father.
Most of this collection is available in colour as The Fury of Iron Fist, but the equation of cost versus black and white reproduction is slightly tipped by the inclusion of the story in which Luke Cage and Iron Fist form their partnership. The first two chapters remain a thriller of a plot with tendrils stretching back to Cage’s origin, excellently illustrated by Byrne and with good roles for Iron Fist’s supporting cast. The third doesn’t quite match that, but it’s perfectly acceptable.
By and large these 1970s comics have dated well, and still provide a surprisingly fun read.