The Fury of Iron Fist combines in paperback what previously occupied two hardcover Marvel Masterworks collections presenting the entirety of Iron Fist’s 1970s solo adventures. It’s surprisingly good.

This is because Roy Thomas and Gil Kane provided 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 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, 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.

Towards the end of the book Byrne draws the X-Men for the first time, and doesn’t quite have the refinement with regard to both Jean Grey and Wolverine that he’d rapidly develop. It doesn’t impact on the story, but it’s interesting to see. The Byrne who illustrates the final showdown involving Spider-Man has evolved into the complete superhero artist.

If you’d prefer, the same material is available far more cheaply in black and white as Essential Iron Fist.