In this new heroic age of superpowered entertainment, I’ve begrudgingly accepted the fact that Hollywood is now driving the bus. Characters I’ve known and loved for decades have undergone some subtle and some not-so-subtle transformations in recent years, as the origin stories and personality traits developed onscreen work to inform their comic book identities. I’ve made peace with it. I like this world we’re living in, and I appreciate the fact that, given movies like this month’s Logan, folks are finally starting to realize that “superhero” isn’t a genre unto itself. Superpowers are a tool, not unlike science-fiction tropes or fantasy archetypes, that are being used to tell lots of different stories and to explore many different themes. It’s a fun time to be a comic book fan.
And I appreciate the fact that so many of Netflix’s MCU shows have been so damn good that we expect big things from their new Iron Fist series. But what happens when the show doesn’t live up to expectations? If Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange had been lousy, would Marvel have yanked Jason Aaron from the monthly series? Would we never have seen the development of the recent Sorcerers Supreme comic? And if Netflix’s Fist ends up being as bad as the critics seems to indicate (and as at least one Idler has attested), will the new Iron Fist comic by Ed Brisson and Mike Perkins suffer neglect and early cancellation?
Hopefully not. Whatever this comic is, and whatever editorial or departmental mandates it’s trying to fulfill, it’s first and foremost a gritty, kung-fu slugfest. And so long as that’s the case, I’m interested.
Ed Brisson, who is also writing Marvel’s Bullseye mini-series, introduces us to a Danny Rand who, like the Netflix version, is searching for something. Unlike the character on the TV show, however, this Iron Fist isn’t lost and disoriented, a child in a living weapon’s body. This Danny is struggling to deal with his severed link to the destroyed city of K’un-Lun. His journey takes him to back-alley fight clubs from Bulgaria to Vietnam to, finally, the mysterious island of Liu-Shi and the “Trial of the Seven Masters.” A martial arts tournament story? Novel, no. But maybe it’s time to re-anchor this characters to his roots. The closest thing we’ve had to a definitive take on Iron Fist was Ed Brubaker’s Immortal series, and the current Power Man & Iron Fist, although a great read, seems more like Luke Cage’s book. Mike Perkins is bleeding right onto his bristol. At times muddy, but more often appropriately intricate, the art seems perfectly suited to a series featuring fists, kicks, and all those crazily named kung-fu moves.
Have you been paying attention to Valiant Comics lately? No? I hadn’t been either. Consider this a wake-up call. Matt Kindt, responsible for one of my favorite series in the last year, Dept. H, and the very promising Grass Kings, has been, along with the equally prolific Jeff Lemire, one of the principal architects for Valiant’s new look over the last few years. This week, along with artist Tomas Giorello, he brings us a fresh start for X-O Manowar. This is classic sci-fi warfare at its finest, right down to that 70’s-inspired cover. Aric finds himself on a far-flung world, living the life of a farmer with an alien beauty to warm his bed at night. But battle has a way of finding the former Visgoth, and this first arc, “Soldier,” goes from fields to conscription to fury with an amazing buildup of emotion and action. And the best thing is, even if you haven’t read a Valiant comic since the mid-90’s (or ever, really), it doesn’t matter. This is a great jumping-on point, and a reminder that Valiant Entertainment has been garnering quite a bit of critical acclaim in recent years for good reason.