For the longest time Kaare Andrews’ magnificent first issue of Iron Fist, the Living Weapon just lingers on my iPad and I just don’t know what to make of it. It’s magic, sure, magnificent. But beyond that, what is it? I’m a critic. I work in the popculture appreciation industry. I enter the world by making things that are obvious explicable and accessible, first to myself then to others. And just a handful of years before the one decade anniversary of Spider-Man: Reign, Kaare Andrews has me stymied. So I reread Iron Fist, the Living Weapon #1 a couple of times and it’s good each time. And then I set aside the iPad, and don’t write this review.
Then, I read Bello’s Economist blog post, an obit for magical realism founding father and Literary Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and everything changes. As it would. The magic of comics is often the magic of the lived-in, everyday world. And very often the immersion in one, the lived-in, everyday world say, will allow for a rush of new insights in the other. This interplay between comics and the lived-in, everyday world is crafted into the very engine of comics; with the juxtaposition of two information streams (word and image), and the narrative moment fractured between these two streams, comics always looks to readers shaping coherent meaning by reaching outside of the confines of any one particular system.
The opening chapter of “Rage,” the first storyarc in the Andrews relaunched Iron Fist title, mimics the internal magic of comics perfectly. Andrews unfolds two story-modes, both quintessential the telling of Iron Fist stories. The first, is the story of Danny Rand, billionaire son of a multimillionaire, pseudo-playboy trapped as much in the family business of Rand Corp as he is trapped in the family legacy of Himalayan exploration and the seeking out of the mystical city of K’un Lun. The second quintessential tale is that of Danny becoming the Iron Fist, the “living weapon” that protects K’un Lun, the “pilgrim,” as the Duke might have put it who goes native in a magical Himalayan city (one that can only be accessed by intense mystical training), only to return to the modern world and take charge of a multibillion-dollar transnational corporation. The second is a story of a man of immense power posing as a superhero, because “superhero” is an easy enough concept to understand in the world he now meets head on.
What Andrews does with the first story is nothing short of profound. He reimagines the character’s ‘70s-era kung fu-movie sensibilities as a reaching back farther in time into the pulp tradition. The mountain scenes where Wendell Rand, blinded by zealotry to the dangers of the Himalayas, leads his family onwards to K’un Lun are just purely beautiful in the execution. With their Ben-day dots and their painted folds and creases that mimic old, yellowed paper, these pages evoke a sense of how comics from the ‘80s and earlier actually evoked the pulp tradition. But the real beauty of that first story, the Danny Rand trapped in traditions not entirely of his own making, can be found in how Andrews traces that pulp tradition into neonoir.
In the opening half of the issue we encounter a Danny Rand who’s near-suicidal, at least apparently so. The mundane trappings and moreover the mundane routines of other people’s traditions have grown burdensome over the years and ultimately eroded any sense of meaningfulness and value. Andrews deploys a shocking juxtaposition of close-ups and crane shots to evolve this story of Danny Rand—a visual framing pattern that is immediately reminiscent of both kung fu and noir cinema. When we finally see the empty shell that is the now-decimated, former skyscraper HQ of Rand Corp, the blasted building becomes a powerful visual metaphor for pure mundanity that threatens to inundate Danny Rand.
But of course there’s a second story to be told about Danny Rand. The story of a man “when offered life, he chose death,” the tagline on the cover of Iron Fist, the Living Weapon reminds us. It’s the story of the true source of Danny Rand’s vitality—his ability to master death and employ it as a weapon against his enemies. Beginning with Danny Rand’s apparent suicide by launching himself out from a penthouse window, Andrews frames the Iron Fist’s asymmetrical death-dealing beautifully. There’s no use of the now industry-standard motion-blur or multiple-afterimage technique in Danny Rand moving through the sky and along the sides of skyscrapers. From our static POV when reading, Danny Rand simply appears in multiple places. But an even deeper and more profound insight is driven home after reading the Marquez obit.
Simply put, the Marquez obit allows for an insight into the inner unity between the two halves of the issue, and between Danny Rand’s two stories. The violence that allows the Iron Fist to flourish, and the mundanity that saps the vigor from Danny Rand’s life is exactly the same. In the space of just 22 pages, Andrews has demonstrated a profound and hauntingly beautiful argument for the Iron Fist being of a very different genre of story to either Spider-Man or Wolverine or Green Arrow or the current cinematic shibboleths of Iron Man or Batman. In Andrews’ skilled hands, Iron Fist is given an entirely new and radically thrilling creative vision, one for which only one issue per month is far, far too little.