Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Iron Fist: the Living Weapon 2, originally released May 7th, 2014.
Taylor: What is it that makes ninjas so dang appealing? There’s something about the stealthy assassins that has captured the imagination of both America and Japan. Is it their black garb, the shuriken, or the ability to penetrate the most secure locations? We know that in reality ninjas weren’t exactly all that sexy, but we can’t help but romanticize that which has a touch of the foreign and a taste of the myth. From kung fu movies to the Dragonball Z, the idea of the ninja has become such cultural touchstone that few blink when one makes its appearance on the page or screen. Sadly, that also means their overused. Not all ninja stories are good and despite the allure of the shinobi, I find even myself weary of many ninja-themed narratives. Fortunately, Iron Fist is not one of the narratives. In a brilliant and beautiful second issue we are treated to a story that reminds us all just why we fell in love with ninjas in the first place.
Daniel Rand just survived a cyborg-ninja attack after learning he was needed in his mystical homeland, K’un Lun. Ditching his date with a messenger girl riddled with arrows, Daniel darts down to the basement of his building. There, he finds a machine that transports him back to his home, which theoretically only appears once every decade. When he arrives he sees his home lying in fiery ruin, the work of deception and a nefarious and mysterious force.
Holy cow, where to start with this issue! While I sometimes struggle to find good things to say about it a given comic, here I have basically too much I like to coherently talk about it, but here goes.
First, the story is simply a blast. Before this series came out last month, I had no idea that Iron Fist was even a comic, much less what the heck it was about. In his story, writer and artist Kaare Kyle Andrews recognizes the relative obscurity of the Iron Fist and winningly throws us into the middle of some epic stuff. It would have been easy for Andrews to begin this series with a basic origin story, but that would have risked alienating some readers (perhaps such as myself). It’s hard to pick up a series with a dubious past and have much patience for a slow burn. Instead, Andrews throws us into the action ankle-deep.
That isn’t to say that the origins of Iron Fist aren’t touched upon. I found the portions of this issue that revolve around Daniel’s coming to K’un Lun surprisingly moving. Maybe it’s the approaching Mother’s Day holiday (call her you jerk!), but I found the sacrifice of Daniel’s mom tugging at my heart strings. In a relatively short amount of time, Andrews establishes this character as a fierce woman who will do anything to protect her son. While some of what she says borders on the maniacal (revenge!), her intensity is striking. It’s easy to feel motivated by this woman showing us why she would have a lasting impact on her son.
And holy jeeze, the art in this issue is stunning, particularly in the flashback scenes. Andrews depicts Daniel’s last moments with his mother in a wrinkled, faded, and worn out filter that is wonderful. It’s like turning the pages of long forgotten notes stowed away in boxes for ages.
While the filter is nice and all, it’s next to impossible not to be moved by the paneling in the above page. On the left, Daniel’s mother is depicted in her final brave and terrifying moments. It’s both a horrifying and touching sensory experience. In the center you have the amorphous pack of wolves doing what wolves do, which lend a wonderful frame to tiny Daniel running across the bridge to safety. With that main panel it really hits home just how vulnerable a child in snowy Tibet can be.
The coloring used by Andrews is also fantastic. The entire issue has a grainy filter to it that gives everything we see a hard-bit feeling that matches the tone of the issue perfectly. While that might lead us to believe the issue would lack color, it’s actually quite the opposite. Throughout the issue Andrew’s makes wonderful use of the entire color palette to highlight his scenes in surprising and unique ways.
Drew, this issue is so much fun, but is my enthusiasm just ninja-fandom run amok? I really appreciate the blending of magic and pseudo-science, but what the heck was that machine Daniel used and why was it just sitting in a basement of a random building?
Drew: That is weird, isn’t it? Daniel suggests that that machine has been there since time immemorial — akin to LOST‘s frozen donkey wheel — making the machine utter nonsense. It’s the kind of thing that might derail a narrative, but Andrews knows that it’s hard to argue with an imposible device without also questioning the imposible place with impossible beings it’s meant to teleport to. That is to say, he slowly desensitizes us to utter absurdity by showing us the helicopter and dragon-filled action at what I’m just going to have to start calling “Ninja Brigadoon.” I know that sounds dismissive, but I think embracing that absurdity is part and parcel of Andrew’s approach to this title.
When we talked the first issue in a round-up last month, Shelby and I both remarked upon how Frank Miller-y it felt — Ninjas, stoic male heroes, seriousness — and while I loved that issue for it’s loving loyalty to Miller, this one almost veers into parody. I know that sounds like a criticism, but I think it’s fully intentional on Andrews’ part, and actually makes some solid points about how silly it is to make comics such a grim, serious thing. I mean, how can it serious if we’ve got floating Ninja Brigadoons and ancient teleporters that randomly exist in a basement in New York? It’s silly stuff, and Andrews seems absolutely aware of it, leaning into the goofiness to show just how silly it makes the grittiness.
For an example, you need look no further than the sequence where Yu-Ti confronts the invaders with a…dance routine?
I get that it’s some kind of intimidating martial arts display, but it’s so absurdly over-the-top (like the Yu-Ti’s physique) that it pushes us out of the action. That awareness in turn makes us consider what’s actually going on here: a mysterious figure has returned (via helicopters full of cyborg ninjas) to a floating ninja paradise to kill one dragon (the imortal ninjas’ source of power) in order to steal that dragon’s egg (or something). Or maybe it’s not the dragon’s egg, but just the egg of the dragon that will replace it — like a dragon Dalai Lama or something. The point is, Andrews wants us thinking about the absurdities, which is why he crams them in every chance he gets.
It’s easy for this kind of parody to result in bad storytelling — not taking itself seriously enough can be just as ruinous as the opposite — but Andrews is fully committed to clearly conveying the narrative. Beyond that, he’s committed to telling it in fun, innovative ways. Taylor already pointed out the mother’s sacrifice as a beautiful moment — both in content and form — but my favorite detail is that Daniel is clad in bright Iron Fist yellow throughout the flashback. It’s a nice little piece of foreshadowing, but it also serves to literally highlight him, drawing our eye to the main character, even when he’s lacking much in the way of agency.
I continue to be surprised at how much I enjoy this series. Last month had me enjoying it as a competent Miller homage, but this issue reveals a depth and sense of humor that make it something else entirely. It still feels like it’s meant for Miller fans, but the message is a bit more original. Even if it does feature a bunch of ninjas.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?