Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing Power Man and Iron Fist 4, originally released May 18th, 2016.
Spencer: The beating heart at the center of David Walker, Sanford Greene, and Lee Loughridge’s Power Man and Iron Fist is the friendship between its titular heroes. It should’ve been obvious, then, that the primary theme of this series would be “the power of friendship,” but that’s actually an idea that didn’t come fully into focus until this month’s issue four, the finale of the series’ first storyline. Even more interestingly, the true strength of friendship (and its advantages over other kinds of power) isn’t driven home by Luke and Danny, but by the villains, Jennie Royce and Black Mariah. In fact, it’s their friendship that makes Danny and especially Luke reprioritize their own friendship.
Jennie Royce, of course, was the business manager of Luke and Danny’s “Heroes for Hire” business back in the day, before being jailed for the death of her boyfriend (she did it, but she was possessed at the time, plus he was abusive, so it was very much a bum wrap). In jail she befriended the crime-lord Black Mariah, and once they were released, they sought out the Supersoul Stone together, in hopes of gaining tremendous strength. It worked, but Jennie became corrupted by the power. While Luke and Danny fail at stopping Jennie with brute strength, Mariah is eventually able to talk her down by tapping into the one power stronger than the Supersoul Stone: their friendship.
The main reason why Jennie sought out the Supersoul Stone in the first place was because she felt betrayed by her friends and used by everybody else — she felt powerless, and thus she wanted as much power as possible, a desire the Supersoul Stone didn’t hesitate to take advantage of. At the height of her madness Jennie even seems to resent Mariah, but ultimately, Jennie simply cares too much about Mariah to kill her, and it’s that power — the power of friendship — that gives Jennie the strength to break free. That revelation isn’t lost on our heroes. Throughout this whole arc Luke’s been resisting Danny’s pleas to rekindle their partnership, but it isn’t until Mariah tries to remind Jennie of their bond that Luke realizes how important his friendship with Danny actually is to him and accepts their renewed partnership.
Power Man and Iron Fist is a series that’s been riding off the strength of friendship since its genesis. The banter and odd-couple friendship between Luke and Danny provides most of the series’ laughs. The running gags (Tombstone’s whispering, “fiddle-faddle,” Danny thinking Jessica hates him) have reached the point where they feel like real, established inside-jokes between old friends. Even the reoccurring characters have their own little friendships going on in the background (I’m thinking of Tombstone’s two thugs in particular, who continue to get all the best lines this month).
On a grander scale, Walker’s also acknowledged that friendship is the whole reason this series exists. Almost every character Luke and Danny have met have badgered them about getting back together; random citizens constantly take photos of the two of them together; even the title’s callback to Luke’s time as Power Man (and their stint as Heroes for Hire) seems to be acknowledging that these characters are most popular when they’re together. Concluding his first arc with a victory owed entirely the power of friendship, then, seems to be the final step in Walker emphasizing how vital the concept of friendship — both in general and specifically between Luke and Danny — is to this title. It’s an effective, appropriate hook to hang this series on.
In past pieces I’ve heaped a sizable portion of praise on Greene’s art, and there’s quite a bit I continue to enjoy about his work this month. For starters, I still love the way Greene plays with the size of his characters to emphasize their ever-shifting dynamics.
Usually Luke is drawn as far larger than Danny, often dwarfing him. That’s the case in the second panel here, but in the third, where Luke finally gives into Danny’s wishes, he’s suddenly much smaller. It emphasizes the power Luke just ceded to Danny in a subtle, organic way, and I love that about Greene’s work.
That said, Greene’s action sequences this month aren’t always the clearest. Take these pages from early in the issue:
First Jennie leaps at the camera, even breaking through the borders — which usually means she’s lunging towards the heroes — only to instead stop and grab a car. That’s a confusing move in the first place, but then it’s followed up by four panels of characters talking and tussling with Jennie, only to end with her ready to throw the same car again. Ending two pages on the exact same beat is sloppy and frustrating (although Walker is likely just as much to blame for that as Greene). There’s another confusing sequence a few pages later.
What it looks like to me is that Jennie lifts that piece of debris off Luke — likely even moving forward to grab it — then walks backwards and lobs it at him. That’s a complicated and unnatural sequence of events, especially during a life-or-death battle. Couldn’t she have grabbed some other piece of debris? The scene would feel a lot smoother with that one tiny change.
There’s a few confusing and repetitious moments on the writing-side of the equation as well — several times the characters make a noted effort to get Tombstone off the battlefield, only for him to show up again a few panels later like they never even moved him. None of these moments are bad ideas, but they are executed sloppily. I’d love to see Walker and Greene put just a tad bit more care into their fight scene to iron out the kinks.
Still, none of these problems are enough to ruin the issue for me — there’s far more good than bad here, and overall I found Power Man and Iron Fist 4 to be a charming, genuine, fun read. How about you, Taylor?
Taylor: I definitely enjoy this issue for the same reasons you do Spencer. It’s so easy to take the theme of “friendship” and turn it into something gooey and ungenuine, the likes of which you might see in an episode of Full House or the Care Bears. However, Walker has found a way to make this theme feel real, powerful, and heartfelt.
The way Walker has done this is mostly through the careful development of his main characters. Throughout the issue Fist and Cage have each other’s backs and it’s clear that each respects the other for always being there for them. Examples abound in this issue of this sort of thing, but my favorite is when Luke is about to be hit by some thrown debris and Fist jumps in to smash it apart before it hits his friend.
The reason this particular act of friendship sticks out to me in this issue is that Fist bashes apart this projectile for basically no reason. Luke could have easily deflected or destroyed it himself, but just as good friends do, Fist helps out Luke with the small act of kindness. Cage’s response of “Thanks, brother,” while a common enough, also signals that Luke views Fist as family. This is a simple sequence but it establishes the friendship between these two in a really natural way, especially when you fold it in with all of the other small examples of their affection for each other. Taken as a whole, this and other examples of friendship make Fist and Cage’s relationship feel real and wonderful instead of contrived.
The art stood at to me as well Spencer, but I think I was perhaps not as harsh in my assessment. I’m drawn to Greene’s style and the reason for that is that it strikes a fine balance between realism and symbolic drawing. Again, there are tons of examples to draw from in this issue, but I couldn’t stop myself from appreciating the below panel more than once.
In case you can’t tell, that’s a picture of Luke Cage blocking a car that was thrown at him by Jennie. As it impacts his arm, it bursts into a million pieces, which is recognizable as being super realistic for anyone who has witnessed the scene of a car crash. Green has taken the time here to draw all of the parts of the car as they fly apart, which is a far cry from many other comics which treat thrown cars (something which happens often) as a single object. Yet things don’t skew to far into realism here. Aside from the muffler, it’s questionable how much of the car debris pictured here is actually the type stuff one would find in a real automobile. But a correct representation of a car isn’t the point here, it’s to capture the violence of the car toss, which the amount of debris succeeds at doing. Also, the way the car is bursting apart, all flowing in one uniform direction instead of splattering everywhere isn’t totally realistic, but it captures just how hard the car was thrown. This balance between the real and the representational is wonderful because it captures the danger of the situation in a way that feels tangible and intense.
One last thing that stands out to me in the issue is the coloring of Lee Loughridge. Every part of the issue is bathed in a mellow yellow tone that gives the issue a distinct 70s vibe. Even the most colorful pages in this issue don’t break this trend.
In addition to yellow, all of the colors used by Loughridge are earth tones with the occasional orange or pink thrown in to add some color. This throwback to colors that were popular in the 70s is a subtle yet insanely clever nod to the history of Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Both characters were born in the 70s and were spawned by pop-culture’s fascination with blaxploitation and kung-fu films respectively in this decade. The colors used by Loughridge are subtle reminder of these origins, and I love that quiet nod.
Stuff like this is more than enough to make me overlook some of the shortcomings in this issue, and it’ll be exciting to see where the friendship of Luke Cage and Iron Fist takes them next.
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