While his Netflix series may have struggled to find much of an audience, the Iron Fist may just find a place in the Young Adult crowd thanks to the new series from Kaare Andrews and Afu Chan.
As an immortal weapon of the city of K’un-Lun, Danny Rand – the Iron Fist – has been an adventurer, a Hero for Hire, an Avenger and the star of several pulpy series of varying quality over the years (the Brubaker/Fraction series, for example, was great). As the Thunderer of K’un-Lun, however, Danny is placed in the unfamiliar position of having to be a teacher to the next generation of Iron Fist, a young girl named Pei. Can this eccentric billionaire playboy, who moonlights as a kung fu vigilante, play single father to a young girl from another dimension who also happens to be the earthly avatar of an immortal dragon that grants her the mystical powers of the Iron Fist? It’s your classic fish-out-of-water tale.
Actually “fish out of water” is pretty apropos, as it’s the exact parable Danny uses to explain to Pei why she can’t just beat up all the jerks at her public school – and Jesus, there are a lot. Maybe I’m out of touch here, maybe I grew up sheltered, but do male middle school bullies straight up punch little girls in the face? Like, shouldn’t that be a bigger deal? We as the audience know that Pei is a little badass, and we see her spar with Danny several times throughout the first two issues of this series to prove it, but the adults at her school don’t know she’s got mystical dragon powers. How are those kids not in juvenile hall? I can kind of understand Danny himself not being too worried about it. Again, he knows Pei’s strength and wants to teach her restraint, making this actually a somewhat tamer version of the training she would have faced in K’un-Lun. That being said, the regular adults from Earth 616 should have something to say about it.
Anyway, Pei as a protagonist is a bit of a blank slate. She’s very confident and capable in her physical attributes, but has never had to deal with children not being indoctrinated into a martial arts cult (religion? Is cult harsh?). Though the second issue introduces us to what will likely be her friends and supporting cast moving forward, fellow awkward outsiders Ray and Izzy, we’ve already been introduced to the Mean Girls clique of the series, the unfortunately named “C Train.” I do think it’s funny (though a little curious given the tween leanings of the book) that the C Train (gonna have a hard time getting used to that) tried to spray Pei with a douche, only to have it backfire on them. I’m not as sure about them derisively calling her Pie. They aren’t reading her name, they hear it spoken phonetically – so how does Pei (pronounced like Pay) end up as Pie? I would have to assume sophomoric tween jerks would have jumped to “pee” instead of pie, but what do I know?
Elsewhere Danny is dealing with his own mystery, as a series of 10 animalistic demons are popping up around Chinatown. While the second issue sees our hero bested by the YA friendly gang of motorcycle riding frogmen, the first gives us an evil pig demon who is turning guests at a Chinese restaurant into pigs, serving their meat to a new crop of diners and repeating the cycle. They don’t really touch on the cannibalism element of that, but it’s still pretty dark for a series geared toward the same crowd that watches Girl Meets World. (Do kids actually watch that show? I’m really out of touch). As a B story it works. It’s clear that Pei is going to get involved in the battle against these monsters (she manages to defeat the frogmen), and the bad guys have a chance to be compelling villains once they get past the first few silly entries in the 10-demon tribe.
Given the target demo, I like the art from Afu Chan. It’s light and bright but plenty descriptive, maintaining a fun and engaging tone for the series and keeping the tone appropriately youth oriented. I would compare it (favorably) to Unbeatable Squirrel Girl artist Ryan North, though I would give Chan the advantage when it comes to action scenes. The initial training sequence between Pei and Danny is great, and the issue #2 battle with the frogmen was really cool. I also like the design of Pei’s superhero garb. Yeah, it’s basically just a luchador outfit from head-to-toe, but it’s not like Danny’s rocking the Mark VI armor.
Ultimately this is a promising series, calling to mind similar YA martial arts series like the Jackie Chan adventures. If you’re in search of a tween-centric book that just might help the young-uns get into more traditional comic series, The Immortal Iron Fists could be a great gateway series.
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