Marvel Bronze Age depiction of martial arts took the form of a black and white magazine way back in the ’70s. Starting with issue #10, the first issue collected in Iron Fist: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Iron Fist took over the book. What better way to depict martial arts than with your primo martial arts superhero? The black and white allows readers to focus on the fight moves, rendered by beautifully rendered fighters in the lines of the pencils.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Danny Rand, the wielder of the power of the Iron Fist, must defend the mystical realm of K’un-Lun, but Dhasha Khan has a plan that will test Iron Fist’s mettle unlike ever before. The warrior-sorcerer seeks the spirit of the Firebird, a woman protected by Iron Fist; however, Khan has at his side the Silver Dragon, someone with a deep connection to Danny Rand. It’s a confrontation that risks Iron Fist’s very soul, brought to you by master storyteller Chris Claremont and artist Rudy Nebres, whose lush ink wash illustrations convey the power and majesty of martial arts like none other! Also featuring the solo adventures of Iron Fist’s colleagues Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, the Daughters of the Dragon!
Can I jump in easily?
This is the early days of Iron Fist so it’ll be quite easy. Writers like Chris Claremont were figuring out the character and giving him purpose so it’s a raw time for the character, but that also makes it exciting. This book collects Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #10, 18-24, 29, 31-33 and Bizarre Adventures #25.
Reason 1: Excellent fight choreography
The pencil and inking in this issue is some of the best I’ve seen. Rudy Nebres, Marshall Rogers, Frank McLoughlin do a lot of the heavy lifting (to be honest there are so many artists and inkers I can’t list them all) and the work here is glorious. The fact that it is uncolored enhances the visibility of how good this art can be. Details in hands, the musculature of the back, and near impossible agility is on display. Mix this in with cool fight moves (the names sometimes listed) and interesting page layouts to show the many blows and dodges and you have some of the coolest fight scenes in comics. Recent Iron Fist comics have shown a similar style which may be due to these fight scenes being timeless and highly regarded amongst artists today.
To add to this, there are various villains that are eclectic and creatively rendered. Characters like the Steel Serpent, Silver Dragon, and Snake Eyes are all very cool in their own rights. Snake Eyes, in particular, is wild due to his entire torso being made of an extremely hard see-through metal. When he pulls open his jacket to reveal his organs floating around you’ll be that much more pumped to see how he’s taken down.
Reason 2: An epic 6-part story of death, love, and motherhood
The crown jewel in this collection is a six-part story by Chris Claremont with art by Rudy Nebres. The story involves a mysterious woman named Jade, the land of the dead, a mysterious villain named Silver Dragon, and a knight from the roundtable calling himself Bowman. The story involves time travel, tons of fighting, betrayers, Iron Fist going blind and finding new inner strength, and even more. The villains even connect back to Iron Fist’s origin in losing his parents (I don’t want to spoil it) which further connects the conflict to Danny Rand’s personal story.
The most shocking element of this story arc is how Chris Claremont integrated a mystical power into the narrative. Connected to Jade, the power is known as Firebird. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s very similar to the Dark Phoenix. It’s cool to see an early take on the creature in this story which wouldn’t make its official appearance in Uncanny X-Men #101 seven months later.
Reason 3: First person perspective.
Nearly every caption in this collection is written from a second-person perspective. Many of the issues start with the words, “You are Iron Fist,” which is a clever narrative idea to get the audience invested in the story. It also helps enhance the action, putting you right there with the heroes. In one great bit of captioning from issue #31, it reads, “You hurl yourself into the press of bodies.” This captions hangs over a single panel of a hero kicking and jumping into bad guys. The press of bodies element isn’t visibly seen, but since it’s written in this way it extends the scene in your imagination.
Reasons to be wary?
It’s a bit of a tease the covers offer interviews with people like Chuck Norris, but the only thing collected here is the comics. Give us that snapshot from history, Marvel!
Outside of this, the more verbose style customary of the Bronze Age is prevalent. It can be quite obnoxious when characters say what they are thinking out loud or explain things we already know. That is part of the problem with early serial comic stories.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
At a glance, this book is dense and not the easiest thing to pick up and devour in one sitting. Once you give it a chance however it’s clear the fighting is so high in quality you’ll be turning the pages looking for more. Add to this the impressive and eclectic villains, the interesting second-person perspective, and a must-read six part story from Chris Claremont and it’s a no brainer read for the comic book faithful.
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