Monday, September 24, 2007

Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1

It’s nice to see an annual like this one – treated as something of a double-sized continuation of the story in the main book - when the yearly digests have typically offered little more than a self-contained adventure of little consequence. This one picks up more or less where Immortal Iron Fist #9 left off, although it’s primarily a series of flashbacks with a few brief asides in the present. It’s just close enough to the current arc of the main book to remain relevant, but just far enough away from any major storyline progression to keep it from being essential reading.

The flashback motif, featuring the adventures of Orson Randall, the previous bearer of the Iron Fist mantle, provides a nice gateway to expanding Danny’s powers and exploring the lush history of his namesake. These tales are brimming with lively characters, loud, interesting environments and close calls, although sometimes they do cross the line between entertainment and thick cheese. In this issue, Randle faces off against the “Super Lightning Lord”? Come on…

Still, after reading this book I’m more motivated to read the continuing adventures of Orson Randall in the 1930s than I am to follow the modern-day struggles of Danny Rand. While Danny’s story is supposedly their focus, Brubaker and Fraction have instilled such an outrageous, colorful aura around his predecessor that he’s obviously the character they’re most interested in writing. This issue is at its best when it’s reminiscing, filling the page with bright, vibrant painted artwork and introducing outlandish personalities. So entertaining were these older stories, that I caught myself sighing more than once when the narrative switched back from the unusual flashbacks to the more standardized story set in the present day. That’s not to say Danny’s story isn’t kept interesting of its own merit, just that the flashback tales were so much fun to take in.

Howard Chaykin handles the artwork for the majority of this issue, but doesn’t seem to have a great hold on the lead character - Danny has always been portrayed as a thinner guy, definitely not light on power but far from a muscle-head. Yet Chaykin interprets him with a chin the size of Massachusetts and a neck to match. The artwork surrounding Rand didn’t give me much cause for celebration, either – all of it detailed to a flaw, overflowing with excessive texturing while failing at the most basic concepts of composition. There’s a major disconnect between his work with characters and his background detailing, like they’re uncomfortable and out of place beside one another. It really feels like Chaykin just sketched out the cast, then left the backgrounds to a stylized 3-D modeling program or something.

Fortunately, the painted artwork that Dan Brereton and Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic provide for the flashback scenes is a perfect match, giving the book the kick in the pants it’s missing when Chaykin is behind the wheel. Every panel could pass as the cover to a ‘50s adventure serial, which is just what the story needed for these scenes. Their work is far from photographic, but they bring a level of charm to the flashbacks that really set them apart from the present-day narrative.

I’d buy a monthly book focused on Orson Randall. The portions of this story covering his adventures through an outdated society are brimming with life, innocence, adventure and excitement. Danny’s story holds some merit, but it really pales into comparison to his predecessor’s outlandish adventures, which are really the star of this show. The herky-jerky jumps from past to present and back again hurt the overall package, but this is still worth borrowing. Brubaker and Fraction on an “Old Iron Fist Digest” would be cause for celebration.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8

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