Immortal Weapons #1
Jason Aaron, Duane Swierczynski, writers
Mico Suayan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto De La Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark, Arturo Lozzi, Travel Foreman, artists
Marvel, July 2009
You don’t have to look around the comics blogosphere too hard to find praise for how Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction retooled the mythos of the heretofore largely ignored kung-fu superhero Iron Fist into one of the sturdiest and most expansive in the entire Marvel Universe. Like Geoff Johns did with Green Lantern by introducing a rainbow of multicolored Lantern Corps, Brubaker and Fraction took a key component of Iron Fist’s existing backstory–he’s the warrior champion of a mystical city–and simply multiplied it in a couple of different directions–Danny Rand is just the latest in a long line of such champions, and his mystical city is just one of seven such cities, all with long lines of champions of their own. Suddenly, writers had access to a whole new array of allies and antagonists, mentors and successors, settings and story possibilities. It was veritably the birth of the Iron Fist Universe.
Since Frubaker’s departure for greener, better-selling pastures, the book has continued under the direction of pulp writer Duane Swierczynski in much the same rewarding vein. In addition to keeping up the Frubaker traditions of stand-alone issues spotlighting past (and future) Iron Fists and supporting roles played by the Fist’s former Heroes for Hire chums, he’s continued rolling out natural-seeming expansions of the original Iron Fist mythos: For as long as the Iron Fists have existed, so too has a being whose sole purpose is to kill and devour Iron Fists; the Seven Cities have kept an Eighth City as their secret gulag, ruled by the fallen First Iron Fist. The shock of the new may have subsided, but the ideas and execution mesh rather seamlessly with the relaunch.
The one weak spot has been the art. Frubaker’s run was anchored by the great David Aja, perhaps the best exemplar of the naturalistic New Marvel House Style pioneered by Alex Maleev during Brian Michael Bendis’s wonderful Daredevil run back in the day, and sported any number of strong (and schedule-saving) guest artists. Sweirczynski’s counterpart has been Travel Foreman, a bold and distinctive stylist, but one whose angular, inky figures, frequently adrift amid wide empty backgrounds, run counter to the cinematic-pulp feel of the previous run, and can make the action, an all-important component of a kung-fu superhero comic, difficult to parse. It’s not bad art by any means, particularly considering how easy it would have been to saddle the title with something bland and unremarkable, but without the first-round-knockout quality that Aja brought to the book (I vividly remember how impressed Wizard’s weekly review roundtable was with that first issue), I’d imagine it’s been tough to stop Frubaker fans from jumping ship.
Which is why, it seems, The Immortal Iron Fist has been at least temporarily canceled, replaced with Immortal Weapons. This miniseries focuses on each of the Iron Fist’s mystical-champion counterparts, a terrifically named bunch including the Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother No. 1, the Prince of Orphans, Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter, and this issue’s star, Fat Cobra. He’s been the breakout member of the bunch, a sumo-lookin’ dude with a ceaselessly cheery demeanor and insatiable appetite for wine, women, and food. (Not sure about song, though I wouldn’t be surprised.) Guest writer Jason Aaron plays this to the hilt, initially surrounding him with a posse of beautiful masseuses and filling in his backstory with comical imagery: A tubby baby born in a pigsty, the Cobra became an opera singer, then embarked on a decades-long ass-kicking tour of the world and beyond, complete with besting Hercules and Volstagg in a competitive eating contest in Olympus. In one sequence that riffs on a Frubaker trademark and had me laughing out loud as I read it on the train, Cobra and a female sparring partner suddenly switch from exchanging exotically named blows (Elbow of a Thousand Agonies, Giant Squid Spine Squeeze, Hell’s Dentist) to exotically named sexual maneuvers (Tongue of a Thousand Passions, the Peddling Tortoise, the Wheelbarrow of the Gods). But a twist that plays off the Cobra’s womanizing ways, initially for comic effect, suddenly turns deadly serious, complicating our understanding (and that of the amnesiac Cobra himself) of who the Cobra is and what he’s capable of. Aaron is joined on this journey by an array of talented artists, each responsible for a different era in the Cobra’s life: Mico Suyan’s framing sequence gives the Cobra a rounded, lifelike feel, while Daredevil regulars Stefano Gaudiano and Michael Lark each evoke the book’s past artistic glories. There’s even some gorgeous coloring (love those purples!) by the always welcome Matthew Hollingsworth. Compelling one-and-done stories are not easy, but you wouldn’t know it from reading this one.
The book is rounded out by a story from the regular team of Swierczynski and Foreman and starring the Iron Fist himself; this will be continued throughout the miniseries. With ace inker Gaudiano backing him up, Foreman suddenly comes into his own: His art gains in detail and in evocative power, with a memorably bug-eyed, strung-out junkie, an adorable kung-fu urchin, and Danny Rand’s girlfriend and partner Misty Knight looking as real and as beautiful as ever. The action is easy to parse, and the costume choices (from kids in kung-fu training togs to the aforementioned junkie in his tighty whiteys) are memorable. It’s quite an effort, and with any luck, the Immortal Weapons will last, if not forever than for a few more arcs of work of this caliber.