Netflix’s Iron Fist series has been released and the reviews are… not so great. And while I am a sympathizer of the series, even I can admit it has many flaws. But fear not, there are great Iron Fist stories out there, but in comic book form. If you have never read an Iron Fist comic, I highly recommend you start with The Last Iron Fist Story.
The first six issues of The Immortal Iron Fist perfectly encapsulates everything wonderful about Iron Fist. The Eisner nominated series from 2008 is written by two of my favorites: Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. Together, they created the perfect amalgam of street level fighter and kung fu action flick. And the artwork is simply gorgeous. David Aja and Travel Foreman put together a lovely but brutal show. It is the perfect introduction to the world of Danny Rand.
The Last Iron Fist Story
The Last Iron Fist Story introduces Danny Rand’s predecessor, Orson Randall, a mysterious character from the World War I era. In 2008, Danny becomes entwined with a HYDRA plot to take over Rand Corporation. Unbeknownst to Danny, HYDRA are also out to kill Orson, who has mysteriously resurfaced in the present day. When their paths cross, Danny begins to unravel what it means to be the Iron Fist.
If you know nothing about Danny Rand, no worries. The story lays out the Iron Fist basics yet adds many layers to the mythology. It’s an exciting introduction to his world without a lot of baggage. You don’t need to know about HYDRA or who the Steel Serpent is. You just need to know they are the guys that need to be punched and kicked.
Giving History to the Iron Fist
One thing that I love so much about this story is how much history it gives to the Iron Fist mythos. The Iron Fist is more than a shiny magical fist, it is a namesake handed down for literally thousands of years. As told by Orson Randall, there have been 66 Iron Fists in total, with only a handful explicitly mentioned:
1227 A.D. – Bei Ming-Tian
1545 A.D. – Wu Ao-Shi
1860 A.D. – Bei Bang-Wen
1915 A.D. – Orson Randall
2006 A.D. – Danny Rand
Through brief glimpses of action, we see that there is so much to learn about the Iron Fist legacy. But it isn’t presented in a confusing way. Their history and stories act as a perfect foil to Danny, illustrating what he brings to the mantle but also how much he still has to learn.
Orson Randall is probably my favorite new character in decades. He is the complete antithesis of Danny in every way, but is still a worthy mentor. His story depicts the struggle of being an Iron Fist and the toll it takes on someone. And how can you not love this guy:
Oh Danny Boy
The series also finds a nice balance with Danny Rand where the Netflix series often stumbled. Danny is wiseacre billionaire wielding magical powers. He lived in a mystical city and battled a fucking dragon, but he’s still an outsider with some growing up to do. It can be hard to get that character right.
In the Netflix series, Danny often comes off as whiny and aloof. He is trying to find his place in the world, but instead of bringing knowledgeable wisdom, he sounds more like an burnt out hippie. And while some of that is played for laughs, the audience shouldn’t think of Danny as the dumbest guy in the room.
The comic series strikes a better middle ground. Danny cracks jokes and talks about chi, but it comes from a moral center. Danny’s views come from having a greater understanding, not because he is uneducated. But he also just cracks jokes and wants to do the right thing. His childish tendencies stem from his character, not his inexperience. Comic book Danny is simply more likable.
The Beautiful Art of Kung Fu
David Aja is simply a master. His gritty style never feels muted, but instead alive and full of action. Aja is especially strong when illustrating movement using simple panels.
His art never gets crazy structurally. He plays within the confines of right angled panels. Even his most minimal panels are interesting, like this elevator scene:
You can feel what they’ve been through, the sense of time, and the shock at the end. Using six simple panels with very little changes, Aja tells a story.
Aja’s art speaks for itself. I could put every comic panel into this article. Simply put, it is a work of art.
Go Read It
I don’t know what else to say. The Last Iron Fist story is a modern day classic and essential reading for anyone curious about Iron Fist. I can only gush so much. Read it already! You won’t be sorry.
All images via Marvel Comics.