Friday, March 24, 2017

Trial By Fire (DC)
Suicide Squad #2 When: June 1987
Why: John Ostrander How: Luke McDonnell

The Story So Far...
To the outside world: Belle Reve Federal Prison is just a hive for holding incarcerated scum and villainy. Within those walls reigns Task Force X Agent: Amanda Waller - taking her pick of the litter for an expendable covert ops group codenamed The Suicide Squad!

In their second field mission The Squad are headed to Northern Qurac. Their target: Jotunheim -- the cliff-side stronghold of an emerging terrorist organization known simply as The Jihad.

Task Force X has inside intel on the super-human terrorist group, who've been hired to commit an attack on the United States within the week. That means the know exactly who they're up against, and how to take them down! Now it's just a matter of wrangling their reluctant forces long enough to take them down!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Draw 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)
Total: Bronze Tiger 25 (Champion)

The Suicide Squad are headed to Northern Qurac for their second field mission against a terrorist organization known simply as The Jihad (later Onslaught). We've already seen Deadshot take on Manticore. Now Bronze Tiger has drawn a perfectly matched opponent as skilled in the deadly arts as he is!

Tiger was along for the Squad's first mission against Brimstone in Legends #3, but as we ultimately saw, his deadly hands were mainly present to keep Enchantress in check [also in Legends #3]. He was out of his league against a giant beast of Apokolips, but this time Benjamin Turner is in his element!

In his youth, Turner left the crime-ridden streets of Central City to seek the path of a master martial artist. In Japan, he studied under O-Sensei alongside fellow student Richard Dragon. They fought side-by-side as agents of GOOD and the CBI, until Turner was captured and brainwashed by The League of Assassins!

For a time Bronze Tiger became one of the world's most notorious assassins, famous for besting Batman! A rescue mission led by Rick Flag eventually brought him back to the side of angels. He volunteered for the Suicide Squad as penance, never certain that the programming he received is totally gone.

Ravan's path to murder was decidedly more willing. He's one of the last of the Thuggee: a real-life cult of Indian thieves and murderers known to insinuate themselves into the lives of travelers, gaining their trust in order to kill them. Experts on the subject estimate the sect to be responsible for somewhere between fifty thousand, to two million deaths over a span of 150 years.

With every murder, Ravan believes he delays the coming of the Kali Yuga for a thousand years -- an age of chaos wrought by the demon Kali. He applies his religion to a modern context, making assassination his trade. He's a highly skilled hand-to-hand martial artist, with a particular penchant for the garrote. A charming playboy who delights at the contest of a worthy opponent -- and boy has he found one!

The Tape rates our two fighters statistically evenly matched -- but I give the overall advantage to Bronze Tiger. His training seems to be a bit more diverse, more expert, and his reputation far exceeds that of Ravan. I'm also tipping my hand a little with knowledge of their subsequent encounters. What happened the first time Bronze Tiger fought Ravan? Let's find out!

The Tape: Draw Ranking: Bronze Tiger (#135)

What Went Down...
His fourth tier quarters are described as "part shrine to Kali, part playboy mansion." There, Ravan rests -- until his peace is interrupted by the sound of exterior gunfire against the facility. Jotunheim is under attack, but as the skilled Thuggee martial artist quickly realizes -- so is he!

The master combatants share honorable introductions as they square off, each admiring the obvious skill of the other. It isn't often either man meets an opponent they can consider a worthy challenge.

is it Bronze Tiger's shoulder or fist that collides with Ravan's jaw as the fight gets under way? It's hard to say. The two fighter's legs tangle. The second blow is decisive: Bronze Tiger's right arm raining down with a tomahawk-like chop!

Ravan throws his arm up - staggering the Bronze Tiger enough to cost him a vertical base! The Thuggee fighter swings his right leg, but Bronze Tiger leans down and blocks the head-high kick!

Their masterful moves have been a successive flow of strike and counter-strike. Devastating in their precision, and chess-like in the consequence of their commitment to the most efficient response. The conclusion is an inevitability already decided several moves in advance.

The blocked kick forces Ravan into a vulnerable open stance. Bronze Tiger wastes no opportunity capitalizing -- thrusting a kick into his opponent's spine!

Ravan drops to the floor. He knows in an instant that he's defeated. His back is broken. He cannot defend himself. With resignation, he accepts his fate: "Kill me". Bronze Tiger turns his back. Ravan will not die this day.

The man once programmed to kill by The League of Assassins should have no trouble executing his opponent, but to what end? He was ordered to neutralize Ravan. In this, he has succeeded. He has no memory of his past life as a killer, and sees no reason to incite it. To Ravan's fury - he leaves with his victory.

The Hammer...
A broken back is a pretty definitive way to defeat your opponent! Bronze Tiger is undeniable winner.

Ravan lives to fight another day, and indeed, vows to find the means to take his revenge. He swears so on Kali - so you know he means business! Comics being what they are, you can probably guess he'll eventually return. The rematch - to be visited at some stage in The Comic Book Fight Club's future!

For now, we dwell on the past. Not for any negative contrast, but to reassess the fine works of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell.

I haven't always appreciated them the way I should, but I've found my fandom along the way.

We were a little scattershot when Secret Wars on Infinite Earths featured the Suicide Squad last August. That meant short shrift on the series itself, and to Bronze Tiger, in particular. Nice to be back to pick up the tab!

If I remember correctly, Suicide Squad #2 fell into my lap some time around 1989 or '90. I was young. Very young. Too young to be responsibly handed a comic book about international terrorism, and/or military suicide missions.

It came in a show bag with an issue of MAD Magazine and a novelty whoopee cushion. A mothers group's nightmare, I imagine, but such were the times. It hardly mattered. Celebrity caricatures and faux-flatulence were good for a few laughs, but the Suicide Squad was a tough sell to a young reader. If a parent had been aware enough to be concerned about the impact of the subject matter, they would've been relieved to know it was largely lost on a small child. There was plenty going on in the issue, but there were too many generic folk without exciting costumes. No competition for the four-colour laugh riot of the then contemporary Justice League, or so I thought at the time.

For the most part, super-powers always made side arms seem pretty lame to this young reader. Punisher and Nick Fury lacked the charm of their pulp era forebears, and guys like Rick Flag and Nemesis didn't even have the decency to wear a fancy bodysuit! Blokes in t-shirts and slacks weren't exactly cutting it in a world dominated by Spider-man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the like.

I don't mind saying that the reader was definitely the problem.

With wiser eyes, I've found the joy in Suicide Squad, and even the members of The Jihad that once seemed so plain. You'll note that the super-villain group was redubbed "The Onslaught" a decade or two later, when the meaning of their name became a more sensitive subject in The West.

As it turns out, Suicide Squad was the kind of comics I actually loved all along. If I'd only investigated beyond an initial childhood bias, I would've seen it was far more than a mere modern take on war and spy comics.

The series is and was a joyous melting pot of disparate concepts sourced from old comics, new comics, forgotten comics, and the real world of global culture, politics, and events. Heck. With more reading and awareness of the world, it turned out the war stories were pretty good, too! It's just nice that it has a kick of kung-fu heroes, Kirby Fourth World, and other super-hero mythology, too.
Most major characters weaved into the tapestry of Suicide Squad offer a thread of tangents explored over the course of the series. They provide a bank of natural stories that flow effortlessly around the missions, and DC crossover events that occur throughout. At times it seems as if Ostrander has more ideas than he can possibly find time for! Their simmering builds a lot of effective tension in the series, and makes every new story a well earned change of pace.

Bronze Tiger is a unique thread to the kung-fu comics of the '70s, and The League of Assassins, who are famous by association with Batman. Some time we'll take a closer look at Bronze Tiger's fight with Batman, which is frequently referenced in Suicide Squad to establish his credibility as a combatant.

Tiger's history isn't focused upon until much later in the run, but he adds a lot of spice to the mix as one of the team's few heroic figures.

Benjamin Turner is a man with conviction putting his troubled past behind him. A contrast to Rick Flag, who spends the early part of the series putting his troubled past in front of him. Their connection through backstory makes the Suicide Squad stronger.

Flag was the man who pulled Bronze Tiger out of The League of Assassins, and helped deprogram him with Amanda Waller. The retrieval mission was initiated because of Bronze Tiger's history with the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI), and King Faraday. A rich tapestry of DC references that lend a strong sense of verisimilitude to the world of the Squad, and surrounding intelligence agencies.

It was fascinating to learn that Ravan is a character who appropriates a real life criminal concept. The Thuggee (said tug-gee) were apparently a genuine cult of bandits and murderers found in India. As noted in The Tale of The Tape [above], they're attributed by scholars with responsibility for somewhere between 50,000 and 2 million murders. A clan whose primary intent was to kill without remorse. A scary concept. Very effective in its context of comics!

Ravan eventually becomes a member of the Suicide Squad himself. I'm looking forward to examining more of those stories. His relationship with Bronze Tiger will remain antagonistic, but they establish a curious rapport around mutual respect. I mightn't have appreciated Ravan as a youngster, but his unique brand of suave assassin is a lot of fun as it develops!

For now, we update the rankings and press on! March is a month of martial arts mayhem inspired by the Netflix release of Iron Fist! The Marvel heroes have been taking over The Comic Book Fight Club, so I thought I'd take this last opportunity to show some DC love. We've got one more martial arts showdown to go, but as you'll soon see -- it comes from neither of the "Big Two".

Can't get enough Suicide Squad or Bronze Tiger? Ready to read the series for yourself? Use the Amazon purchase link provided [right] to get this battle and more in collected edition! Doing so helps support the site at no extra cost to you!

Use links littered throughout this entry to discover more exciting corners of the comic book universes! You can also dive into the Secret Archive Index to check out every previous feature fight referenced by publisher, series and issue! Or follow on Facebook and Twitter to get daily fight links inspired by current topics! A like and share make all the difference!

Winner: Bronze Tiger
#77 (+58) Bronze Tiger
#826 (new) Ravan

Monday, March 20, 2017

Real Name: Jason Rusch
First Appearance: Firestorm #1 (July, 2004)
Fight Club Ranking: #86

Featured Fights:
- vs SINESTRO CORPS: Green Lantern #25 (Jan 2008)
- vs INJUSTICE LEAGUE: Justice League of America #15 (Jan 2008)

Cross another name off the Injustice 2 character wishlist! If you had Firestorm in your office pool, you're in luck! The Nuclear Man got the full spotlight trailer treatment late last week, confirming the arrival of the Jason Rusch version of the character -- and our inevitable Hero of the Week!

Ever since diving back into the post-Crisis '80s of DC Comics [see; Legends]; I've really been jamming to Firestorm. Sure, it was the Ronnie Raymond version that got my meter ticking over, but who's really keeping score? In the fighting game arena it's apples for apples. I kinda like the visual aesthetic of the Rusch update [see mugshot above], so that's a plus. Or at least, it could be...

It's not all good news when it comes to the Firestorm reveal. The design and general nature of the character seems to have got away from developers: NetherRealm Studios.

Granted, their situation isn't entirely enviable. The molecular transmutation of inanimate objects isn't exactly in the wheelhouse of your typical side-to-side fighting game. If "balance" wasn't an issue, it'd be very interesting to see how Firestorm could counter-act the strengths of certain characters. Instead, they're relying heavily on the character's basic element of fire. It's unclear if he has any other tricks up his sleeves -- which are sadly less than puffy. Underwhelming when it comes to representing the character within the reality of a three-dimensionally rendered video game.

That sense of reality only seems to be a burden when it comes to the character's design. NetherRealm have tried to adapt the basic look of the character, but their dimensions and rendering leave Firestorm looking like a bucket-headed dingus.

The classic look of Firestorm has always been a slightly tricky proposition, occasionally looking a little on the robot-head side, which I'm not a fan of. I'm at least pleased to see them attempt a costume. The low grade aesthetics of their CW TV contemporaries could've given Injustice 2 permission to omit the costume headgear all together. Although, that wouldn't do much for the game's Gear System, which could still be a saving grace.

Word is the RPG Gear System will offer a lot of customizable costume options, and I'll be hoping dearly there are some '80s puffy sleeves to be unlocked with untold fashion power-ups! Something more in common with the sculpted, highlight laden Rusch look of the comics would be nice [see mugshot again]. Something to tone down those ear cups might be nice, too. He looks a little too much like a novelty stress toy.

It should be noted that Green Arrow returns to fight in the Firestorm trailer as well. I've kinda been taking for granted he'd show up sooner or later. Firestorm may not be perfect, but he's the one worth the excitement of Hero of the Week! Injustice 2 comes out this May, so we've still got a few months to look forward to more discussion from the game!

If you don't want to wait to see more from the DC Universe, you can jump straight into the Archive Index to check out hundreds of battles! You can also get daily links inspired by the topics of the day by liking & following on Twitter and Facebook! Sadly, we're short on Jason Rusch, but if you want more Firestorm be sure to check out the original by clicking the name!

      [Home]      Hero of the Week 03/13: Iron Fist >>

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Boys Are Back (Marvel)
Power Man and Iron Fist #1 When: April 2016
Why: David Walker How: Sanford Greene

The Story So Far...
It's been many years since Luke Cage and Danny Rand operated as the famous Heroes for Hire. For a while they were underground heroes, and even charter members of The Avengers! Now they're just two guys reuniting with an old friend being released from prison.

Jennie Royce was the Heroes for Hire office manager until the apparent death of Danny Rand. In the years following she worked for Crime-Buster, but was convicted for a manslaughter committed under possession.

After five years of legal funding from Danny Rand,;Jennie is finally exonerated of her crimes and free to return to what remains of her life. Still feeling guilty about her fate, Danny offers to do anything to help her make the transition, and there's only one thing she can think of: her grandmother's necklace.

Now Luke Cage is reluctantly along for the ride with Iron Fist, and heading into Tombstone's den to find the lost trinket. Jennie says it was taken from Crime-Buster's locker by debt collectors while she was possessed (and killing him), but as the former Heroes for Hire are about to learn, there may be magic afoot!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Luke Cage 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Iron Fist 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Iron Fist 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Luke Cage 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Iron Fist 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Iron Fist 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Iron Fist 3 (Explosives)

Total: Iron Fist 28 (Metahuman)

He's baaack! It's the return of a Secret Wars on Infinite Earths favourite in his most contemporary incarnation!

In 2016 we find Tombstone firmly entrenched behind the desk of an urban crime boss. He commands a small army of street thugs and goons who seem to be doing most of his bidding. He's no Kingpin, but he's clearly carved out his niche in the busy world of New York organized crime.

Of course, there are many phases to Lonnie Lincoln - the man known as Tombstone. The chalk-faced albino started out relying on intimidation to cultivate his criminal persona. He emerged with plans to blackmail Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson early in his career. Wearing a crisp suit and jockeying for power, he became a target for Spider-man in Spectacular Spider-man #142.

An accident exposed Tombstone to experimental chemicals that gave him bona fide super-human strength and durability. These powers turned Tombstone into a more common super-thug for a time, finding an equal match in the solo Luke Cage seen in Cage #3! He went full super-villain as a member of the Sinister Twelve in Marvel Knights: Spider-man #11, reverting to a more classic mob enforcer when he clashed with Daredevil overseas, in Daredevil #90 and #91!

Only the former of Tombstone's two European vacations with Daredevil resulted in a victory. A losing record made all the worse given he was beaten as part of The Untouchables team when he faced one-half of today's opponents!

Luke Cage & Iron Fist aren't getting back together in 2016. They aren't doing the super-hero thing, they aren't Heroes for Hire, Cage isn't even Power Man. Just a couple of guys helping out a friend... Except they are back!

These two have been together through a whole heckuva lot. We've seen them tag team in the eighties against Constrictor & Sabretooth [Power Man & Iron Fist #66] and Man Mountain Marko & Eel [Power Man & Iron Fist #92], spend time apart in the 90s before restarting Heroes for Hire, then reconvene in the mid-2000s to fight Iron Man's pro-registration Avengers [Civil War #3], Skrull Queen Veranke and The Hand [New Avengers #27], alien symbiotes [New Avengers #36] and even each other [New Avengers #2]!

What does all of this mean? Nothing good for Tombstone! He might be able to go toe to toe with either one of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, but against both he's in real trouble. Numbers are the only advantage he has, but our heroes are well versed in smacking fools down.

History: Luke Cage (1-0-0)
The Tape: Luke Cage & Iron Fist Ranking: Luke Cage (#8)

What Went Down...
When inquiries sound like accusations - Tombstone gets mighty mad. There's one thing worse than being called a thief in his own house, though. That's a man bringing a living weapon with him to do it! Iron Fist may be sitting quiet, but he doesn't have the history Luke Cage and Tombstone do. Bad news.

Iron Fist warns masked goons shifting around him not to go down this path. Once they do -- the living weapon springs into action! An advancing arm bends the wrong way! Iron Fist's equally sturdy elbow collides with jaw! Blood sprays!

Cage has no choice but to join the fray. A trio of heavies come at him and he puts his one-time eponymous power to good use! They wrestle as the scene devolves into an all-out melee, Iron Fist still kung-fu fighting in the background!

Under cover of chaos, Iron Fist makes for the necklace that started it all, while Cage finishes off Tombstone's goons. With no more foot soldiers to rely on, the boss steps up to get in his old foe's face!

Tombstone warns the heroes they're being set up -- but it falls on deaf ears.

A shot from Cage sends double-tough Tombstone flying through the brickwork of his own establishment! He lands crumbled in the street amongst the rubble, still unheard as he tries to warn the heroes of the magic peril they're in for.

The Hammer...
It's safe to say they're well on their way to being "back" -- and kicking butt like it never went out of style! Luke Cage & Iron Fist are our undisputed victors in a short, but very sweet brawl!

Cage had the honor of delivering the winning blow to old foe Tombstone, but Iron Fist was there beating up the gang, too. So it's a double-win. If you're interested to see what that means for the stats, make sure you check out the bottom of this entry.

As good as it is to be back talking about the one-time Heroes for Hire: the  real breakout combination here is David Walker and Sanford Greene!

They're the writer/artist collaboration responsible for this newest volume of Power Man & Iron Fist -- and it's one damn fine comic!

Issue #1 is deserving of particular praise! I would have to call it the single best first issue I've read in almost a decade! That isn't a very large sample size when compared with previous decades, but that's praise in and of itself. It's been an ugly seven years for Marvel and DC relaunches. This one clearly got it right!

The first issue wastes no time introducing the characters, their basic world, their basic connection, and the thrust of where they're going next. There's fun, feelings, a classic villain, plenty of action, and reasons to want to keep reading!

The first bite is with the eye, and this series makes sure it grabs your attention with a striking aesthetic style! I'm inclined to think back to the praise I heaped on All-New Ghost Rider, which didn't have the gravitas of Power Man & Iron Fist (or the immediate first issue thrust), but led with a strong visual style.

Sanford Greene has pencil lines that evoke a certain European flavor, something kinda like Kano, with hints of the funky physicality of a Paul Pope. There's an emotive range from the minimal to hyper-expressive that makes me think of the animation influences that creep in with more recent artists. The urban vibe and occasional deforming fish-eye close-up makes me think of Takeshi Koike. What ever Green is doing -- it's unique, suitable, and very cool!

Lee Loughridge as colorist is a major influence on the overall aesthetic vibe. Warm, golden colours play to a nostalgic hue that doesn't really reflect the Power Man & Iron Fist comics that existed in the 70s and early 80s -- but evoke the glow of their memory. This may be a 2016 relaunch with #1 printed on the cover -- but its of a continuum that started with Volume 1. At times, you'll forget the paper is slick and pricey.

Some of the way the series straddles the past and present must be down to David Walker. These days Marvel writers don't always seem to know the world they're entering, but I can believe Walker has walked these streets before. His use of Tombstone really hits my sweet spot. The gag about his trademark whisper -- sometimes overlooked, especially in other media -- got me giddy!

It isn't laid on too thick. You don't need to be a Marvel scholar to get a kick out of the series. If you know your stuff, you might just get a little extra out of it. Read between the lines and you can sense the history between characters. Tombstone isn't his old fist-fighting self, but it still feels like the guy who threw down with Power Man back in Cage #3. In the second issue, there's even a flashback right outta Power Man & Iron Fist #66! Superb!

Of course, just as the colours aren't really what Power Man & Iron Fist comics used to be, these versions of the characters aren't identical, either.

Cage has matured as a father and a hero, getting more serious (and well dressed). Oh, yeah. He says "fiddle faddle" now, too. Danny Rand has gone the other way, becoming enthusiastic to a point of goofiness. He's a little more sports-street casual in his style, too. You've gotta love the Bruce Lee jumpsuit by way of Adidas. I love the classic, but this is a very stylish design!

There are modern influences on the series that should please more recent fans. Cage's relationship with Jessica Jones delivers a couple of choice cameos and yucks about the impending reunion with Iron Fist.

With Netflix making live-action shows based on all these characters, they're at a premium. Right now, there are competing solo series starring Cage, Iron Fist, and Jones, as well as The Defenders team book that combines all three with Daredevil! Power Man & Iron Fist really does well to carve out a niche that I hope will sustain it at least throughout the boom of popularity, if not beyond.

With Marvel in the throes of a weird sort of identity crisis that's rumored to be shifting back to classic characters -- this book feels ahead of the trend! With or without "Generations", it definitely feels like the kind of pick-up-and-enjoy series Marvel Comics should be publishing! It's a fun time that hasn't got too tangled up in other events or series.

If you're looking to get a taste of Power Man & Iron Fist yourself, be sure to use the Amazon purchase link provided [right]! Doing so supports the site at no extra cost, and helps keep the wars infinite!

If you've got an appetite for more from these characters be sure to follow links littered throughout this post, or this week's Iron Fist Hero of the Week! You can also dive in to the Secret Issue Index to cross-reference hundreds of featured fights by publisher, series and issue!

Follow, like & share on Facebook and Twitter to get daily links to classic fights inspired by the topics of the day! March is a month of martial arts mayhem inspired by the official release of Iron Fist on Netflix today! We're done with Marvel's kung-fu hero for now, but he'll be back in August! Stay tuned!

Winners: Luke Cage & Iron Fist
#8 (--) Luke Cage
#16 (+2) Iron Fist
#373 (-2) Tombstone

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Throughout March the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths are dedicated to hand-to-hand combat in a month of martial arts mayhem! It's all in honor of the Netflix debut of Iron Fist this Friday - March 17th! We're only half-way through, but already Iron Fist has been Hero of the Week, and featured in a couple of classic contests in our Friday Night Fights. It's not enough! We need more action!

Cover to Cover is back to open the portal to a massive selection of the deadliest fists this side of Han's island! By clicking the covers below you'll be thrown into bold battles featuring famous fighting masters, like: Batman, Daredevil, Ryu, Chun-Li, Deadpool, Black Panther, Bronze Tiger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batroc the Leaper, Scorpion, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Luke Cage, Lei Wulong, Bryan Fury, Ken Masters, SagatDan Hibiki, Steel Serpent, and so many more!

If this 24-hit combo somehow still leaves you with health to spare, you can control the battlefield by following character links, or achieving complete mastery over all known attacks in the Issue Index!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Real Name: Danny Rand
First Appearance: Marvel Premiere #15 (May, 1974)
Fight Club Ranking: #18

Featured Fights:
- vs SABRETOOTH: Iron Fist #14 (Aug 1977)
- vs CONSTRICTOR & SABRETOOTH: Power Man & Iron Fist #66 (Dec 1980)
- vs UNUS THE UNTOUCHABLE: Power Man & Iron Fist #90 (Feb 1983)
- vs UNUS THE UNTOUCHABLE: Power Man & Iron Fist #90 (Feb 1983)
- vs MAN MOUNTAIN MARKO & EEL: Power Man & Iron Fist #92 (Apr 1983)
- vs AVENGERS: Civil War #3 (Sep 2006)
- vs DAREDEVIL: Daredevil #87 (Sep 2006)
- vs BARON ZEMO: Thunderbolts #105 (Oct 2006)
- vs THE HAND: New Avengers #27 (Apr 2007)
- vs MIGHTY AVENGERS: New Avengers #36 (Jan 2008)
- vs LUKE CAGE: New Avengers #2 (Sep 2010)

Iron Fist officially arrives on Netflix later this week (March 17th), adding the final piece to the puzzle of what will become The Defenders. It should've been a triumphant debut for the long awaited martial arts hero, but it seems the wind is slowly leaving the Netflix sail -- a range of issues creeping into initial, muted response.

Of all the bones to pick with this one, mine remains pretty similar to the rest. The visual dynamism so crucial to comic books doesn't seem to be translated in any of these series. A likely costume-less, and myth bare Iron Fist, could line up to be the worst offender. Iron Fist in name alone.

There may yet be a costume waiting for actor Finn Jones at the end of his first series, much as there was for Daredevil. A meandering cliché arguably awaiting ridicule from a wiser future.

After everything these characters have been through -- on Netflix, and the big screen -- it seems Iron Fist should be ready to jump feet first into its world. Alas; Comic Book Resources report the dragon Shou Lou won't be in the show. A disappointing detail that suggests Iron Fist will tone itself down, trying to look like everyone else, rather than being a defiant trendsetter that reinvigorates a genre.

It's been more than a decade since The Matrix helped breathe new life into the next millennium of martial arts cinema in the West. Disciplined indulgence by its cast of recognized actors thrust the high kicks of credible technique into a world of commonality. Its influence meant every actor was to be prepared to don a wire harness, and earn their yellow belt. Jean-Claude Van Damme was suddenly facing competition from Drew Barrymore in a world of suspended animation, viewed in pirouette. It was the best of times, and the worst of times...

British stuntman Ray Park made a splash as Darth Maul the same year The Matrix took the world by storm. For a long time he was attached to bring Iron Fist to the big screen, even as he became a green-skinned Toad opposite Iron Fist foe Sabretooth in 2000's seminal Marvel ensemble: X-Men.

The Matrix got everyone talking about its heavy Asian influences, but it inarguably also set out to reinvent the conventions of the cinematic superhero. Its imprint was evident in what would become the dawn of a new era of comic book movie dominance. X-Men did its best to ape pseudo-bullet time, while replacing "yellow spandex" with Matrix-inspired black pleather. Likewise; it's difficult to imagine Sam Raimi's Spider-man achieving the same quality of success two years after, without the understanding of film techniques made commonplace by The Matrix.

Superhero comparison came to the fore in 2003 sequel The Matrix Reloaded. Here, protagonist Neo did his "Superman thing" freely, having completed the hero's journey in the first film. A few months later, the franchise wore out its welcome with The Matrix Revolutions - a movie culminating in the kind of aerial, city destroying battle echoed ten years later by Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.

The sequels relegated The Matrix to a cultural cap on the previous century, rather than a defining influence of the new one. The perceived failure was a ding to the martial arts genre, as well. The rise of licensed comic book superheroes on screen would be the way of the future, consuming all action heroes and kung fu fighters in their wake. Eastern mysticism was to be supplanted by the genetically engineered progeny of nuclear age heroes. Kill Bill Vol. 2 - among the last refuges of fusion cinema before the defining turning point came with 2005's Batman Begins.

Christopher Nolan rewrote the conventions of superheroes and martial arts in cinema with a heavy burden of post-9/11 pseudo-realism, and an aggressive anti-style that reached its definitive peak with The Dark Knight. The director brought the world flexible body armor, and the Keysi Fighting Method -- a widely unreferenced, unglamorous style of deconstructed martial art. Yes, it comes in black.

Those inclined to take inspiration arguably did it in the worst way, creating a monotony of aesthetically barren, joyless, absurdly self-serious films. Even as comic book icons like Spider-man and Iron Man pushed back against the relentless tide of threadbare Nolan imitators; the cultural landscape was irrevocably decimated. Color and fantasy - endangered exceptions in genre cinema.

Ironically, after starting the boom of new Hollywood martial arts cinema, Keanu Reeves was present for its death knell. 47 Ronin did its darndest to reinvigorate the genre with a purported $175 million budget, and an Asian twist on the proven cinematic flourishes of 300. In 2013, it was an unmitigated flop. A disappointment that gave studios good reason to run from likeminded projects, even if its spending was evident in beautiful costume design, good visual effects, and promising aesthetics.

It's possible the shockwave of 47 Ronin had some impact on Iron Fist - directly, or indirectly. Disney and Marvel have had the chutzpah to invest in some reasonably risky big screen prospects, but it never seemed like they were really following through on the Iron Fist movie. If it wasn't for the aspirations of The Defenders, and the urban trappings of its Avengers-like assembly, its conceivable Iron Fist wouldn't have even come to pass in its current form.

47 Ronin was ahead of its time as a box office flop impacted by racial impropriety. Interest wasn't high enough -- and social discourse, not delirious enough -- to cause the kind of overwhelming unrest that will almost certainly damage this month's Ghost in the Shell. That said; although Japanese voices have been unfazed by the casting of Scarlett Johansson, inaccuracies in the 47 Ronin mythos started its doomed theatrical journey off to a sour note. It was simply too inauthentic.

Iron Fist has taken plenty of lumps for the "mighty whitey" trope of an American unlocking mystic brilliance in a foreign land. International audiences are conditioned to expect this brand of insular glorification from American productions, but unease surrounding cultural appropriation seems to be working to generate domestic anxiety, if not genuine introspection.

Cultural appropriation in and of itself isn't a negative, but the crime of inauthenticity justifiably grinds on an audience. For the most part, Iron Fist has always worked as a Marvel Comics martial arts myth. Inoffensive in a wider world replete with original Asian martial arts epics on screen, and in print, but subject to the same measure of quality, and authenticity. This will be true of the Netflix series, which seems to be starting behind the eight ball -- particularly if it excises Iron Fist's origin, and the presence of the figures who form the character.

If Iron Fist fails to navigate its way to martial arts genre success, there could be a Warner Brothers rival waiting in the wings to scoop the trend. The DC Extended Universe may be a hot mess, but WB are currently sitting on another pop IP they acquired earlier in the decade. A landmark martial arts movie franchise that, if rebooted with care, could surpass their DC failures: Mortal Kombat.

It's been a lot of fun diving into martial arts cinema, but it's time to move on! March is a month of martial arts mayhem on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths! If Netflix isn't doing it for you, you can find our Hero of the Week in action this Friday! Be sure to hit links throughout this post for more classic contests featuring Iron Fist and friends, and dive into the Archive Index for even more!