Monday, March 10, 2008


The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven: Part 4 (Marvel)
Immortal Iron Fist #11 When: January 2008 Why: Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker How: David Aja

The Story so far...
In the ancient hidden city of K'un-Lun, it's denizens prepare themselves for the undying tradition of the Tournament of the seven Heavenly Cities, held every eighty-eight years when their planes align; thus sucking Daniel Rand into a plot of intrigue and mystery centuries in the making!

At the source of Iron Fist's plight is Davos, the villain once known as the Steel Serpent. An exile of K'un-Lun, Davos is resurrected by one of the enemy cities, K'un-Zi, in an effort to destroy the long thought dead sixty-fifth inheritent to the Iron Fist mantle; a drug-addled vagabond and survivor of the First World War, Orson Randall.

Randall teams with his successor, Danny Rand, in an effort to prepare him properly for the ancient tournament. In battle, Orson Randall falls, but not before passing on the power of his chi to Danny Rand, who uses it to successfully oppose Davos who himself has consumed the spiritual energies of his benefactor's daughters, the girls of Crane Mother. Davos has also forged an alliance with Hydra, and with plans to destroy the legacy of the Iron Fist and K'un-Lun, the Steel Serpent redeclares himself the Steel Phoenix; champion of K'un-Zi!

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: David AjaARTWORK: David AjaStrength: Steel Phoenix 4 (Steroid Abuser)
Intelligence: Draw 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Tiger's Beautiful Daughter 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Steel Phoenix 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Tiger's Beautiful Daughter 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Steel Phoenix 6 (Warrior)
Energy Power: Tiger's Beautiful Daughter 2 (Projectile)

- Born in the mystic hidden city of K'un-Lun; Davos is the destined son of proud warrior, Lei Kung the Thunderer. As his father was before him, Davos is trained in the martial arts disciplines kept secret by the citizens of the Heavenly City for millenia, making him one of the deadliest hand-to-hand fighters in the world.
Ultimately Davos' arsenal is undermined by his jealousy for outsider rival, Daniel Rand, who becomes the preferred student of his father. This leads the warrior down a path of darkness, earning him the name of Steel Serpent, when he fails to prove himself worthy of the legendary Iron Fist.

Davos is able to escape death by the mystic intervention of the Anomoly Gem.
Resurrected in the service of Crane Mother, of K'un-Zi, Davos becomes more powerful than ever when he consumes the fighting spirit of Crane Mother's daughters. His chi mastery not only drastically increases his physical strength, but also enables him to unlock many new fighting techniques, part of his arsenal as a warrior of K'un-Zi and the rechristened, Steel Phoenix.

- Tiger's Beautiful Daughter is one of the immortal warriors chosen to represent one of the Seven Heavenly Cities in the ancient tournament held to determine the rotation of each secret city's presence on Earth. She is anything but modest, content to fight with her face guarded, while much of her body remains exposed.
Her weapons of choice are tiě shān, or, steel fighting fans.

The Math: Steel Phoenix Ranking: Draw (NR)

What Went Down...
The two fighters enter the arena with adjudicating elder, Son of Oprhans, who grants Davos opportunity to reveal his newest tattoo markings, unveiling himself as Steel Phoenix of his newly adopted city, K'un-Zi.

The bad blood inspired by Davos' treachery is immediately evident as Tiger's Beautiful Daughter shows no intimidation, mocking the consumption of the Crane Mother's harlot daughters. Though redubbed phoenix, Davos responds with a wicked tongue befitting of a serpent.

The verbal exchange is quickly replaced by the confrontation of these two martial arts warriors. Their opening blows, though impressive, fail to meet in a stalemate of acrobatics. Tiger's Beautiful Daughter fares the best, her evasive technique allowing for an agile recovery that embarasses the self-declared Phoenix.

TBD's blows punish Davos with brutal efficiency. The fighting fans slice through the exposed mid-section of the K'un-Zi fighter, before spraying his blood from an equally unprepared bicep, which could've been far better served with an offense!

Davos takes his lumps, retaliating against his opponent's physicality with an unforgiving shot to the brow. The punch fails to do any specific damage to impair the sight of the boastful warrior woman, who makes Davos pay for his missed opportunity with a toss her fan: which slices his hand off at the wrist!

Tiger's Beautiful Daughter berates Steel Phoenix for his disgraces, boiling him down to little more than a bullying child. Clutching his bloody stump, Davos swears bitter revenge, promising to make TBD pay for her transgressions.
It does not take long for the bill to arrive...

Having summoned his powerful chi, the Steel Phoenix rises from the ashes of combat, manifesting for himself a glowing replacement hand! With the energies swirling, he unleashes the devestating attack of the steel phoenix blow!

The strength of the Steel Phoenix' blow sends Tiger's Beautiful Daughter airborne across the arena grounds. Davos, burning with energy, lets out a roar of gloating as TBD struggles to yield in a pool of her own blood. Still seething with rage, the Steel Phoenix denies mercy, driving his fist into the base of his opponent's skull in an ordinarily lethal blow! Davos wins.

ARTWORK: David AjaThe Hammer...
Fullfilling the requisites of a martial arts movie villain, Steel Phoenix wins with what probably should've been a "fatality!"
As morbid as it sounds, I'm almost disappointed to report that, unless I'm mistaken, Tiger's Beautiful Daughter actually survived to appear, albeit heavily bandaged, in the following issue.

Now, if I were to attempt to incite some sort of controversy with a single turn of phrase, I'd say that yes, the Infinite Wars absolutely advocates violence against women, but that's just because we advocate violence in superhero comics in general [Discussed; Superman/Batman #15].
It just doesn't feel honest to have this character - who is already the instrument of communication for the depths of threat present - to walk away from that, even with the vagaries of "immortal" being thrown around. Speaking of immortal...

Top 25 Martial Artists
#1 Batman (DC)
#2 Wolverine (Marvel)
#3 Daredevil (Marvel)
#4 Ryu (Capcom)
#5 Catwoman (DC)
#6 Green Arrow (DC)
#7 Iron Fist (Marvel)
#8 Deadpool (Marvel)
#9 Dhalsim (Capcom)
#10 Red Robin (DC)
#11 Robin (DC)
#12 Elektra (Marvel)
#13 Kitty Pryde (Marvel)
#14 Nightwing (DC)
#15 Hellcat (Marvel)
#16 Batroc (Marvel)
#17 Guile (Capcom)
#18 R. Mika (Capcom)
#19 Ken Masters (Capcom)
#20 Sagat (Capcom)
#21 Bullseye (Marvel)
#22 Ronin (Marvel)
#23 Deathstroke (DC)
#24 Black Canary (DC)
#25 Fei Long (Capcom)
As with most things that reference history, there's bound to be some common ground - some overlap. Still, it's hard to flick through the pages of The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, and not think of Mortal Kombat. Now, before you get the wrong idea, I don't actually think of that as an insult! I mean, sure, you need only look at mine, or anyone else's reviews of MK comics to know how dreadful their efforts have been, but that's just the point: this is a Mortal Kombat comic done very well!

This is anything but outright plagiarism, with a very thick Marvel B-story running behind the shennanigans of the martial arts tournament epic. In the background, the culmination of economic espionage has seen Hydra come closer to entering K'un-Lun for destructive means. Tied up in the mission of rescue and protection are Luke Cage, and the gals from Nightwing Restoratons!

Still, for all the unmistakable trimmings of a Marvel superhero story, there's no two ways about it: When I read this comic, I'm thinking about Mortal Kombat, and everything it could be with the right creative team!

Tiger's Beautiful Daughter screams Kitana to any fan of the beat 'em up video game franchise, recalling the purple garbed ninja's trademark veiled face and steel fighting fans. The same steely determination one would expect from the Edenian princess of the video game lore also remains.
Of course, really, what Matt Fraction [and Ed Brubaker] have successfully done is return Iron Fist to his martial arts genre roots, layering in various tropes commonly associated with: classic Hong Kong cinema; flamboyant history, myth and legend; and, of course, maybe even some of the genre mish-mash that's come out of Western sources, like, Mortal Kombat.

Also lying just beyond these pages are more of those inescapable pulp keynotes, this time branching from Iron Fist's true world origins as a character sharing historical inspiration with Amazing Man; a Bill Everett character thirty years Iron Fist's senior. Those ties quickly inspire further incorpoation, with the Orson Randall character bringing in many of the cues associated with characters like The Phantom and The Shadow, who were each part of a time when the Orient was regularly glamorized for it's mystery and mythological intrigue.

All of these things help to build something exciting and expected of a contemporary take on the character, who got his start in the 1970s as part of the phenomenon of a martial arts boom, in part sponsored by the likes of Bruce Lee.

As both a superhero and martial arts fanatic, I loved this comic.
After the initial issues I had become fairly complacent with my interest in this series. As much as I love and want to see the Iron Fist character remain bouyant within the Marvel Universe, on a strapped budget, it was hard to find enthusiasm for what was shaping up to be another greytoned, stoicly competent read with Brubaker on the cover. Ironically, Brubaker himself cites his involvement on the title as gradually dwindling, perhaps explaining the joy of more recent shifts, not necessarily evident in Brubaker's other, more urban works.

Regardless of the means to the ends, I'm really pleased to see something like this coming from Marvel. Not just that, but to be hearing it's praises sung, because as much as it is a superhero comic, this is something very different for mainstream readers. It's long been my dream to produce martial arts comics, and a result like this, so legitimate, almost makes it feel like a possibility!

As already alluded, Matt Hollingsworth's presence is felt, and it's with mixed feelings. The colourist who famously contributed to the gritty tone of Daredevil during both Alex Maleev and Michael Lark's stays on the book, becomes a little familiar for my tastes. I'm frustrated because as familiar as it's all getting, much like the stagnance of some Brubaker scripts, it's undeniably suitable.

Tipping the work over the scales is an exciting flashback sequence detailing the trevails of Davos' attempts to overcome the shadow of Daniel Rand, eventual sixty-sixth successor to the Iron Fist mantle. Pencilled by the ultra smooth Kano [not to be confused with the Mortal Kombat baddy!], the pages almost taken on the quality of a whole other comic, good for those who, like me, really felt like that was a bonus to the book, but not so much for those happily dwelling in the issue's grainy stoicism.

I want to come back to Iron Fist!
After dragging my heels through recent entries on the Infinite Wars, I'm reinvigorated, excited all over again largely by, of all characters, Steel Serpent!
Somewhere between the fascinations of characters like Black Adam and Batroc the Leaper; Steel Serpent is an otherwise forgettable villain from Iron Fist's past, revamped for the modern age with a wonderful surrender to the material.
I don't doubt if you haven't already, you might be finding yourself intrigued by the presence of this villain, and I hope very much to be able to bring you more of this martial arts menace's escapades, both new and old!

For now, we wrap things up, getting a good start to the week!
I can't help but notice our already humble traffic has slipped over the past few weeks, and while I do what I can to ensure more of the same great comics discussion and insight, take up this challenge: Find someone online or in person that you chat to about comics, and throw down in front of them as a challenge to wax superheroes, and superhero smackdown!

EDIT: I neglected to mention that the top twenty-five martial artists included earlier in the update is representative of characters cumulative status in the Infinite Wars rankings. Though deductions can be derived, this is not a full proof information method of characters and their abilities. Links provided offer greater insight into source materials, and character histories.

The Fight: 5.5 The Issue: 6.5

"The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven" is still wrapping up, so if you don't think you can wait for the Trade Paperback, then head out to a good comics retailer where you'll find the latest back issues on the shelf! Want to know when more's coming? Keep an eye on the Infinite Wars on Wednesdays when we run down what's hot on stands from the Shipping List! Not quite convinced? What to jump into Iron Fist in a more mature format? Hey, by preordering with Amazon using the purchase links provided, you help support the Infinite Wars and future entries! Links are provided here, and in the brand new Secret Wars on Infinite Earths: Amazonian Gift Shop! Mmm, balmy!


Stephen said...

green arrow is number 6 before iron fist. wow i think we need to check the ballots and karate kid from the legion isn't on the list? tssk tssk.

it never dawned on me the mortal kombat influence. i guess you can make that leap but until goro shows up i wouldn't call any of the character's mortal kombat rip offs.

Mike Haseloff said...

Given the depth of characterization, it's hard not to draw allusions from TBD to MKII Kitana. ;-p

I didn't get to cover it, but usually I would mention (for the uninitiated) that the top 25 lists are always based on the cumulative rankings data. Which, of course, is always to be taken with a pinch of salt, at least until I've covered every appearance of every character.

The real struggle is deciding who to cut and keep on a "martial artist" list. Wolverine always brings up strong reservations, and lord knows the skill is pretty common these days. I reluctantly passed over Invisible Woman, whose trained with Iron Fist (barely). :-p


Krod said...

I haven't gotten to Volume 2 yet, but Iron Fist is great so far.

Mike Haseloff said...

Be interested to hear your thoughts when you get there!