Much of the charm of “The Immortal Iron Fist” relies on the foundation built by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja. Their approach to Danny Rand’s world was so pure, so clear, so evocative that all Duane Swierczynski had to do was show up and continue telling stories in the world they had established. It still would have been a decent comic, even if nothing new was introduced.
Luckily, Swierczynski has followed the groundwork laid by the previous creative team and expanded upon it. So far in his run, we’ve seen the certain death of Iron Fist as a powerful being hunted him down, turning his own associates against him, and we’ve seen more of the Iron Fist legacy, as we discovered how the weapon of K’un L’un translates into a sci-fi world of tomorrow. And now Swierczynski has sent Danny Rand straight to Hell.
In the quest to find the mysterious eighth city, Iron Fist and the six Immortal Weapons (Fat Cobra and company, so memorably introduced by Brubaker and Fraction) find themselves in a nightmarish realm of constant battles. Hell, for them, is an endless kung-fu tournament. It’s the monotonous repetition of the same events, again and again.
Telling a story about monotony could lead to, well, a bit of monotony in the comic, but Swierczynski moves the comic back and forth through time, giving us a non-chronological structure to break up the hellishness. This isn’t a comic in which a whole lot happens — it’s mostly a mood-setter for what’s to come, but it does a nice job putting the characters in a seemingly impossible situation and then providing a twist at the end. A twist which is either a glimmer of hope or a dreadful revelation, depending on what happens next issue.
Travel Foreman continues to accompany Swierczynski as the artist on this run, but his work looks different here. It’s a little less expressive, a bit more tightly detailed. Even his Danny Rand (bearded, beaten) looks more fully-rendered, and Foreman’s compositions, while still dynamic, are considerably less angular. I don’t know if the change in style is due to a longer lead time on this story arc, or if Foreman has chosen to apply different visual techniques for a different kind of story, but this looks a little more traditional than the early-Jae Lee approach he took a few issues back. The more aesthetically conservative readers might enjoy this style a bit more than the one he began his run with.
“The Immortal Iron Fist” continues being exactly what it is: a supernatural martial arts comic. It embraces that role and while it may not have regained the heights of the sublime Brubaker/Fraction era, it’s still very good. And if you’re looking for a Marvel comic that’s not tethered to the event or “Reign” de jour, then this comic might be for you.