Immortal Iron Fist #18

I'm sure people are going to have problems with the art in this comic. I know they are, because I've read the complaints about the last issue. But I love what Travel Foreman's doing here. His new style, which I termed last month as a kind of Lenil-Yu-meets-early-Jae Lee mash-up, is vibrant and expressive and makes this comic look like nothing else on the shelf right now. While David Aja's work on earlier issues added grace and beauty to the kung-fu follies, Foreman turns this book into a stylish midnite movie full of exaggerated kicks and craggy figures.

It's a perfect match for Duane Swierczynski's script, which traffics in mysticism and destiny but largely concerns itself with gritty, personal violence. This story may be about a magical creature that kills Iron Fists, but it feels like a brutal knife fight in the back alleys.

I think the comic suffers in comparison to the first sixteen issues -- at least in the minds of some readers, who want more of the same -- but if Swierczynski and Foreman had launched "The Immortal Iron Fist" with this tone and this kind of content, it would have been a critical success. I have no doubt about that. And readers would have complained if these two creators walked away at the end of the first year-and-a-half. But because Swierczynski and Foreman have to live in the shadow of Brubaker, Fraction, and Aja, readers will be quick to judge. Quick to say, "it looks different. It's not as good."

It is as good, though, in a lot of ways. I think Aja might be a more crowd-pleasing artist, but Foreman's no slouch, and he does leather-jumpsuit-and-handgun chic about as well as anyone. And the way he breaks the fight scenes into small fragments, with expressive gestures to punctuate the big hits? I like it a lot.

Swierczynski also takes the emotional story in a different direction. While the first couple of arcs in this series were about Danny Rand's relationship to his father figures and the internal politics of K'un L'un, this arc is about Danny as a human, facing his own mortality and strengthening his emotional bonds. Swierczynski emphasizes Iron Fist's relationship to Misty Knight -- moving her into the foreground over the past two issues -- tying Danny Rand to something more human than the mystical destiny of an age-old martial arts tournament. Don't get me wrong: I love everything about martial arts tournaments, but Swierczynski is exploring a different facet of the life of the current Iron Fist, and I think it's an interesting facet to explore.

This issue has its flaws, of course, as most comics do. In this case, Danny Rand's friends seem to arrive with implausible speed, just in the nick of time. And I know Davos has changed over the course of this series, but his dialogue in this issue -- the little of it that there was -- seemed uncharacteristic.

But the quality of the issue overshadows any of its minor flaws. And Danny Rand's life is going to get a lot worse, if the end of the issue is any indication. He may be one of the few Iron Fists with a network of friends, but he's also one of the few Iron Fists with so many people who count on him. When death comes looking, it may not have to attack him directly.

Travel Foreman may draw some panels that look strange to you, and Duane Swierczynski may not write the same stories as Brubaker and Fraction, but "The Immortal Iron Fist" is still a good comic, definitely worth your time.

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