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Stealth mode: Graeme realizes that he really, really likes Fracbaker.

Graeme McMillan

I really don’t think that I’ve gushed enough about THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST yet; the fifth issue came out this week and, as with the earlier four, made a quiet but substantial leap towards my heart. There’s something (appropriately?) stealthy about this book, and the way that its blend of epic story, action set-pieces and comedy redefines the character and your (well, my) expectations about him that were set by his appearances in Power Man and Iron Fist growing up – although that part of his history isn’t ignored, by any means, and Luke Cage’s appearances in the series are highlights without being overwhelming. The writing in this book manages to play to both Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s strengths, but the voice is so consistent, and so consistently not-Brubaker and not-Fraction, that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a book written by two people; instead, you get this third writer, whom I’ll call Med Fracbaker, who can apparently not only do it all, but do it all with a smile on his face (This fifth issue is full of moments that are just funny, which isn’t something that I really would’ve expected from an Iron Fist book). Luckily, they’re matched with an artist who can also pretty much do it all – David Aja’s art has moved from a near-Michael Lark realism in the first few issues to something simpler, yet kind of more effective, by this point, but he’s also getting more playful and interesting with his layouts; the last couple of issues have each included a page that takes advantage of the particular properties that only comics can offer (The staircase scene in #4 was really, really good. Simple, but effective; this issue’s repeated panels with one panel of flashback is another comic-specific trick, rhythmically, but again it works without being showy). Even outside of that playfulness, though, Aja manages to convince you of what he’s drawing whether it be two friends eating take-out or crazy martial arts fighting onboard a moving train, which isn’t as common as it should be, and definitely more welcome because of that.

Iron Fist is, pretty much, the superhero book for people who don’t like superheroes right now. It’s not just that it’s done skillfully, but that the “it” that’s done skillfully is pretty ambitious in scale. It’s an adventure book that takes place across multiple time periods (The majority of the flashbacks at the start of the series seemed like world-building, but as we get closer to the conclusion of this first arc, they’re becoming more and more important to the core story), mixing genres and the mysterious with the mundane, and doing it all with a sense of humor and its own ridiculousness, without being ashamed or apologetic for that ridiculousness. The fifth issue continues the work that’s been done in the previous four, but manages to make this middle chapter satisfying in its own right (Again, not as common as it should be); it’s Very Good, and a reminder that the series really is, quietly, one of the best things Marvel’s putting out there these days.

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