Writer Roy Thomas wrote an insightful introduction to this first “Iron Fist” Masterworks in which he related how Iron Fist was created in order to give Marvel another kung-fu title. Kung-fu was a craze at the time, both in films and on television. Marvel had a hit with the series “Master of Kung-Fu,” so they naturally wanted to expand their line within that genre. Mr. Thomas came up with the Iron Fist concept after seeing the film “The Five Fingers of Death” with his wife.
I can’t say that I’ve even been a fan of Mr. Thomas’s writing, but he did a fine job with the first issue. The standout sequence involved the death of Iron Fist’s father while he and his mother were off searching for the lost city of K’un-Lun in the Himalayas. Harold Meachum, a business partner of Iron Fist’s father, killed Iron Fist’s father in a rather misguided attempt to win the favor of Iron Fist’s beautiful mother. That plan didn’t work out for Mr. Meachum and he left the young Iron Fist to die with his mother. While Iron Fist’s mother does perish, she manages to hold off a pack of wolves just long enough for him to be rescued by the residents of K’un-Lun. The mysterious residents of that city take him in and raise him in the ways of different martial arts.
One remarkable element of the first issue was the striking art of Gil Kane, who was a very seasoned artist by the early 1970s. Most comic book fans associated his work with DC Comics, where he co-created Hal Jordan, the modern Green Lantern. His clean, energetic style was an unexpected treat.
It was another surprise to see Larry Hama listed as the penciler in the second issue: “Introducing the pulse-pounding penciling of Larry Hama.” He penciled the next four issues of “Iron Fist.” Most comic book fans likely associate Mr. Hama with his long run on Marvel’s “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” series as a writer. In fact, he did pencil a few issues of that series, including the very famous issue #21 silent story “Silent Interlude.”
Naturally, tens years after being orphaned, Iron Fist’s first mission was to seek revenge on Harold Meachum. To do so, he had to endure a ‘tower of death’-style infiltration into Mr. Meachum’s skyscraper, but the effort was worth it. Iron Fist discovered that Mr. Meachum had actually been confined to a wheelchair for the prior decade, having sustained an injury after killing Iron Fist’s father. Mr. Meachum asked Iron Fist to kill him, but Iron Fist refused and Mr. Meachum was instead killed by a mysterious ninja who had followed Iron Fist up to Mr. Meachum’s office.
When the ninja’s true identity was later revealed to readers, but not yet to Iron Fist, it was one of the book’s more surprising moments. Writer Tony Isabella wrapped up this ‘ninja’ arc of issues by concluding the major ‘revenge’ plot line that had driven the first part of the book. The resolution of that arc felt rushed though and some longer-term opportunities with the mysterious ninja were wasted.
Colleen Wing, who would later be featured by Chris Claremont in “Uncanny X-Men” as a brief love interest for Cyclops, was introduced in issue #19. She and her father served as Iron Fists first ‘real world’ allies
Chris Claremont took over as writer for the final few issues in this collection, but he was only beginning his career at the time and his writing was fairly rough. There was a decided lack of polish to his writing, exemplified by a strange Central Park softball game that Iron Fist participated in. New characters showed up without much introduction and the writing simply felt in need of stronger editorial oversight. Curiously, in more than one issue, Mr. Claremont had a character refer to some saying from “the good book,” presumably the Bible.
John Byrne was a rather young artist at the time that he did the final three issues in this collection. Mr. Byrne’s work on “Iron Fist” was immediately prior to his legendary run on “Uncanny X-Men.” His art on these few issues was serviceable, but not really memorable, save for a few splash pages.
I look forward to the second volume of this masterworks series, featuring the rest of the run by Mr Claremont and Mr. Byrne before the title merged with “Power Man.” The duo did seem to get some momentum going in the final issue, even if it was a bit hard to follow. The pieces for an interesting series to follow were in place.