One of the great joys of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker's run on "The Immortal Iron Fist" -- and it's sad to call it simply a run and not just "series" as only one issue of their work on the title remains -- is the incredibly detailed mythology they have woven into the title. There are enough Iron Fists with enough sidekicks and cohorts and villains to populate their own Comics Imprint. All of them appear with such vibrance and weight of character that they are instantly seen not just as two-dimensional scenery, but instead all part of a richly fabricated world, even if they only show up for a few pages.
"The Story of the Iron Fist Bei Bang-Wen (1827-1860): The Perfect Strategy Mind and his Miraculous Travels to the Dark Continent, and what Mysteries of the World and of the Self that He Learned There" (actual title, naturally), is another stand alone issue focusing on an Iron Fist of the past. Like the annuals, specials, and interim issues of the same approach, we are treated to a rollicking pulp adventure that focuses not just on the highest moments of a hero's victory, but the calm and strange period of their lives that comes after The Big Stuff.
Many of the Iron Fists of the past were introduced in the opening scenes of the chapters of the book's first storyline, "The Last Iron Fist Story". Bei's was in issue #4 (I had to check because I had forgotten, so you'll be excused if you can't quite remember it either). We saw Bei ready to give his life in an epic battle against European invaders of the Chinese mainlaind, streaming holy flame from every orifice.
This issue tells us what happened next.
Surprisingly enough, Bei spends nearly the entire issue cut off from the powers of the Iron Fist and trapped in varying degrees of humiliation, abuse, and servitude. It is here that he meets Vivatma Visvajit, a kind of Indian version of the Iron Fist, infused with the power of The Brahman's holy spirit.
Vivatma is another fantastic addition to the Iron Fist mythos and this world spanning story is certainly rife with travel and adventure and mystic battle, but it is, at its heart, the simple story of a guilty man learning to transcend the ghosts that hound him. Like the best folklore, it distills the wild flights of imagination into a very straight forward meditation on the human condition.
Although there's hardly any sign of Danny Rand or the truly remarkable Modern Day World of Iron Fist that Brubaker and Fraction have created, the essence of their work on the title is on full display. The fantastic sits right alongside the fundamentally human.
If there's a weak link in the chain here, it's the artwork. While certainly competent and not unreadable in the least, it does feel rushed and unpolished at times. As this run came closer to its final issues, the consistency of the artwork seemed to suffer the most. Regular artist David Aja became responsible for fewer and fewer pages and those filling in became less and less able to capture the same level of dynamism and style. This issue, while clearly supposed to be outside of that style, still doesn't stand up to the rest of the run's high standards of quality.
That being said, the issue is still a welcome addition to the small but incredibly vibrant universe Brubaker and Fraction have created in this title, an impressive feat considering they did it over the span of less than twenty books, all told.