When it was announced that Matt Fraction and David Aja would be leaving "Immortal Iron Fist" in the hands of Duane Swierczynski and Travel Foreman, message boards around the world flared up with anger and disappointment. Hopefully, the rage and sadness has subsided by now, because if you're willing to give Swierczynski and Foreman a chance, there's a lot to like about their "Immortal Iron Fist."
The preview pages released earlier this year haven't done justice to Foreman's work. He's entered a new phase in his career, moving away from more traditional shapes and figure drawing (as seen in his excellent work on "Ares" or in the pages of earlier "Immortal Iron Fist" issues) and toward a much more expressionistic line (seen, in rushed form, in an issue of DC's "The Search for Ray Palmer"). His work in "Immortal Iron Fist" #17 is passionate and energetic, a style I can only describe as Leinil Yu meets early Jae Lee. I happen to like the style a lot, and it's a great fit for an Iron Fist comic, which is all about dynamic action and foreboding.
In keeping with previous issues, we get flashbacks to an Iron Fist from an earlier generation -- this time it's Kwai Jun-Fan from 1878, who walks the arid landscape of west Texas in scenes drawn by the legendary Russ Heath. Heath's illustrative line and soft figures contrast nicely with the stark edginess of Foreman's new style, giving the sequences set in the present day a bit more sense of brutal danger. The violence in the past is diluted a bit in Heath's panel, even if the Iron Fist of that earlier era was no less deadly. I appreciate the attempt to distinguish the past from the present, tonally and stylistically, and it's well-handled here as the climax of both the present and the past lead to the same sinister threat.
But it's not just past and present that Swierczynski gives us here. He actually begins the issue ten years in the future, as we see a matronly Misty Knight and her nine-year-old son. It's a good hook to start the issue, as the son asks how his father really died. The dead father, by all indications, would be Danny Rand, Iron Fist.
As established in Matt Fraction and David Aja's final issue, the Iron Fists have a habit of dying at age 33, and that's precisely how old Danny Rand has just become. So what better way to start the Swierczynski and Foreman run than by having a scene where we learn that Iron Fist is already dead. And once you see the threat that's revealed at the end of the issue, you'll see why these Iron Fists tend not to make it past their 33rd birthday. The name of this story arc is, appropriately enough, "The MORTAL Iron Fist."
Swierczynski and Foreman's first issue has other things to recommend it. We see a bit of action with the old Power Man and Iron Fist team as Luke Cage and Danny Rand rough some street thugs. But even that scene isn't what it seems, as the man they rescue turns out to be anything but an innocent victim (although neither Cage nor Rand realize that). And there's some relationship stuff with Misty Knight that works well given our glimpse into their future together. And there are a few moments with the departing Jeryn Hogarth, who expresses genuine concern about his replacement's mother. You'll recall, of course, that poor Jeryn's mother had a rough time -- or at least Jeryn did -- under Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's watch. It's still just set-up, which is why I'm reluctant to give it four or more stars, but it's promising, and much better than I had anticipated.
So the character moments are in place, the Iron Fist legacy moments are here, the story follows consistently from what has come before, and Danny Rand is doomed. And the kicking? The kicking is spectacular. And it has to be, because this is an Iron Fist comic.