Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two Reviews - Iron Fist and Umbrella Academy

"The Immortal Iron Fist- Volume 1" - Matt Fraction & Daniel Aja (Marvel)

This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the ongoing series from writers Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, with art by Daniel Aja.

I have always been a fan of this character and have felt that, in the right hands, with the right creative team, this character was capable of being truly great. I was right.

Fraction and Brubaker, both capable of excellent writing, combine their efforts here to infuse the Iron Fist mythos with the perfect blend of intrigue, action, humor and mystery. Daniel Aja's art is dark and deadly, providing a gritty backdrop to the world of Daniel Rand, aka "The Immortal Iron Fist".

The story is peppered throughout with flashbacks to previous Iron Fist champions throughout history. We see a female Iron Fist who projects her signature "Chi" energy around the shafts of the arrows she fires, turning them into "Lightning from God" with devastating effect. We see an Iron Fist in Feudal Japan, and even in World War 2 where the Iron Fist channelled his "Chi" energy through a pair of .45 automatics held in each hand.

This series is all about re-injecting the Iron Fist mythology with as much "Cool" as possible, and it succeeds masterfully.

Luke Cage and the Daughters of the Dragon show up for cameos, as you might expect, as does the WW2 version of "Iron Fist" who teams up with Danny to uncover the secret book of Iron Fist which contains all the fighting secrets of past champions. Expect things to get much more interesting as Danny learns to unlock the secrets contained in this book.

The story follows our modern day Iron Fist as he fights the secret society known as "Hydra" with the mask on, and off. Hydra attempts a hostile take over of his company, The Rand Corporation, while attempting to destroy Iron Fist with hordes of highly trained operatives lead by an old nemesis. It's a great, non-stop martial arts action story filled with intrigue and sporting some great dialog and characterization.

Can't wait for the second trade.
The Umbrella Academy - Story by Gerald Way and art by Gabriel Ba (Dark Horse)

I love this new series. Maybe it's because I love the old "Doom Patrol" from Grant Morrison, and the Walt Simonson-era "Metal Men"? This series carries a lot of the same weirdness and charm of those two off-beat team books from decades past, yet there's a very unique take on the superhero genre here that makes it even more enjoyable to me than those old comics of yesteryear.

The art by Gabriel Ba is gorgeous beyond comprehension. He could illustrate someone mowing my lawn and it would be worth the price of the book.

The story drops the reader smack in the middle of a team of children born under unusual circumstances, most with unusual abilities, on the day their leader, and Father figure, Dr. Reginald Hargreeves, has died. After many years operating as a team of children, the've since drifted apart for reasons unknown but they come together again to remember their fallen mentor, and discover that they must also prevent the end of the world before it's too late.

The characters in this book are a big part of what makes it interesting to me. We have a talking chimp who acts as a second in command; a half-man, half-gorilla/robot known as "Spaceboy"; a knife fighter known as "The Kraken" who can hold his breath for an unlimited time; a woman known as "Rumor" who can speak things into reality by suggesting things out loud; "The Séance" who can levitate and speak with the dead; a time-travelling boy known as "The Future"; a boy who can release monsters from inside himself known as "The Horror"; and Vanya who has no apparent superhuman abilities other than to play the violin and write a tell-all book about her time in the Academy.

Dr. Hargreeves, their deceased mentor and guardian, was apparently an extra-terrestrial but so far we've yet to see what he actually looked like beneath his human face-mask. We also don't know where he comes from and if he had anything to do with the strange abilities or birth of these children.

That's the fun of this book. We get to discover the mysteries of the world these characters inhabit while learning more about who they are, how they got here and what forces are at work surrounding them.

The team itself is interesting because they're not the typical bunch of angsty teenagers (X-Men) or blow-hard jerks (Authority) seen in most comics today. The team itself is barely held together, having already broken up (presumably over the death of one of their own on a previous mission), they can hardly find it in themselves to be in the same room together, much less operate as a family of super-powered heroes trying to save the planet from ultimate destruction.

I like the fact that there's a lot of bad blood between everyone here. I like that they don't believe they're God's gift to mankind. I like the fact that they would all much rather work alone, or slip away into the shadows and live a normal life than get their kicks as mutant celebrities. They are human, in spite of their bizarre abilities. They are human in the way that you and I are human; they just want to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

Vanya, the sole "non-super" member of the family, is probably the most fascinating character to me. She's the only one who's on the outside looking in. She desperately wants to be loved and accepted by the others, but because of her lack of meta-human power she is forever kept at arms length. The Umbrella Academy is a team, a family, a club that she'll never be able to join.

You can feel her sense of hopelessness and helplessness as she stands on the sidelines and watches the team operate. All she can do is practice her violin.

While Vanya yearns to share the spotlight cast upon her fellow Academy members, the rest of them would rather be normal like she is. They don't even want to be part of a world protection squad, but they're compelled to step in whenever necessary because that's how they were raised by their "Father".

This is the only ongoing series I currently buy each month in single issue format. It's too good to wait for the trade.

The good news is that the team has agreed to stick together to continue working on this book after the first mini-series is completed.


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