MARVEL MASTERWORKS: IRON FIST VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Marvel Premiere Nos. 15-25 and Iron Fist Nos. 1, 2 (cover dates May, 1974- December, 1975).
Writers: Roy Thomas, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, and Len Wein.
Artists: Pencilers- Gil Kane, Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, John Byrne, and Pat Broderick; Inkers- Dick Giordano, Dan Green, Vince Colletta, Bob McLeod, and others.
I had no knowledge of, or interest in, Iron Fist growing up. None. I bought the old Marvel Visionaries: Gil Kane trade paperback, and it reprinted Marvel Premiere #15, Iron Fist's first appearance. I was so blown away by the quality of that story that I hunted down Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 and was even more blown away. So much so that I was primed and ready for a full color collection. Years later, this book was released. Even more years later, I rotated this through my backlog and read it. I think that it takes mystical K'Un-Lun less time to appear again than it did for all of this to occur.
Marvel Premiere was one of Marvel's “tryout” books. Lots of new 1970s concepts were tried out in these rather than being launched with an endless stream of new #1s and cancelled and relaunched titles. Iron Fist enjoyed a long run in Marvel Premiere, lasting eleven issue before being spun off in his own magazine. The launch of his solo series came smack dab in the middle of an ongoing storyline. In this book it reads just fine. I can see where folks who bought it off of the spinner racks would be confused, though. Wait, isn't this the first issue?
Like many Bronze Age titles, this series was handed off like a baton to a number of comic book journeymen. To the writers' credit, things never became disjointed and continuity was maintained throughout. No egotistical crybabies trying to undo what another writer had just done, trying to put their “stamp” on it, just moving the story forward from one issue to the next. If one didn't read the credits, one wouldn't notice a huge difference in the writing until Chris Claremont came aboard. His distinct voice was already fully formed, even in his salad days. Thomas, Claremont, Isabella, Moench...these guys were all students of the artform, growing up with it and have a genuine love for it.
The artwork is a mixed bag. Gil Kane starts things off strong. Kane is a master, one of the best artists of his day. The only reason that modern fans are unaware of him is that he jumped around too much and didn't have a defining “run” on any title. Larry Hama did a few issues after Kane's one and only issue. Yes, that would be the same Larry Hama who helped Hasbro co-create the G.I. Joe characters of the '80s and wrote all but 6 of the 155 issues of the original title. He started out as an artist but made his mark as a writer. Arvell Jones and Pat Broderick are those artists who did solid work but whom nobody calls a favorite. If you flip through your collection of '70s and '80s comics you likely own many issues that they drew.
I enjoyed seeing Iron Fist fight Batroc the Leaper. I am always a sucker for the shared universe aspect, where one hero's villains wind up in another one's title and they fight. Most of the better villains and battles occur in the next volume in this series. There is tons of high octane, bone crushing martial arts action here, though. Iron Fist is very much a product of it's time but holds up extremely well some 40 years later.
Chris Claremont takes the reins with Marvel Premiere #23, where he introduces a villain named Warhawk. Warhawk was some kind of shell-shocked Viet Nam veteran who saw the world as a war that was still continuing, much like the Punisher. While the Punisher was more of a zeitgeist antihero, Warhawk was a villain plain and simple, shooting at civilians and whatnot.
|John Byrne's first published Marvel work.|
John Byrne comes aboard with issue 25. This marks the dawn of the collaboration between Claremont and Byrne which would be continued in Marvel Team-Up and reach artistic heights in Uncanny X-Men just two years later. This is like John Lennon meeting Paul McCartney, and the two began writing songs together. This is also when the series kicks into high gear. Claremont and Byrne never met a subplot they didn't like, and they would throw interludes in while putting seemingly endless new developments into motion. Things always got tidied up. It was a blast reading this stuff for the first time, and was equally thrilling on the re-read. While this book is great, the issues collected in volume 2 are even better.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.75 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Marvel Masterworks are my poison of choice. While the line has certainly had some missteps and mistakes over the years, it has been pretty much perfect since 2007-2008. When it comes to earlier printings I would advise folks to avoid them for the most part and buy the softcovers. They often boast superior restoration to the existing hardcovers and use the same upgrades found in the Omnibus hardcovers. For Masterworks of this book's vintage, rest assured that this is the definitive Blu-Ray edition of your favorites.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Introduction By Roy Thomas (2 pages).
Creator Biographies by John Rhett Thomas (4 pages).
Linework and Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. Think of the post-2007 Masterworks as definitive Blu-Ray editions.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Thick coated semi-glossy stock which smells nice.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Rounded book casing and smyth sewn binding (six stitches per signature) allow this book to lay completely flat as Godzilla intended.