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Iron Fist – Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch (Review)

Iron Fist draws its influences from the strangest possible places.

As a rule, the Marvel Netflix shows are heavily rooted in the reinvention of Marvel’s street level heroes that began around the turn of the millennium. There are generally two key creative figures associated with this era, artist-turned-editor Joe Quesada and writer Brian Michael Bendis. Working the bunch of street-level properties, these two figures invented and reinvented a number of characters and concepts that would become a cornerstone of this shared television universe.

Hitting the wall…

Sometimes the influence was rather direct. Jessica Jones draws fairly heavily and literally from Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ twenty-eight issue run on Alias. Sometimes that influence was more conceptual. Luke Cage tells its own unique story, but it is heavily influenced by Brian Michael Bendis’ rehabilitation of the title character during his runs on Alias and New Avengers. In some ways, Daredevil is an outlier, drawing on the iconic eighties run by Frank Miller, but it is still heavily influenced by millennial runs by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker.

Given this existing framework, there is a very obvious influence from which the creative team might draw. Written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and illustrated primarily by David Aja, The Immortal Iron Fist was launched in November 2006. The run was launched during the tenure of Joe Quesada and spun directly out of Daredevil. It was also praised by critics and adored by fans for its radical and thoughtful reinvention of the Iron Fist mythos. It was also just plain fun, with Michal Chabon summarising it as “pure, yummy martial-arts-fantasy deliciousness.”

More like bored room, am I right?

With all of this in mind, it seems like Iron Fist should not have to look very hard for an influence. The Immortal Iron Fist was a comic that reinvented a long-forgotten character in a way that made him accessible to modern audiences that had never latched on to Danny Rand. More than that, by focusing on the history and legacy of the title, Fraction and Brubaker had found (some small way) to defuse the potential racial controversy simmering beneath the production. Emphasising the tradition of K’un Lun, The Immortal Iron Fist diversified the mythos.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Iron Fist chooses to draw most heavily and most overtly from the original appearances of Danny Rand in Marvel Premiere and Iron Fist, a run largely forgotten by history and notable primarily as a stepping stone to much greater things.

Hardly gripping.

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Star Trek – Assignment: Earth (IDW, 2008) (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

John Byrne’s five-issue Assignment: Earth miniseries is fascinating, because it is perhaps the closest that fans will ever come to getting an actual series spinning out of the episode Assignment: Earth. Of course, the second season finalé had been planned as a backdoor pilot for a new television show, but it never quite materialised. Understandably, Gary Seven tends to appear in spin-off material as a guest star or supporting player. Assignment: Earth focuses on the adventures of Supervisor 194 on his own terms.

Coupled with Byrne’s decidedly old-school done-in-one storytelling structure, Assignment: Earth manages to tell four separate stories featuring Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln doing what they do in the late sixties and into the seventies. A series of unique and episodic adventures delivered on a regular, Assignment: Earth comes quite close to capturing the feel of a television show. Taking the television episode as his starting point, John Byrne manages to pitch a series of adventures that feel like they might hint at the direction the show could have gone.

Sensors detect a spin-off!

Sensors detect a spin-off!

While the Assignment: Earth miniseries is ultimately disposable and largely forgettable, it is an interesting experiment. By their nature, prose novels like The Eugenics Wars can only focus on a single plot starring the character. Using his fairly compressed approach to comic book storytelling, Byrne can tell five different stories in rapid succession, each with a clear beginning, middle and end. While these stories are inevitably written from the vantage point of 2008, they still feel like they might offer a glimpse at what the show might have looked like.

In many respects, Byrne is hampered by his source material. While the writer and artist has a bit of fun with the concept, a lot of Assignment: Earth ultimately feels a little dry and a little heavy-handed. Despite all the nods towards relevance and social commentary, Assignment: Earth lacks the spirit of adventure and excitement that a television show like this would need in the longer term.

"You'll have fifty percent less Nixon to kick around!"

“You’ll have fifty percent less Nixon to kick around!”

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Star Trek – New Visions #1: The Mirror, Cracked (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is interesting the ideas that wind up becoming the focal points for fans and tie-in fiction.

For example, there is a wealth of tie-in material based around individual episodes of the Star Trek franchise. Despite the fact that Gary Seven only appeared in Assignment: Earth, the character has inspired tie-in novels and comic books about his exploits from a wealth of different writers. Similarly, the history of Khan Noonien Singh has been thorough explored (and re-explored) in various novels and comic books as well, despite the fact that he only appeared in one episode of the classic television show and one of the theatrical films – his popularity grew to the point where he reappeared in the rebooted series.

Boom, boom, boom, shake the bridge!

Boom, boom, boom, shake the bridge!

There is a lot of fixation on the perceived “missing” adventures from Kirk’s five-year mission, a revisionism that occasionally seems intended to downplay the two seasons of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Michael Jan Friedman wrote a series of novels exploring Captain Picard’s tenure commanding the Stargazer. There is a wealth of material filling the gaps between The Turnabout Intruder and Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and from there to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

In contrast, there is less material filling the gap between the opening sequences of Star Trek: Generations and Encounter at Farpoint; particularly if you exclude material focusing on Captain Sulu or Captain Picard. The Lost Era novel series was short-lived, and the comics have little interest in it. Similarly, the tie-in novels may have expanded continuity past Endgame, but there is an incredible “safeness” to it all. Sure, Deep Space Nine might be destroyed; but it will be rebuilt with most of the same craft. Voyager may be home, but it’ll be sent out again. Janeway may die, but she’ll be back.

A transporter, darkly...

A transporter, darkly…

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Star Trek – New Visions #3: Cry Vengeance (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

These Are the Voyages… aired in May 2005. Star Trek has been off the air for almost a decade; longer in the eyes of certain fans who have their own earlier cut-off dates. Although JJ Abrams brought Star Trek back to the big screen, it is not quite the same. It is not simply that – as Ronald D. Moore has arguedStar Trek feels more at home on the small screen. There is also a sense that there is a dearth of “new” stories in the Star Trek universe. One two-hour movie ever three years does not cut it, after all.

A whole cottage industry has developed around trying to sate Star Trek fans – to deliver the new episodes that it seems so many fans so desperately want. There are month comic books set within the continuity of the recent movies. There are novels that unfold in a loosely serialised format building off the end of the various twenty-fourth century shows. There are numerous fan projects churning out their own new Star Trek stories, whether featuring the original characters or a novel twist on the franchise.

Shaking things up a bit...

Shaking things up a bit…

This desire for new Star Trek is understandable. Given the rate at which the franchise was produced during the nineties, it is hard to imagine living in a world where new Star Trek arrives by drip-feed. In a way, John Byrne’s New Visions series is the most candid attempt to cater to this impulse among Star Trek fans. Using a wealth of images from the original Star Trek series, some photoshop skills, and years of experience writing comic books, John Byrne is literally able to stitch together new stories from the eighty classic Star Trek shows.

It is a bizarre blend of storytelling and cannibalism that serves as a fairly cynical metaphor for a particular approach to tie-in Star Trek material.

"Use your indoor voice..."

“Use your indoor voice…”

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An Interview with Chris Claremont, Part II (of V)

All this week, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re publishing a serialised interview that we conducted with the wonderful Chris Claremont back in February for publication in a British comic book magazine. Many thanks to Mr. Claremont for taking the time to talk to us, and also to Adam Walsh for allowing us to publish this.

It’s hard to talk about Chris Claremont’s X-Men run without discussing his collaboration with fellow comic book superstar John Byrne. When Uncanny X-Men shifted from a bi-monthly schedule to a monthly schedule, John Byrne took over from Dave Cockrum as artist on the title.

Claremont and Byrne are responsible for one of the most celebrated creative runs in mainstream comics. In hindsight, the two seemed well suited. Both were born in the same year, and Byrne had also been born in England. Byrne’s family migrated to Canada when he was only eight years old.

“The point is that John and I had the advantage of originating out of the same cultural stew pot,” Claremont explains. “When I would throw in conceptual reference to something I’d seen in Eagle…”

xmen-claremont5

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X-Men – Days of Future Past (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

What’s striking about Days of Future Past is how incredibly short it is.

That’s not to suggest that the comic “feels” small or has a shortage of ideas or anything like that. In Days of Future Past, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne toss out a whole host of ideas that shape and define the entire X-Men mythos. These issues continue to inspire the X-Men comic book line. Without Days of Future Past, there would be no Age of Apocalypse. The franchise’s fiftieth anniversary “event”Battle of the Atom – is essentially a gigantic tribute to Days of Future Past.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

In fact, the influence of this story extends beyond the X-Men as a comic book franchise. “Bad alternate future” may be a trope favoured by the X-Men comics, but it’s a staple of the genre and – arguably – the medium. There’s a reason that the iconic cover to the first issue of this story arc has been emulated so often, or that Alan Moore planned to riff on the story’s central idea for his proposed Twilight of the Superheroes. Days of Future Past is just a great story hook.

However, reading it today, it’s striking how short it is. All of this come from two issues.

The poster child for this sort of story...

The poster child for this sort of story…

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Spider-Man: Chapter One (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man: Chapter One is a strange little comic. In context, it makes a great deal of sense. Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel’s most popular and iconic comic book heroes. In the late nineties, the comic book industry was trying to figure out how to push forward, following the sales explosion and implosion of the mid-nineties. With superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men primed for a transition to the big screen, revisiting the early days of these heroes made a great deal of sense.

And John Byrne was the logical choice for a book like this. Byrne was a unique talent. He had enjoyed incredibly successful runs on Uncanny X-Men and The Fantastic Four at Marvel. More than that, though, he had already overseen the successful relaunch of another classic character. In the wake of DC’s universe-altering line-wide Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne had been the writer who re-drafted Superman’s origin as part of the Man of Steel miniseries in 1986.

Boundless enthusiasm...

Boundless enthusiasm…

And so, Marvel gave us Spider-Man: Chapter One. The comic was a reimagining of the earliest days of the wall-crawling superhero, spanning thirteen issues and covering many of the character’s earliest encounters with his classic foes. John Byrne was writing the script and providing the artwork for the comics, which seemed primed to introduced Spider-Man to a whole new generation of readers, giving audiences a back-to-basics take on Spider-Man that was fresh and accessible.

At least, that was the idea. In actuality, Spider-Man: Chapter One feels like a massive miscalculation on just about everybody’s part. It seems to be aiming for some middle ground between Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe’s contemporary Untold Tales of Spider-Man and Brian Michael Bendis’ pending Ultimate Spider-Man. It seems like Byrne is never sure whether he’s simply re-telling the classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run on The Amazing Spider-Man with a few bells and whistles, or trying to make it his own.

You are about to enter... the Spidey zone...

You are about to enter… the Spidey zone…

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