Friday, May 26, 2017

Power Man and Iron Fist: Old School Fresh Tip (Christopher Priest & David Walker)

I just re-read, for the first time in decades, Power Man and Iron Fist #118. When it first came out, this was my first exposure to the book. What was not to love? Solid artwork- with just a problem here and there which would be ironed out by the creative team, under the ever-improving hands of Mark “Doc” Bright and Jerry Acerno. The panels of supporting character Colleen Wing were the ones that grabbed me most effectively; she looks SO cool with her samurai sword. The martial arts combat with Chiatang versus Luke Cage and Colleen- his temporary partner-had me reading and re-reading the pages, following the blocking carefully. The long vertical panel where Cage speaks with steel about this “force” that’s warning them away, according to Danny, in K’un L’un’s secret language is one of the best in the series, much less this issue.

Story? Engaging, mysterious, suspenseful, and wonderful characterizations by Jim Owsley, soon to be known as Christopher Priest. What I didn’t know is that no one had ever had a better handle on Luke Cage. Here, he’s blustering, intimidating, funny, caring and insightful. His best friend’s dying, and he’s willing to dare the unknown, as is Colleen. If anything, Cage has been to K’un L’un before, city of Danny a.k.a. Iron Fist’s youth, and he knows it to be mystical and dangerous. Even Dr. Druid, the most remote of the seven main characters here, is inobtrusive in his help, substituting for a Master of the Mystic Arts. Luke’s lines are often funny, but not clownish; you can’t help respecting his courage and his intelligent observation of his friends. And what great tough guy cadence.

We open with Gordy, Agent of S.M.I.L.E., spying on the Heroes for Hire, a great way to drop us in with informative observations and draw us in, through his curiosity and posture of over-confidence, to the circumstances of their visit to Boston. Soon, we’re given a mystical threat in the form of Druid speaking tongues while summoning a vision of Danny’s extra-dimensional home. In fact, DR. Druid’s home itself has a TARDIS-like disconnect between modern outside and “Bela Lugosi flick” inside- noted by Power Man. His familiarity with the superhero world trappings and street-wise demeanor give us a colorful description that underscores that while this all is not shocking to him, it’s unmistakably weird- perfect identification point for the reader!

The concern for radiation-poisoned Iron Fist, as also reflected by his teacher, Lei Kung the Thunderer- one of the only two survivors of ravaged K’un L’un upon arrival, gave the issue its emotional hook. Luke’s additional concern for Colleen’s edginess gives us the title: “What’s Eating Colleen..?”
As the story unfolds, we find out just why she is so troubled: her best friend, Danny’s girlfriend Misty Knight, is seeing another man! Her less-than-flattering description of him betrays an anti-authoritarian point of view about cops, as does her encounter with the spying federal agents that gives us the opening action. That rebelliousness, in our unconventional heroes, gives them another appealing dimension, particularly for a young reader with their own occasional brushes with parental and teaching authority.

The superior characterization of Luke was probably the most appealing factor for me on first encountering the book. I was very excited to share how good this comic was with my best friend, my first genuine friend at school, a fellow comics fan. I remember seeing my comic passed around at the lunch table- we were in separate classes- happy to share a big hit. And what’s not to love?

The concepts won me over. In my racially-divided rural society, the idea of a black man and white man being best friends was nearly subversive- but hopeful! A tough woman able to stand on her own bravely was also still somewhat culturally revolutionary. She was really pretty, too- I didn’t catch on that she was of partial Asian heritage. The line associated with her twice, “the samurai sword...only drawn to be used...only used to kill”- so tough! Martial arts in pop culture was enjoying a surge in popularity, too, so an insight like that, even if it rings now of pulp fiction, felt so macho and cool. How amazing was it that a female character should bring it my way? Pretending you knew things about fighting and martial arts was the order of the day, so I’m pretty sure even shy Me had something to share about that one. The notion of self-healing through spiritual power was also imparted to me here. Mystic cities? Out of sight! When comics and books are a gateway to new, strange ideas that hint of more possible than seen in day-to-day life, you can’t help but fall in love.

I found myself anticipating certain lines as I turned the pages- solid proof of how many, many times I must’ve read this comic originally. How unfortunate I was discovering the title both at its creative height, but also, this height had been reached by a new creative team that had, in fact, few issues left in which to make their point. Was it sales, or simply how connected to images and concepts of the 1970’s like blaxploitation and kung fu action, that put it on the block for the chop?

OH, and the title’s a double entendre: not only does she finally unburden herself about her best friend’s secret and its sorrows, but on the last page we do find out what’s very likely to be “eating” Colleen. Great cliffhanger!

I’d found PM/IF issues purchased on Ebay in California, of late. Completing the last of these I had handy, #120-122, I had to go looking at the local comics shop, What If? I talked to my old friend- I told him “easy on the ‘old’ compadre!”- on the way there, and we agreed about the high quality with which this overlooked series had ended. The two dollars each I gave for PM/IF’s #118 and 119 was money well spent. Reading the story out-of-order didn’t bother me much- that’s the way comics fans in the old days usually discovered their respective comics universes. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in another installment- you know how Integr8d Fix loves to dig out the lost gems!

I tried and enjoyed several issues of the Pm/IF revival that saw print last year; this same trip to the shop yielded me a copy of #11, so I could pick up after the crossover, whose content I couldn’t yet recall. The storyline continues smoothly out of that, inspired by the precognitive crime-prevention vigilantes and the computer program they used- tested for someone else, who we meet-to muck with criminal records. The concepts I mentioned above are still alive in its pages- the writing’s different, with much more face-time given to the villains, who are fairly rounded characters on their own, some of whom need the help of Heroes For Hire. But that’s something else PM/IF did well back in the day, at times: good stories about the “bad guys,” the complications in their lives. If anything held the title back before Bright and Owsley, it was the series of one-offs: pretty good single issues on their own, but without the connective tissue, nor development of supporting characters’ storylines. The new comic remedies both those weaknesses while continuing all the themes I enjoyed in some fashion. Now, David Walker’s been hitting upon that strength of telling the bad guys’ stories well, too, with a more authentic hip-hop flavor of street adventures and its high rollers and big losers- a turn away from the 80’s reflection of popular, kid-beloved detective TV stories. It’s not trying to be ‘Magnum P.I.’ or Remington Steele anymore. So, for now, no foreign government intrigues. And a big move away from ‘realistic’ art styles like Doc Bright’s to an expressive cartoon-style in Sanford Greene.

-Lue Lyron
Probably, the new issue earns a post all its own. I’ve got space slated in July to go back to the first year of PM/IF, if I’m not covered up writing Hero Duty from IDW and Z-Monkeys.
Maybe I should write-up both ‘first years as a new title’?

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