BHOC: IRON FIST #12

This is yet another book that my friend Donald Sims traded to me at a certain point, and one of the best issues that I got from him (for all that it didn’t make me run right out and start trying to hunt down other issues of IRON FIST.) It probably helped that Captain America guest-starred in this story, but really the true stars here were Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the creative team that had just started working together on UNCANNY X-MEN and would make that series a creative and commercial success. This cover, though, is the work of outgoing X-MEN artist Dave Cockrum, who was often deployed to do covers.

The one place that the production falls down a little bit is in the inking of Dan Adkins. The inks are all right, but not quite as polished or complete as what Byrne was seeing from Terry Austin over on X-MEN. The art here is just a little bit too open, just a little bit blobby and unfinished. Byrne’s pencils are enough to carry things and shine through, but the finish is lacking just a little bit. Byrne was still working out the kinks from his style in these early days, and IRON FIST gave him a good canvas to experiment on–which he does, with a few innovative page layouts and some cool splash page work. Even with the weakness in the inks, you could see that Byrne was going to grow into a real force in the industry.

Here’s a good example of Byrne building a page layout of the sort that Neal Adams would attempt in his work–a multiple figure shot that carries down a staircase (which improbably changes direction in mid-stream so that everything will fit onto the page.) What’s going on here is that last issue Iron Fist battled the Wrecker and his Wrecking Crew, and was unable to defeat them. The Crew captured Misty Knight and is using her as leverage to force Iron Fist to break into Avengers Mansion for them. A reluctant Danny Rand is following instructions in this opening, but he’s really hoping that he can convince the Avengers to lend him some help. It is a bit of a stupid move for the Wrecking Crew to send Iron Fist into one of the few areas where he might be able to scare up some allies.

Unfortunately for Iron Fist, the only Avenger present at the moment is Captain America–and Cap’s just seen old news reports indicating that Iron Fist is a wanted criminal. So when Cap finds Danny standing over the prone body of the unconscious Jarvis, he launches himself to the attack. What follows is a nicely choreographed fight sequence, one peppered with the same sort of internal introspection and character-building that was emblematic of the Claremont/Byrne team’s work on X-MEN: Byrne handled the choreography and the visuals, and Claremont added texture and character nuance in the copy, balloons and captions.

The fight eventually winds down when Iron Fist refuses to defend himself and Cap needs to save his life from some falling machinery. As this is Marvel plot 101, the heroes now converse and realize that having fought, they need to team up against their mutual enemies, the Wrecking Crew. Here, Claremont and Byrne cheat a little bit by deciding that the Avengers have a Danger Room, one set up exactly like the one the X-Men routinely use. So Iron Fist contacts the Crew, tells them that he’s killed Captain America, and then when they get to Avengers Mansion, he shows them Cap’s body lying in the center of the Danger Room. As the Crew steps inside, the doors slam shut, and the Danger Room goes into operation, attacking the Wrecking Crew and evening the odds. As I say, this is a bit of a cheat, a sequence that would have been more in keeping with the X-Men.

In any case, this all makes for another fun battle–especially since both Cap and Iron Fist are overmatched in the strength department by all of the members of the Wrecking Crew. But with the Room doing half of the work for them, the two heroes proceed to whittle down the odds against them, displaying their own skill and prowess at the same time. They’ve got the Danger Room set to Thor’s standard, reasoning that this should be sufficient to clobber the Crew members. Of course, the traps and weapons set at that level can annihilate Cap and Iron Fist if they’re not careful as well.

That’s really about all there is to the rest of this issue. Cap and Iron Fist win, the Wrecking Crew get carted away by the cops, and Cap apologizes to Iron Fist for thinking him a criminal. The story does put some more foundation under the relationship between Danny Rand and Misty Knight, which Claremont and Byrne had been building for a number of issues now. It was a relationship that not everybody was all that happy with, given its inter-racial nature, but Claremont and Byrne really don’t bring that up at all, and the fact that neither character ever mentions it as a thing is part of what makes it work so well. That said, there were others who weren’t so on board with it, especially not when depicted on covers, a sad reflection of the times. I can recall Claremont bitching even years later about an earlier cover that depicted Iron Fist battling Misty’s partner Colleen Wing and the cover copy describing her as the “woman he loves”, which was false, as anybody who had been reading the book would know. One gets the sense that fewer noses would have gotten out of joint if Colleen had been set up as the love interest. Baby steps.

3 thoughts on “BHOC: IRON FIST #12

  1. Without seeing the pencils, I can’t say if the looseness and weakness of the art can be blamed on the inks. The inks might actually just be faithful to the pencils on the page. Maybe Dan should’ve taken it on himself to “finish” the art, but Byrne isn’t credited with layouts or breakdowns, but as “artist”. Tom Palmer was often credited as “finisher”, embellisher, or with “finished art” when inking the Avengers in the late 80s, into the 90s.

    This could’ve just been semantics, or incorrect credits. I know from comics I’ve edited, I’ve often hoped inkers would “correct” some aspects in the pencils, but some inkers really feel obligated to be as faithful to the drawings as possible, unless it’s a costume fix, or something really obvious. There are other inkers who do feel like leaving their unmistakable impact on the finished look of the art. Palmer, ER Cruz, Ernie Chan, Alfredo Alcala, Klaus Janson (sometimes- the stronger the pencils, the less Klaus’s impact).

    Dan Adkins was a polished artist. Maybe he was rushing. Maybe he was trying to prove a point, that the pencils were possibly so loose, that Dan just worked with what was on the page. We can only guess. Byrne was fast, but if he’s drawing 2 or more nooks a month, the quality on one or more of those could have suffered.

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  2. I missed John Byrne’s early stuff over at Charlton, but looking over these Iron Fist pages again reminded me of how exciting it was back then to open a Marvel Comic and see his work.

    I still remember getting home from the drug store with Marvel Team-Up #53, (Spidey & the Hulk) and stopping to call up a pal to rave about it before I had even finished the story. Both of us were very picky about who drew Spider-Man as teens (we loved the Ditko and Kane versions the most), and I was an immediate fan of Byrne’s take on the wall-crawler (especially the eyes on his mask).

    Later, this same friend nearly chased me down the hall at school, overjoyed that Mr. Byrne had just started on the X-Men. Remember when something so simple could still bring such joy? Happy memories.

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  3. Looking @ these pages again, I like some of the more naturalistic poses of the figures- all the foreshortening is spot on. A credit to Byrne. Many of his commissions in the last decades show almost all characters with their arma straight out or bent. But it all comes off stiff & static.

    I also see the lack of cluttered ink that’s usually polluting his finished work as a nice break. And his figures here are the right proportions. My favorite shot of Cap here is him sitting relaxed behind an unconscious Thunderball. Drawing that takes skill.

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