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Punishing with an Iron Fist - Part 2

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This week and next see the debut of Punisher War Journal and The Immortal Iron Fist, Matt Fraction’s first Marvel Comics work. He stopped by to chat about each book.

Part One

BROKEN FRONTIER: We spent some time speaking about Punisher: War Journal, so I wanted to turn to Iron Fist

MATT FRACTION: The IMMORTAL Iron Fist.

BF: I stand corrected.  The Immortal Iron Fist.  How did this assignment come about?

MF: Ed Brubaker really, really, REALLY wanted to write an Iron Fist book, but due to the fact that Ed Brubaker is also really, really, REALLY busy with Captain America, Uncanny X-Men, and all his other Marvel stuff, he was looking for someone to share the burden with. He wanted to find someone who was as into this character as he is and then he asked me if I would do it.  I thought it was a fantastic idea and looked forward to working with him and learning how he does his stuff.

And, of course, writing a comic with a lot of kicking in it.

BF: [Laughs] Initially I did see both of your names attached to the book as writers, but lately it has just been your name…

MF: That’s a screw up that was made somewhere along the line.  It was just on the internet where with the Civil War: Choosing Sides book Ed’s name was dropped from the credits.  But no, it is a totally equal partnership. 

BF: A lot of people are curious about how writing teams end up working out; can you talk us through the process you and Ed take when you’re putting together an issue?

MF: We just bounce ideas around for an arc.  Ed really brought back Danny Rand front and center with his Daredevil run, so we kind of bounced ideas around.  For the first arc, Ed really had a good idea of what he wanted to do and then we folded in what I wanted to do, which will be the second or third arc.

It’s really a nice back and forth [collaboration]. We both come up with ideas and put together outlines.  Then I’ll send my ideas to him and he’ll go over them and send them back with his thoughts.  And I’ll do the same for him.  It’s a really nice collaboration.  We both know where we want to drive the car, so one of us will take control of the wheel for a while.  Then we’ll stop and get gas and the other one drives for a bit.  It’s just a lot of “back and forth”… I wish I had another synonym for that.

BF: I think that works… Now, the character of Iron Fist is one that hasn’t really had a lot of commercial success over the years.

MF: Yeah.  I don’t get why, but you are right.

BF: For you, is it more of a challenge to write a character like that?  Are there more freedoms?

MF: In a way, but not really.  The thing with a character like Iron Fist is that there are people who love him who will love him no matter what, and then there are the people out there that really don’t care about the character at all.  This isn’t like the Punisher, because there are a lot of people who love that character. 

With Iron Fist, if he were so loved, then why wouldn’t there have been a lasting kick ass Iron Fist book?  All that’s left is just writing the “best-est, most awesomest” Iron Fist book in the world.  We’re trying to be as creatively satisfying as possible to give the character with what he deserves and marry both the past and future and introduce our love of the character to as many people as possible.

BF: I take it you were a fan of the character growing up then?

MF: Yeah. I loved that whole Marvel Grindhouse age of exploitation.  Starting with Cage and then Iron Fist and the rest of those books, I thought all of it was really cool.  It is such a fun, almost “un-Marvel” way to work. 

BF: Since you are a fan, what is the core of Iron Fist; what is his role within the Marvel U.?

MF: He’s pretty much the perfect comic character.  He’s a billionaire CEO, single guy with a really hot girlfriend and he’s the scion of this mystical Kung Fu dynasty that goes back thousands of years.  That’s kind of the most awesome character idea ever.  There’s just something about that just nails it.  He’s the perfect synthesis of a pulp hero, exploitation character, and Marvel superhero.  You know?

BF: Actually, I was just about to mention that this sounds like the perfect combination of 3 superhero stereotypes.

MF: Even beyond that, they’re traditions.  You get a character like him out of these 3 separate schools of thought.  So there’s a whole lot of fun you can have with that, you can celebrate any number of the influences and aspects.  The way you can look at it is if you like the Kung Fu stuff there’s a lot of that in there; if you like the Marvel Superhero stuff there’s a lot of that in there for you; and if you really like the pulp hero, we’ve got that in there as well.

But those influences make the book a real blast.  I’m having a ton of fun writing it and I hope people have a lot of fun reading it.

As for what he means to the Marvel Universe, that’s what the first arc is about.  We want Danny to reconnect with being Iron Fist and to find his way, which will almost mirror the way that the readers are connecting with him as well.  If you read the Civil War: Choosing Sides book, that’s what his section was all about.  Danny’s at this crossroads in his life where he’s trying to reconnect and fall in love with his legacy again.  He needs to remember how truly awesome it is being him and go out and kick motherf*****rs in the face. [Laughs]

BF: Now obviously Ed has been using Iron Fist quite a bit in his Daredevil run.  Where will your book fit in with that and within the bigger tapestry of the Marvel Universe?

MF: It picks up with Danny realizing that there is a lot of good he hasn’t been doing.  In being Daredevil he really got the taste for it again, so that he rediscovered the joy of being a superhero.  So everything that’s happening with the book (hopefully) is what will be happing with Danny.  The same way new readers will be learning about what it means to be Iron Fist, Danny will once again be learning that.  And the way the Marvel Universe takes him back in is pretty much what we’re hoping readers will be doing as well.  But the journey of discovery for the character, we’ve really tried to mirror that with the readers’ experiences on the book. 

And then of course trying to crush him, because of course, half the fun of piling all this stuff onto him is to see how he reacts.

BF: I guess I should ask you, did you like the way he was used in Daredevil?

MF: I thought it was great.  It’s also a pretty cool reflection of the writers themselves.  I’m a little younger than Ed, but right now with the Marvel Universe and the people who are steering it, you can really tell who they grew up reading by who they are using in their books.  It obviously wasn’t a situation where Ed was just grabbing a character to put in there, you could tell from the book that he chose Danny for a reason and I think that adds to the book.

Plus, I really love Ed’s Daredevil book.  You can’t imagine what he’s got planned on that.

BF: Can’t wait to read it.

MF: It really sucks working with him because of that—he tells me everything he’s got planned.  I get mad at him for that, “Why did you just tell me?!?!”

BF: The character of Iron Fist is mostly known for his connections to the Heroes for Hire book.  Are you planning on bringing in any of the old characters with some team-ups or reintroducing any of those old themes?

MF: Well, I think from reading the Daredevil and Heroes for Hire books it’s pretty obvious who is on what side of Civil War.  I’ve known of marriages that break up for political differences, so you can assume that it will have some impact here.  Danny probably won’t be really happy that his girlfriend is using his trademark to run around and do things that he finds personally deplorable.  So all that will be coming back, it’s Danny coming to grips with who he is and who he has been so he will definitely be going back to this.

BF: And should fans expect guest stars?  Is Luke Cage an easy assumption?

MF: What the hell kind of Iron Fist book would this be if Luke Cage didn’t show up?  Of course he’ll be there.  That’s like me saying there won’t be any karate in the book either.

Sorry.  No karate and no Luke Cage.

BF: Now, and this applies more to Luke Cage than to Danny Rand, but one of the prevailing thoughts about how these characters were different from others is that essentially, they did what they did (superhero-ing) for money.  Since you obviously will be using both characters, how do you feel about that characterization and will you be using any of those themes?

MF: That is somewhat true [that they were doing it for money], but things were definitely different for Danny.  As I’ve said, he’s pretty much the ultimate trust fund baby.  I don’t know about your background but I certainly had to work for a living.  And I always knew people who were these “trust fund babies” who were always just a simple phone call away from daddy rescuing them from whatever Hell they suddenly found themselves in.  So, that’s the interesting thing to me about Danny, whereas Cage came from the areas they were working in, Danny was the outsider, more of a “poverty tourist” of the day. 

Danny and his money are going to play a huge role in this book.  Daniel Rand, CEO of Rand Enterprises is a big part of his personality.  And the first arc deals with Danny as a businessman.

Part of why I loved the old books and the character so much was that sleaze factor.  These are Marvel heroes fighting the good fight for money.  One of my favorite comics of all time was the one with Dr. Doom, which is just the greatest comic ever made. 

BF: Which one is that?

MF: It is… Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #9 where Luke Cage borrows a rocket ship from the Fantastic Four and goes to Latveria to take $800 out of Dr. Doom’s ass and helps keep a robot rebellion down.  It’s absurd but absolutely wonderful and totally worth the price for the first Essential Luke Cagebook.

BF: Considering all of the influences for the book that you’ve mentioned: kung fu, pulp, exploitation… did you go out and do any research in those genres at all?

MF: Yes.  I actually became a billionaire and taught myself Kung Fu. [Laughs]

BF: [Laughs] And you’re still writing comics?!?!?

MF: Well, you know, it’s the thing to do.  You don’t want people to think you’re “uppity”.

But no, to answer your question, it wasn’t as if I needed to go out and watch a bunch of Kung Fu movies, not anymore than I do already anyway.  It wasn’t homework or “research.”  Ed and I had a joke about that.  Research makes it seem like homework and watching Kung Fu movies is never homework.

Fueling up on those influences never hurts though.  More like keeping a cheat sheet around.

BF: Now the artist on the book…

MF: David Aja, plus some special guest artists along the way who I don’t think I can mention yet.

BF: Really?  Not even a hint?

MF: No, nothing I can say yet because I don’t know what’s definite.  But David will be joined by some other artists who fans will love.

BF: Ok, well back to Mr. Aja, what is it like working with him?  Do you find yourself writing specifically to take advantage of his strengths?

MF: Yeah and he works real well with what we’re trying to do.  David is incredible; he’s going to be the next Alex Maleev.  He’ll be huge.  He’s doing some amazing work thus far for us, bringing so much to the page.  There’s so much thought into his work.  I just have been incredibly lucky with the artists I’ve been able to work with.

BF: You’ve mentioned Maleev and you’re obviously writing with Brubaker, one question that has been sticking out in my mind is how this match with the character and book themes is going to work.  While it would be completely erroneous to say Ed can’t write a superhero book, his work on Daredevil and Cap has been more thriller, espionage than straight superhero.  And while Maleev is an absolutely brilliant artist, his strengths lie more so with displaying emotion rather than action.  Is there any worry on that on your part that the look and feel of the book might not match the themes?

MF: Well, Ed has been writing Cap and Uncanny and I don’t know if you could get anymore superhero than that.  I would think that anytime you have guys in costumes fighting giant robots over Big Ben it should qualify as a superhero action book.

The colors are a bit more “muted” in those books though.

BF: Well, I certainly don’t mean to say Ed Brubaker can’t write superheroes since his X-Men and Authority pretty much match the definition of the “sweeping, superhero epic”.  I do think the thoughts there are more with the artwork though, especially, as you mention, the coloring.

MF: You mean as it comes from a more realistic palette as opposed to the crazier, brighter superhero tones where nobody goes nuts on Photoshop?

BF: Right.

MF: That I can see, as we’re dealing with some similar issues.  But we’re working with a colorist named Matt Hollingsworth who is one of the best colorists there has ever been.  We’re keeping with that same rich palette so it doesn’t feel like an old episode of Batman.

BF: So would you classify the book as a more “urban” superhero book?

MF: Definitely.  We’re keeping a very “grindhouse vibe”, very street level.  Even though there is this big, crazy, insane stuff happening.

BF: I think that gets to the gist of what I was trying to say, since I should again re-iterate that I don’t think Ed Brubaker can’t write superheroes. [Laughs]

MF: I think we’re sort of living in an age where, coloring-wise, we’re taking the visual possibilities to their utmost.  When you look at someone like Laura Martin with The Authority, with Matt Hollingsworth, Dean White; they take the digital possibilities and they’re turning in these astonishing books, but they handle coloring less like just throwing red, blue, and yellow, and instead end up with tones like “cinnamon” which really adds to the topography.

I think, in general, more comics are moving that way although not every colorist can handle it yet.  It’s a new way of thinking and a new discipline and I think it’s incredible to see someone like Matt handle it so well.

BF: And getting back to David and his style, do you find yourself writing more to his strengths as you see more and more of his work?

MF: Oh yeah, absolutely.  That always happens.  And with someone like Aja, he’s always doing more “homework” and bringing more and more to the page each time.  He is actually doing a great job of making us look more clever than we actually are, which I will gladly take credit for.  So, as you can guess, I really like writing for David.

What’s really great about David is that throughout my Marvel work combined with the lessons I’m learning from Cassanova, I find myself wanting to try out a lot of new things in my writing, and I know that David will keep it from going too far away.

Really, it’s been a great creative situation working with both him and Ed on the book.

For a sneak peek at Iron Fist #1, click  here.

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