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Synchronicity. Whilst finishing up Vol 2 of Fraction and Brubaker’s extremely enjoyable but flawed Iron Fist, I was reminded of John Carpenter’s wonderful (and prescient) love letter to the Shaw Brothers martial arts movies of the 60′s and 70′s, Big Trouble in Little China. Lo and behold I got home late last night, turned on the TV and there it was in all it’s ridiculous glory (Hail Jack Burton, greatest and most misunderstood action hero of all time!). Something about that film’s giddy and gleeful mish-mashing of East and West pulp genres has seeped it’s way into the current incarnation of Iron Fist. Or maybe it’s always been there. Western culture has long evidenced a love affair with Martial Arts and ‘Eastern Mysticism’ (in the form of green smoke, immortal warriors, and exotic sounding fighting styles rather than any, y’know, actual Eastern mythology). Post-Enter The Dragon the 1970′s went Kung-Fu crazy, and whilst the obsession may have dimmed slightly (or at least been transferred towards fighty computer games) you can guarantee that school yards still resound with the clamour of ill-conceived ‘Special Moves’ and misjudged spin-kicks.

Anyway. I’ve got my Fu on at the moment. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the lure of Kick Face so strongly. My recent excursions into the back issue bin have yielded issues of Mike Baron’s wonderfully barmy Badger series, and having worked my way through the ’7 capital Cities of Heaven’ Iron Fist trade, not to mention the Ninja Man-Bats from Morrison’s recent Bat-run I pretty much only want to read chop socky comics at the moment. In the spirit of Street Fighter 2, Enter the Dragon and ultimate death-matches the world over, I figured I’d pitch Iron Fist against Badger, head to head, to see who’s got the most immaculate style. I would include Batman, but he’s Batman, and nobody wants to fuck with Batman. Hnnh.

FIGHT!

Round 1: Dance of the Flickering Flame

Let’s not beat around the bush: these are some hardcore mothertruckers. Danny’s a hothead – impulsive, daring and deadly. Norbert’s nuts, and would break your nose for kicking a dog or liking the wrong music. They both know their shit too. They’re also incredibly different creatures; Iron Fist is likely to chill in his millionaire’s swank pad playing a little Wii with Powerman, or head for some downtime in a mystical City. Badger however can be found skipping with little girls on the street or feeding ducks with an old lady. Or hanging out with his friend Ham, a 5th Century druid who awoke from a 1500 year coma. Or going on three day drinking bender.

Danny’s landed gentry, established money. He inherited his Dad’s fortune, who inherited it from Orson Randall (who actually had to earn it the good ol’ American way – lying, cheating and stealing)

Badger’s blue collar to the hilt. He’s a Vietnam vet, and a defender of the disadvantaged. He’ll beat a man to a pulp for looking at a duck wrong. He’s a real hero for hire to boot – no job too small/stinky. When was the last time Iron Fist helped a poor family defend their apartment from cockroaches? (I suppose Danny’s liberation of an entire slave caste in K’un Lun does sort of give him some brownie points.)

Maybe we’ll call this first round a draw. Two fists collide with the sound of cracking thunder, the contestants both thrown back with a jolt.

Round 2: Hummingbird Style

Badger throws a man through a window for saying Barry Manilow is better than Fats Waller.

Iron Fist punches out a train.

This is a tricky one. I mean, I respect a man who’s prepared to physically hurt another man over musical preferences. That takes integrity. But Iron Fist punches a super-train so hard that it explodes. That takes…well, something else.

I might have to give this one to Iron Fist. And y’know – I like ‘Copacabana’. I like anywhere where music and fashion are always the passion. Guess I’m just a fool like that. Right Barry?

RIGHT BEAST!

Foot connects with jaw. Iron Fist takes Round 2.

Round 3: The Jellyfish Kiss

Iron Fist assembles the Seven Immortal Weapons, the ultimate martial artists from The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, an army of pissed off warrior servant girls from K’un-Lun, and the Heroes For Hire (including Misty Knight and Luke Cage) to battle the invading forces of Hydra, and to liberate K’un-Lun from the tyrannical patriarchy of Yu-Ti.

Badger assembles an army of steam rollers, elephants, horses, dogs, cats and rats to stop an army of one billion cockroaches led by a gigantic brain-damaged Roach Wrangler from destroying Pittsburgh.

It’s no contest really is it. Badger takes it. I mean, elephants and cats. He uses elephants and cats to win the day.

(Digression – man Pittsburgh gets it raw. Zombies, cockroaches…is there anything that doesn’t plague that city?)

Fist crushes nose cartilige. Badger claims Round 3.

The Winner

Well it’s difficult. I mean Iron Fist is a quintessential 70′s kung-fu icon, one of the first wave of martial arts cash-ins. He’s an original rip-off. Alongside Luke’Action Jackson’ Cage, he’s part of the iconic Marvel exploitation heroes (Ghost Rider and The Punisher are also part of this excellent sub gang – Kung Fu, Blaxploitation, Stunt Riders and Bronson-style Urban Vigilantes) He’s hard as fuck. He’s immortal. He’s a Kung-Fu millionaire whose best friends are Luke Cage and Daredevil. He punches out trains.

Yet…as absurdly enjoyable as the current Iron Fist comic can be, Frubaction have done nothing with Danny Rand’s actual character. They’ve given us plenty of back story for all the other Iron Fist’s, created a rich lineage, and cool characters by the Fist-ful (heh). But poor Danny remains a bit of a blonde vacuum sadly. He’s just not interesting, beyond his admittedly awesome special moves, and the comic becomes top heavy with all the myriad minor characters. I love a bit of world building, but ’7 cities..’ gets waylaid from being what may be the best superhero comic of the year into a slightly muddled and confusing mess. I could have quite happily just watched the tournament y’know? Yet Iron Fist fights once, and loses. I honestly don’t understand why Brubaction spent so much time shading Orson and Wendell (and even fucking Davos’) characters, and forgot Danny. Fine if you’ve got a long term plan, but they amscrayed as of issue 16.

Badger on the other hand has personality to boot. In fact he has multiple personalities. Maybe he could give one to Iron Fist.

There’s something about Badger. It’s such a gonzo comic, I really don’t know if it’s actually supposed to be as good as it is. It could honestly be a happy accident. It’s a love letter to Chuck Jones, Sonny Chiba and spandex, with an unhinged ex-Vietnam vet as a main character. In one issue, one of Badger’s more dangerous alter egos (Pierre – bearded psychopath) is released by drinking a can of haunted beer. Yep, you heard. If I told you that that same issue features Badger and Bigfoot (yes, the Yeti) armed with chainsaws, fighting a giant flesh-eating demon, would you believe me? And every issue is as weird as that. Continuity is minimal, reality is kept at a fucking arm’s length to say the least, and the comic resolutely refuses to take itself seriously. It’s like watching a Chuck Norris film on ketamine. Or something. The only thing that could improve this comic would be Rowdy Roddy Piper. Right Roddy?

Right Beast!

(incidentally – speaking of ultimate smackdowns, John Carpenter’s misunderstood classic They Live! features B-movie stalwart Keith David and The Rodster in the most prolonged and ridiculous fist fight in any movie ever – FACT!)

And Mike Baron is obviously a worshipper at the shrine of Kick Face. Lovingly rendered foot-based batterings abound, and there’s clearly some technical know how in amongst all the fighty-fight.

It’s a quandary. Iron Fist should probably take it, but I just can’t get over the fact that he’s just so damn vanilla. All the lashings of mystical hoo-hah and mega-convoluted background detail, and creative energy that Brufraker bring to the table doesn’t dispel this. At the end of the day I’d probably rather go for a beer with Badger. Even a haunted beer.

They both have supreme fighting styles, albeit in different arenas. Iron Fist has Extreme Mystical Kick Face Powers – supernatural mad skills. Badger’s more earthbound, but has mastered nearly all known styles of martial art and has created a few of his own, to boot. He belongs to the lineage of Bruce Lee, Remo Williams (Unarmed and Dangerous) and Caine From Kung Fu (without the dourness of old David ‘Horseface Killah’ Carradine).

Plus it’s a draw so far.

The only way I can truthfully call it is with a final round. Bring it boys!

Final Round: The Scorpion Sting Tiger Claw Land-Shark Hurricane Blow Death Punchkick

Wow! What a rumble. Heaven, Earth and Pittsburgh quake under the awesome power of these two titans. Shockwaves ripple across the globe. A butterfly shits itself in Japan, a copy of the Absolute Sandman vol 1 falls off a shelf and caves a fat goth’s head in. Shit well and truly hits the fan.

The dust settles. What can the outcome possibly be?

Iron Fist’s body is crumpled on the floor. 20 yards away lies his head, knocked clean off his shoulders, his expression a little shocked, to say the least. Ouch.

FATALITY!!!

But what’s this? Where’s Badger? Well, in a shocking turn of events, Iron Fist’s last special move has rendered Norbert into a little toddler that cries and wets itself!

BABALITY!!!

Ooooh! Tough break boys. Looks like this is lose/lose call. Oh well. I’m bored of kung fu now anyway. Come on kids, let’s go get some ice cream! (You’re paying.)

* Hey, look, I know what some of you are thinking: “Why the fuck isn’t he talking about THE Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi? “

Simple answer: I’ve only read like one issue of it, and that was ages ago. He fought some guy with knives for arms (which makes all things except for fighting Shang-Chi a royal pain in the jackson, I should imagine). It was pretty good, but if you think I’m going to go and read a whole bunch of it, just to make this stupid post more complete then forget it. Sorry.

** I know what Chris Sims is thinking: “Why the fuck isn’t he talking about Quick Kick?”

Suck it up, Sims. Suck it up.

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20 Responses to “Masters of Kung-Fu: Iron Fist vs Badger”

  1. Zom Says:

    Is this the best post ever?

  2. captain trips Says:

    the fight scene in ‘they live’ truly is a historic moment in cinema

  3. The Satrap Says:

    After the untimely* demise of Dave’s Long Box, it warms the cockles of this weary heart, to know that there are upstanding citizens willing to fight the good fight.

    That being said, I thought it was impossible (physically, even) to provide a critique of Fractbaker’s IIF run without gushing over the QUINTESSENTIAL AWESOMENESS of Aja’s draughtsmanship**, so colour me slightly surprised.

    *: because it should have gone on forever, obvs.

    **: to be fair, the panels you’ve posted speak for themselves, so I suppose you can argue “it’s all zen-like economy of means, Grasshopper” and such.

  4. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Aja was indeed superb – the joy he brings to the fight scenes is palpable.

  5. Zom Says:

    Yes, shame about all the fill-in art.

  6. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Iron Fist was waaaay too cluttered basically. I’m all for overambition, but in all the clamour to be TeH! AWEsommme23!! comic, there was a great big Danny-shaped void at the centre of the comic.

  7. Zom Says:

    Yes there was and I’m very surprised how little it’s been commented on.

  8. Dave Says:

    Ahh! More Badger love!

    Iron Fist was about creating a legacy out of… stuff. Mortal Kombat done right, in the Mighty Marvel Manner.

    The Badger was about love. Love of little fuzzy animals, perfect round-house kicks to the head, of freaking out uptight air hostesses by not buckling up on take-off or landing, of sudden side trips to a bowl-shaped world orbiting a naked singularity.

    The Badger is love. Feel the love!

    (BTW, if the Badge could hook up with his buds Nexus and Judah Maccabee, then Iron Fist is. literally, toast.)

  9. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    there was a great big Danny-shaped void at the centre of the comic.

    Yes there was and I’m very surprised how little it’s been commented on.

    Well, it’s a talking point with it’s origins here and one that I’ve kind of concluded is, no offense intended lads, mostly so much bullshit. Most superheroes, the best superheroes are basically tabula rasa, comprised of maybe three facts and dispositions, at most – if you think that’s doubtful, you can maybe tell me some interesting things, hooks about e.g. Cyclops, Captain America or Superman. It’s absolutely a necessity, I think, for even say Republicans – vipers of hell though they be – to be able to project their own goodness, I suppose, such as it is, into.

    Danny seems like a naif, a cultural alien? That’s his original shit, right there.

    There’s some stuff in the Scott McCloud ‘Understanding Comics’ about rudimentary artforms conveying the face for maximal identification that could possibly be tied into that… I think IIF’s problems were basically, toward the end, twofold in that i) the plot was overambitious and cracked under the strain of doing too much all at the same time and ii) David Aja had a baby or something (wonderful) like that, and couldn’t rock his 16 or so pgs a month. I really like Javier Pulido, but it didn’t feel the same.

    I’ve had some drinks, but nonetheless, I think youse are wrong wrong wrong.

  10. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    On the plus side, otherBeast, my best chum says he really wants to read some Badger after your spree.

    Badger = less divisive, therefore ftw.

  11. Zom Says:

    The fact that I feel this way about Danny Rand, and I don’t feel the same way about many, many other characters suggests to me that this is an avenue that needs exploring.

    In the first instance I have to agree with you, Bots, quite a few superheroes are little more than ciphers: neat little bundles of concepts that don’t place too many restrictions on the writer. It’s pretty much the only way things can work in a world where ongoing continuity is a factor, otherwise things get sticky, and broad audience appeal becomes a problem, not to mention storytelling full stop. The problem I have with Danny Rand is that I don’t have any sense of him as a character at all – he’s impulsive apparently, and a bit jokey, and a “captain of industry”, and all sorts of other things that are poorly defined by Fraction and co. I didn’t feel any sense of jeopardy, any sense of struggle on Danny’s behalf, and I consider that a direct product of spending nowhere near enough time with the character and watching him make decisions. Interestingly, and slightly annoyingly, I would say the exact opposite about Orson, who comes out of the series looking like the real star of the book, and I think that’s the real clincher in this argument.

    It’s tricky, because, like you say, I couldn’t tell you much about Steve Rogers, but the difference is that I’ve got to see enough of the bloke over the years for him to have accreted some significance, some gravitas. Can’t say the same thing about Iron Fist, unfortunately.

  12. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    On the reactive thing – I basically agree, but again, with the few exceptions of say the Authority, maybe I dunno Youngblood, Squadron Supreme, superheroes are pretty much hardwired as emplacements who things happen to.

    I have no idea why creating another character: ‘Awesome’ Randall, as I like to know him, who’s more interesting than the reader substitute whom he inducts into the mysteries of the Iron Fist – I have no idea why that’s annoying? Or clinches anything? I don’t know the rule which says, and which could be flubbed in this case anyway, the title character has to be the best ‘un. As a reader of about 5-7 prior comics with Danny Rand in them, I found his representation – second-person narrative aside – pretty contiguous with earlier ones.

    The main villain is probably more engaging too, for similar non-vanilla flavour reasons. Fantasy supporting casts seem to me generally to have more license to be defined and unique – I’m not a Star Wars person, but, you know, everyone knows Han Solo or Vader is much better than Luke Skywalker.

  13. Zom Says:

    I’ll give it to you that there’s no unwritten law that says the principal protagonist has to be the most interesting character, but my point is that Danny wasn’t given anything like a personality/gravitas, in fact I’d go further and suggest that he’s little more than a central point around which cool stuff coalesces – a cipher, basically – which I think is bunt no matter how you look at it. Secondly, while the unwritten law might not exist, it’s no surprise that writers often put a lot of effort into making their principal protagonist breathe, because ultimately, when they’re asked to ground all that cool shit and make manifest the piece’s core conflicts (as Danny most definitely was in this instance), character weakness becomes a real problem. Hence Luke Skywalker improving infinitely over the course of ESB and RotJ.

    Which leads me onto my point about not really giving a shit at the end of run. By that point Fraction (and let’s face it, this is all down to Fraction) has so many elements in play that it’s hard not to see Danny’s absence of personality as yet another example of a broader problem facing the book – Fraction’s lack of creative focus (and consequently the lack of a through line that holds the reader). So I suppose I’m being unfair in a way, in that I insist on reading Danny as an element of Fraction’s flawed creative plan, rather than simply a dude who’s superseded in awesomeness by other more awesome creations. I’m not letting some of the books other strength’s come through, perhaps.

    Another, woolier point, but tied to the idea that Fraction demonstrated a dangerous lack of focus throughout (but primarily towards the end of) his Iron Fist run, is that by locking more firmly onto the protagonist the writer is better able to assess the value of going certain routes. For example, I can’t for the life of me understand why anything was considered more interesting than the quite rightly heavily hyped tournament. I mean, I was buying the fucking book so I could get to see Iron Fist go head to head with Dog Brother #1. Had the focus stayed with Danny and not with EVERYONE ELSE, all one hundred and onety one of them, Fraction might have had time to fit it in.

    All that said, I do have to wonder whether some of storytelling problems facing the run weren’t interesting, creative attempts to ameliorate the effects of David Aja’s absence… Perhaps Fraction steered away from core story element, and headed into flashback territory on those months when he knew Aja wouldn’t be around. The inevitable consequence of which being that certain story elements had to be dumped. Just an idea, but I think it fits.

    This is frustrating because it’s one of those conversations where I feel I’d need to write many, many words to fully get my point across, and I can’t be arsed as I want to spend time doing other Mindless stuff.

  14. Zom Says:

    On the reactive thing – I basically agree, but again, with the few exceptions of say the Authority, maybe I dunno Youngblood, Squadron Supreme, superheroes are pretty much hardwired as emplacements who things happen to.

    Again, nnyeaah, kinda, but there’s reactive in a broad sense, and then there’s reactive in a close in storytelling sense. Regarding the former, I go along with that completely, but in the case of the latter I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite common to see superheroes as active agents of story progression.

  15. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Sorry if you feel antagonised, I have probably been overbrusque. My boy has, like Libra, karmically sorted it by kicking me in the balls at least five times today. I do really value the community and discussion (something you did earlier appear to invite) aspects here as much as the actual blog entries. Anyway:

    By that point Fraction (and let’s face it, this is all down to Fraction) has so many elements in play that it’s hard not to see Danny’s absence of personality as yet another example of a broader problem facing the book – Fraction’s lack of creative focus (and consequently the lack of a through line that holds the reader). So I suppose I’m being unfair in a way, in that I insist on reading Danny as an element of Fraction’s flawed creative plan, rather than simply a dude who’s superseded in awesomeness by other more awesome creations. I’m not letting some of the books other strength’s come through, perhaps.

    I can entirely get on board with this para – I’m rereading the book as result of this discussion, and am up to #9/the ‘Annual’ which is, as I remember it, where it all goes awry from a very impressive and actually controlled first half; instead of knocking down the lovely domino rows already set, several more were chucked up and the result was kinduva mess – there’s also bits where he aims to emulate Gaiman and Moore that really don’t work, possibly because he’s not very classically literate but overstuffed on pop culture.

    The only real difference I have with you is, well, what needles me is that I think this argument about the lead is cottoned wholesale from an actually quite annoying source (see link above) and has certain fannish implications – e.g. not respecting the character enough, not having done research/read & slavishly obeyed every prior bit of continuity for that character – that I don’t think you endorse(?)

    Again, as an agent of change – compare say Captain America, led a merry dance and shot thru the heart after 25 issues, or All-Star Superman: what decisions, not of necessity, did either character make to shift the narrative? (Daniel Rand-K’ai does make two, incidentally, in #1) Big duopoly uperheroes are, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, fundamentally conservative iconography and agents of status Q retention – which is probably why Badger seems so strange and interesting in comparison.

    In constructing a maelstrom of legacies, ersatz families, redressing racial and gender imbalances and general priz-uh-matic stuff, I’d agree the lead was a little lost in the eye of the storm, but even then it’s still far more interesting to me looking at what the comic did than what it did not do.

  16. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I’m still maybe being a bit dismissive there? Sorry, there’s some interesting and illuminating points you have, re: fill-ins for example, which I pretty much buy, sure. It’s a small kernel of disagreement.

    I think the difference is maybe you (or TBMD,) as a new reader expected to be introduced to Danny Rand, the titular Iron Fist, and that I kind of thought, so far as second-tier Marvel characters go, he was quite a big deal anyway? Better than Moon Knight, anyway, although less mental. I was somewhat used to him.

    It’s interesting, wrt reader immersion, the old Iron Fist books by Claremont – and I think, it is quite a rare form of narrative, he may occasionally have used it in X-Men, I think it’s quite unique in that it’s the only comicbook I’ve ever seen narrated in second-person (there’s a small tribute in the Wendell Rand sections in IIF, but they didn’t much like to use it; the only book offhand I’ve seen use it is sections of Iain Banks’ Complicity) which is – directly referring to the reader as though they were the lead, you know?

  17. Zom Says:

    Definitely not buying into any argument about respecting the character, blah, blah, boring fanboy. My point is that I wanted a solid sense of the character in this run.

  18. Zom Says:

    Want to reread the early Death of Cap stuff now.

  19. A Transfer Says:

    I have nothing to say about Iron Fist, unfortunately. I would like to say that the Badger’s line during his visit to the Bowl-shaped World in Nexus #50 is one of my all time favourites, to the extent that I sometimes say it under my breath to raise my spirits:
    “Faceless horde is my middle name!”

  20. Bruce Says:

    I remember sitting the darkened theater watching “They Live” and doing play-by-play on that fight scene that would make Jesse Ventura proud…great fight scene.

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