September 15th, 2008
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.
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?
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.
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?
(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.
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!
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?”