I am an unabashed lover of Matt Fraction’s writing. The first book of his I ever read was the Punisher War Journal: Civil War hardcover, which included the issue “Small Wake for a Tall Man,” taking place at the wake for Stilt Man, who can only really be described as a silly D list villain from those crazy Silver Age Marvel books. I was hooked. I caught myself up on War Journal, bought the first Immortal Iron Fist hardcover and whatever issues had come out at the time, and delved into the mad world that is his creator owned Image Comics book, Casanova. Iron Fist has been fantastic so far, really invigorating the character and setting up a concrete legacy of Iron Fists that stretches far back into history. Previously, issue 7 of the ongoing series (entitled “The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay”) was a one-shot issue that told a story of a previous Iron Fist. Now, with the release of Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death, we have yet another jaunt into the past.
Fraction’s flying solo on this issue with a multitude of pencillers (including Russ Heath and Stefano Gaudiano) as he tells a story in the life of Orson Randall, the Golden Age Iron Fist featured heavily in the first arc of the series, and the man that really clued Danny Rand further into the legacy of his predecessors. The plot follows Orson and his band of misfits dubbed the Confederates and including Danny’s father Wendell, as he attempts to elude the dreaded John Aman, Prince of Orphans. There are four main set pieces in the 48 page story, each handled by a different artist. The styles are different but appropriate, and each art team handles the job extremely well. There are a few panels dealing with Aman shrouded in the Green Mist that are absolutely breathtaking. The various incarnations of the Prince of Orphans, all of which incorporate the titular Green Mist, are very different, but still manage to convey that sense of danger and dread, which allows the reader to completely buy in to Orson’s fear.
But the real star of the show here is Matt Fraction. If anyone has ever heard Matt speak, whether at a con or on various podcast interviews, you will know that this stuff is right in his wheelhouse. Crazy mysticism, a cover up involving the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, and even a trip to a mad scientist’s laboratory are all in play here, and you can tell Fraction is loving every second of playing in this wacky sandbox. Orson Randall quickly became a fan favorite during the first six issues of Iron Fist, and with good reason. This is a guy that truly understands how to wield the power of the Iron Fist, whether by projecting his Chi into his guns or using it to heal fallen comrades, he is a man that is fully in control of himself. Yet, at the same time, he’s also a man who is not afraid to run when the situation merits it. He’s the Han Solo of Iron Fists, and you can tell that Fraction is geeking out on every page. The ability to tell stories like this, ones that have no bearing on other major Marvel characters or worries of creating continuity glitches, is so freeing that it can’t help but improve all facets of the story. No character is cut and dry. No motivation is straightforward. When you can watch John Aman do everything in his power to try to kill Randall in one scene, only to watch him help a fallen friend later in the book, and it all makes sense, it’s a tribute to the writing and the artistry of the universe Fraction and Brubaker and Aja and all the other artists involved in the world have worked so hard at creating.
Marvel has really set up a nice system within Iron Fist. With the daunting and exhaustive work David Aja puts into every issue of the main series, the guy needs a break sometimes. Instead of having to deal with a fill in artist, Fraction and Brubaker have set up the perfect opportunity to give the guy a rest every eight months or so and delve into the lush background they’ve only hinted at in the main storyline of the book, and at the same time allow for the character beats to inform the overall storyline. The Prince of Orphans’ appearance during the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven Tournament suddenly makes even more sense given the context of this issue.
I cannot recommend this issue more. It’s essential for readers of the main Iron Fist series, and probably just as enjoyable as a one shot read for someone with even a passing interest in Iron Fist as a character. Pick it up if you love Iron Fist. Pick it up if you love Kung Fu. Pick it up if you love Matt Fraction. Hell, pick it up if you just love comics. You won’t be disappointed.