Nostalgia played a big role in why I picked up the first issue of Marvel’s new Power Man and Iron Fist series. From the pre-release buzz, it appeared that writer David F. Walker, artist Sanford Greene, and colorist Lee Loughridge were harkening back to the glory days of the Luke Cage and Danny Rand “Heroes for Hire” era. Once again the two are teaming up on adventures, only since those early days a lot has transpired both between them and outside of their friendship and frequent team ups. No longer are they relics of the era in which they were created when each character was based on a popular film genre from the 1970s (for Luke it’s Blaxploitation and for Danny it’s the Kung Fu craze). Since then, writers like Brian Bendis, Matt Fraction, and Ed Brubaker have done seminal work on the characters, moving them rather convincingly into the twenty-first century. These writers took the best elements of both characters and built from those foundations to flesh them out and make them thoroughly modern characters who still retain the appeal of those early incarnations. Bendis gave us a Luke Cage who matured into a family man—he’s married to Jessica Jones and together they’re raising a daughter. Fraction and Brubaker revealed that Danny Rand was only the most recent in a long line of Iron Fists, further expanding the mythos of the character and creating endless possibilities for further expansion of Iron Fist’s cannon. It’s from these disparate elements—seventies Blaxploitation/Kung Fu beginnings plus thoroughly twenty-first century characterizations—that Walker and his art team build upon.
In the first issue, Walker makes it clear that Luke and Danny’s brotherhood is central to the series. They spend most of the issue firing witty banter back and forth; Luke the more calm and level-headed of the two, perpetually shrugging at Danny’s impetuousness and manic energy. Walker quickly establishes that he’s paying homage to the thing fans love most about these characters when they’re together—that they might be heroes, but first and foremost they’re best friends and their story is ultimately the story of a friendship and how two adult males navigate being in such a partnership. When the two men agree to help out an old friend with something that sounds harmless enough, it’s obvious to the reader that this is the first step into what will be their initial adventure of the book and it’s certainly not going to be as easy as it seems. As always, Luke is skeptical, but Danny’s enthusiasm for the mission ultimately wins out and now they’re off to the races.
Walker’s writing is rich and rhythmical—you want to spend time with his versions of Luke and Danny because listening to them talk for hours on end would never get dull. And Walker finds a happy medium between old and current comic book styles here in that he writes copious dialogue but it never overwhelms the art or feels like a chore to read. So many modern comics can be read in a matter of minutes and ultimately leave us feeling unsatisfied. The first issue of Power Man and Iron Fist reads like a classic comic book issue in that it takes some time to read, but you’re luxuriating in that time spent with this entertaining duo and the their supporting characters. I hadn’t read any of Walker’s other work, although I’ve wanted to check out his Shaft comics for a while. I know he’s earned quite a bit of positive buzz in recent years among comics readers, and now I can see why. In one issue, he accomplishes quite a lot by dropping us into the midst of this friendship, which sets the tone for the series rather quickly. Unless things change radically, I assume this book will be centered on Luke’s and Danny’s relationship and how they work together—while being at odds at times—during their adventures.
Sanford Greene shines in this issue as well. Another rising star, his art here is full of exaggerated body proportions and facial expressions, along with dynamic panel layouts. He gives added depth to Walker’s fantastic dialogue by echoing what the characters would actually look like while speaking these words. Comics are a visual medium and Greene takes full advantage of that by drawing with a kinetic energy that makes the art pop off the page. His characters don’t simply talk to each other, they gesticulate and smirk and in Danny’s case in one scene practice martial arts moves while conversing. Greene’s work here is a visual feast for the eyes. I’m excited to see where he takes the art in this book as Walker’s story builds. And with regards to the coloring, when you see Lee Loughridge’s name on a book you know it’s going to look gorgeous. Whether he’s drawing or coloring, he’s a master at complementing his writer. Here he provides a more subdued, washed out color palette that reflects the characters grittier street-level settings. Plus, the muted browns and yellows and reds remind the reader of where it all began for these characters back in the 1970s. So, like Walker, Loughridge is nodding towards these characters’ pasts while also keeping things firmly rooted in the here and now.
I’ve been hoping to hop off the monthly comics train for a while now. In fact, I had done just that for several months, restricting my comics reading to trades and digital collections. But when I saw Power Man and Iron Fist on the racks I knew that I’d be staying on the train a little longer. The first issue was too engaging for me to “wait for the trade” so I’ll be back next month to see where Walker, Greene, and Loughridge take the book. So far in one issue Walker brings in a few familiar faces that will clearly please old fans, but the use of these characters doesn’t smack of stunt casting in any way. Let’s hope appearances from some more fan favorites (Colleen Wing and Misty Knight, please) are up next. If you’re looking for a book that reminds you of why you used to say “Make Mine Marvel” all those years ago, but is not cloyingly nostalgic and is actually building to something new and fresh, you might want to hop on board the Power Man and Iron Fist train too.