Monday, January 20, 2014

Opening Contract - Marvel Premiere #15

As I write this (January 7th) Opening Contract is officially one year old. It’s been quite a ride with some hits and misses along the way. With the one year anniversary of the column approaching, I wanted to mix things up a little so invited Ryan K Lindsay back into the fold, as well as asking him to pick a panel of his own, just like our first column a year ago.

So, join us after the fold where we’ll be discussing the Bronze Age beauty above.

DH: Welcome back to Opening Contract, Ryan. I can’t believe it’s been an entire year.
One of the first things that entered my mind when looking at this panel is trying to guess where the hell it’s from. Looking at the creative team there I’m thinking one of Iron Fist’s first appearances – so maybe Marvel Premiere? Also, to get things rolling, what made you pick this panel? Is it a personal favourite, or something deeper?

RKL: Hey man, I cannot believe it’s been a whole year. You’ve filled our world with some grand notions this year, so thank you.

But glad handling aside, we’re here to discuss Iron Fist. This panel is the very first appearance of Iron Fist from Marvel Premiere #15 from way back in May of 1974. It’s illustrated by Gil Kane and Dick Giordano, with Glynis Wein colours, and a script by Roy Thomas. It opens, as all the comics did back then, with a splash page. I chose this particular opening contract for my return and our reunion because we did Daredevil last time so the obvious follow up is Iron Fist, natch, but also because I love Iron Fist and when I dug up and looked at this panel I was floored that this was the way they decided to introduce a new character into the Marvel U. This splash is pretty gonzo, don’t you think?

DH: It definitely makes an impact as far as first appearances go. It has a great pulpy vibe to it, mostly due to those captions. That last caption is something else. But even without those captions you can get the vibe of this piece straight away just by looking at it. I guess it’s worth noting that Enter The Dragon came out just the year before and that had to play some part of Iron Fist as a concept, right? But what grabbed my attention the most here was the style of the captions. As purple and pulpy as some of that prose is, it’s doing something different. It’s addressing the reader directly as if they were Iron Fist. Am I ignorant, or is that different for a comic of this ilk?

RKL: Those floating heads are nuts! I want new readers, now or at the time, to believe Iron Fist is being trained by floating heads who are always there, ha. I think Thomas and Kane wanted to cram a lot into this introductory splash page but I honestly believe the floating heads are too much. Especially in a world of M.O.D.O.K. and Arnim Zola, you never know what’s going to be real or not. I think, ultimately, it clutters the page and you’d never see that sort of malarkey today.
And I am glad you noticed the captions because they’re one of my favourite things about Iron Fist. The prose is so purple it’s nearly black but it’s the second person narration that grabs you and twists your head around. No stories are ever written in second person so it immediately unsettles you. It makes you feel like you’re reading a 'Choose Your Own Adventure’ book. I have to ask, though, what’s your favourite caption on this page?

DH: I don’t know, I kind of dig the heads. There was a great post by Matt Fraction where he talks about non-diagetic splash pages here, specifically mentioning Master of Kung-Fu. If you look at all of the pics that accompany that post you can see some similarities between those pages and this one. So, in terms of genre, I think it fits. It gives it this strange, off-kilter vibe that chimes with that current of mysticism that ran through the martial arts books at Marvel. I think maybe it’s seen as too much because it’s a technique not used anymore.

That said, if you look at the first three issues of Hawkeye, Fraction and David Aja use this page as a kind of teaser for what’s to come. Admittedly, they did it a lot cleaner than this example, sadly without any floating heads or second person narration. I love that second caption the most I think. It really gets across that idea of fights being decided between raindrops – that single second of weakness or hesitation. What’s your favourite caption? Scratch that, what’s your favourite thing about the page as a whole? (floating heads aside) Also, I think you’re a bigger Iron Fist fan than I am (Moon Knight 4 life), so, do you think this page is a good intro to the character? Or is that an unfair question?

RKL: My favourite caption MUST be:

“For, this is your day of destiny, Iron Fist. Today, you will eat of the fruit of the Tree of Immortality–or else drink deep of the Elixir of Death.”
Those are just sublime words upon which to hitch your readers and force them further into your pulpy kung fu tale. Who on this Earth could resist that page turn with those words literally pointing them over the page? I wish all comics were written like this now. Just image the stands clogged with such turgidity. You can see why Fraction and Ed Brubaker felt safe to really drop lexicographical bombs in their modern run on The Immortal Iron Fist, and more power to them because they nailed it.
Oh, and did you notice that the captions are in second person, so it’s kind of like you’re in the person’s head, but then the page is drawn from the POV of a character, but it is not the character in which you reside? I feel like that’s a storytelling no-no.

I love me some non-diagetic splash pages, though - I used one at the start of my own one-shot FATHERHOOD, and I even have a floating head in my page (which I forgot about until just now, I also rock a floating tea party set) - but here they are too much, just far too much. I can forgive them their floating transgressions purely because there are plenty of other cool things to steal my peepers away. I dig that iron Fist pose - like he’s a cat protecting his litter, or the colours of the background, or just the use of green background against the white with red trim foreground. It all pops visually.

As an introduction to the character, um, yeah, I’d actually say it’s pretty generic and the reason for that is it’s selling the concept, selling the fu, and ignoring the character. Danny Rand is a nuanced man - or should be - but here’s he’s just some pretty slippers and capri pants with a saucy pose.

DH: Yeah, the Fraction/Brubaker run definitely harkened back to this earlier, pulpier aspects of the series rather than the street-level Heroes For Hire stuff that came later.

And I definitely noticed that cognitive dissonance with the captions and the viewpoint they’ve chosen for the panel itself. It’s very odd. The whole thing could be improved if you remove those hands at the edges of the bottom of the panel.

It definitely pops as a visual, although I still have no idea what that trippy splash of purple/pink is at the top of the panel behind the floating heads. As an introduction to the character I’d say that it isn’t the best. Although, to be fair, not a lot of character introductions are, especially in the Marvel universe. Premiere was essentially a testing ground for new concepts and so a lot of the characters and mythologies wouldn’t be perfected or defined until years later. I guess that’s the case with a lot of Marvel characters – the characterisation, what makes the character unique, and so on, often don’t find their voice until several creators have had a run at it, building something coherent on what came before.

It’s kind of making me wish that Marvel had something similar now – perhaps a digital only 15 page Marvel Premiere to stick upcoming indie creators on. Pretty Slippers And Capri Pants With A Saucy Post - My Life in Green by Danny Rand. That could work as a book title, right?

Joking aside, do you have any final thoughts on this page – why does it work as an opening panel for you?

RKL: This panel isn’t a great introduction for this stellar character, and it has some storytelling problems or peccadilloes, and yet I find I still like it most likely because it’s fun. It’s a guy dressed like an idiot about to fight some street level kung fu goons and there’s the promise of more. The promise of corny language, and second person narration, and funky colours, and some goddamn kung fu.

You look at this page and you know you’re getting kung fu. So in that respect, it delivers what was no doubt the editorial edict for the book - deliver the fu. I’m not surprised they don’t try to sell the character of Danny Rand or take their time, this is a flat out action spectacular in one image, and one fine image as I’ve long been a Gil Kane fan. This isn’t perfect but it’s a product of its time and should be taken as such. Drop the high noise concept first, maybe look at a character later.

Now we just sit back and wait for Pretty Slippers And Capri Pants With A Saucy Pose - My Life in Green by Danny Rand to eventually become a reality.

DH: I think it work as a quick intro to the character without being cluttered. Like you said – it delivers the fu, but it also delivers a garish, pulpy tone, a promise of things to come. High Noise Concept is a term I like. There’s almost a desperation or lightness to this opening panel, a notion of ‘lets just throw a lot of stuff at the wall here, have some fun and see what sticks’. It comes over quite well, I think, it’s infectious even.

It obviously did the trick, as here we are decades later and Danny Rand is very much a fixture in the Marvel U still.

Cheers to Ryan for joining me for this edition of Opening Contract, as ever any comments or feedback is welcome in the comments section below!

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