Rocket Raccoon, Iron Fist & the new comic book auteurs
I’m not a delicate soul. I feel we know each other well enough now that you just know this. However, with that said, it upsets me that young people (and yes, I did just use “young people” unironically) are going to grow up with the Frank Miller we have today. You see this on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and in any number of web videos. You see this in their reactions to him recently saying he’d like to have a crack at Captain America, if Marvel would only be nice enough to let him. They’ve only ever known Frank Miller to be mostly associated with bad work, so they just assume he’s always been bad, to the point where they’re surprised when they enjoy his past work.
Me, I’m old enough to be the exact opposite: The Frank Miller I grew up with was a fucking beast, the kind of creator you’d salivate at the thought of what he’d do with Cap, and I can’t for the life of me figure out where that man has gone. Yeah, his work was always on the grim and gritty side, and yeah, it was always a bit open to parody, but it had fire and passion. It was all revenge and honor and love and sex and hatred and dames and people doing the wrong things for the right reasons. I liked it a lot.
The writer-artist, or if you’re feeling particularly pretentious, the comic book auteur, has become a properly endangered species over the years, at least in mainstream titles. They were never really the norm, but you could always list off decent examples of major companies giving someone the ball and letting them run with it: Jim Steranko’s very ‘70s, effortlessly cool Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD; John Byrne producing the definitive Fantastic Four stories, rebooting Superman so well no other version of his origin has ever truly taken since, and having She-Hulk know she was in a comic book long before Deadpool made it cool (and incidentally, how amazing would it have been if we’d still had a self-aware She-Hulk recently?); Frank Miller himself on Daredevil, one of Marvel’s admittedly goofier characters and concepts, turning him into a hard-boiled, street-level crime fighter with such grace and style that nobody batted an eyelid, before telling the story of an old, bitter, broken down Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Returns, a story as much about the more terrifying aspects of living in 1980s America as it was about Batman; and of course, there are the Image guys.
I know stuff like Spawn and Liefeld’s various Blood-related team books are treated as a bit of a joke now, but at the time, they were fucking rock stars. They were so cool, using their collective talents for their own gain rather than just being another cog in the machine. A lot of it doesn’t hold up now, but some of it, especially early issues of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, still does, if you can get past his obsession with… a certain part of a woman’s anatomy.
So yeah, I grew up surrounded by these auteurs, these one-man bands, or at the very least enough for me to notice when they started going away, or sticking around way past their primes, like Miller and Byrne have. Even writers who had drawn their own work previously, such as Brian Michael Bendis, suddenly developed cramps in their drawing hands the second they hit the big time. You had exceptions, such as David Mack, whose mainstream and independent work is always worth at least a once over, but for the most part, it seems Corporate likes keeping their talents easily labeled and given clearly-defined jobs these days.
Which is why two books (one currently being published, one coming pretty soon) caught my attention: Rocket Raccoon and Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, both from Marvel.
Now, I might be wrong, but I don’t think Rocket Raccoon is going to be a strictly solo effort. I believe it’s going to have a separate inker and colorist. However, that doesn’t distract from the fact that the writing and pencil art chores fall to one man, Skottie Young. I adore Skottie Young’s art. It’s like looking at the Looney Tunes through a fisheye lens. He’s just coming off a critically acclaimed stint adapting the various Zo stories, also for Marvel, so this is his return to their superhero universe, and it’s quite a gig, being given a character Marvel really hopes is going to be a “thing” once the Guardians of the Galaxy movie drops.
In all honesty, I don’t have high hopes for this series having any sort of lifespan. Unless Guardians is an absolutely uber-hit, this has twelve, maybe eighteen issues written all over it. But if the preview art that’s been put out there is anything to go by, this will be loads of fun, and I can’t wait to pick it up.
This isn’t the main event of this article, though. That belongs to a man named Kaare Andrews, and a character named Iron Fist.
Iron Fist is a character that Marvel has been trying to make into a “thing” for a while now. They even threw him to Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja for his last series to see if they could pull it off. Sadly, they couldn’t, but Fraction and Aja then moved over to Hawkeye, another character Marvel has been trying to make a “thing” for quite some time, and succeeded, so every cloud and all that bollocks.
I’ll stop saying a “thing” now, I promise.
So now Iron Fist finds himself in the hands of Kaare Andrews, writer, artist, and occasional director, having put his name to one of the more memorable segments of The ABCs of Death. He’s writing it. He’s doing all the art chores. He’s providing the color. Until I went back and looked, I just assumed he was lettering the bastard, too. Sadly, he’s not, but the fact I just assumed he was should tell you all you need to know.
It’s not a perfect book. It looks utterly gorgeous, and you can see both the love for the character and the sheer talent of Kaare as an artist shining through on every page. This man is phenomenal, and it’s all just a warm jacuzzi for the eyes. Story-wise, however, there are a few problems. The first issue has some quite severe tonal problems. It starts off taking itself very seriously, all insane-now-dead fathers and Danny Rand, Iron Fist himself, looking all cold and serious and disconnected. Not that there’s no fun to be had here, such as an implied sex scene that I think everyone reading this can relate to in some way.
So yeah, very serious. Not bad, just serious.
Then, suddenly… ninjas. Ninjas, and a helicopter, and Danny forgetting the name of the woman he’s just been intimate with (much to her annoyance), and the phrase “CRAPPITY-CRAP” spoken by Iron Fist himself, mere pages after eloquently describing his own disassociation with the world around him.
This is… jarring. It’s “Did They Staple in Pages from the Wrong Book” jarring. The kind of jarring that would usually have me saying rather bad things about a comic.
The thing is, I can’t bring myself to do that. For all its faults, this comic feels alive. It crackles with excited electricity, the kind you feel when you know a person is telling a story the way they want to. It’s the same kind of energy that makes Rob Zombie’s Halloween II in any way tolerable to me—but as ever, that’s another conversation for another day.
I like iconoclastic storytelling, and that seems to be what Kaare Andrews is bringing to the table here. It may not be great, not yet at least, but it’s thrilling, and I think that should be celebrated and given a chance to succeed. And in an era where it’s getting increasingly tougher for creators to wear multiple hats, the world needs more Skottie Youngs and Kaare Andrews. They could each do with being a “thing”.
Yeah, I lied. What are you gonna do, stop reading? This is the last paragraph.