There’s one interesting and one remarkable thing about the Brubaker/Fraction/Swierczynski Immortal Iron Fist run. The interesting thing is that it pretty much retcons a legacy into the Immortal Iron Fist mythos. Something that until recently has been a staple of the DC Universe, but is rare in the Marvel universe (though how much of the legacies survived in the new DCnU is up to the question). The remarkable thing is that it tells a story about class struggle against the background of ancient, mythic cities that use human weapons trained in supernatural mystic arts. Like discovering the dark side of Shangri La, but not in an absurd over-the-top way, but in a story arc that is utterly convincing and compelling. Once you’ve started reading you’ll forget where the story is set and take it at face value.
The thing is, writers in the superhero genre have one problem, they have to write about super-powered beings trying to change the world for the better, while at the same time they aren’t allowed to let their heroes actually tackle real-world problems, since then the fictional universe wouldn’t resemble our own anymore (not that they really did, but it’s the illusion that they do that matters). This wouldn’t be a problem if our world was actually just and didn’t really need saving, but if you follows the news at all, you’ll know that this is not entirely accurate. Slavery and war remain at an all-time high these day, to name just a few of the more overt problems. So what to do if you can’t solve any real problems? You infuse your fictional ancients cities with those problems and address them this way.
Putting a real world problem in a fictional location and then address it in a convincing way is hard. You have to deal with the messy parts in a realistic way while still allowing for the more fantastical elements of the setting. You can’t just use the setting for telling your story, you have to make the setting the story and despite the fantastical elements you have to make it a story about things normal people can relate to: exploitation of the weak, having no voice because being poor or female and so on. And you can’t win by hitting the problem, which is part of the superhero genre and what often makes it look so impotent when applied to real world problems, as there’s no one thing that can be solved by getting hit.
Since this is a comic called the Immortal Iron Fist, you can expect a little bit hitting and kicking as well. But it’s not the solution, merely a tool to get there. The thing to win is re-education of the weak, giving them the ability to defend themselves and choose their own path. And that sounds all good and well, but here’s where the messy side turns up. For all the good intentions, those who in way usurped the throne still may fall back into the old pattern of “we’re trying to save the weak” by taking away their choice. How the new rulers of the seven cities planned to deal with the population of the missing eight city was a perfect example of falling back to tyrannical ways (Swierczynski part of the run), despite the best of intentions. Wanting more democracy and actually living it are two different things. Sometimes we humans seem hardwired for the top-down approach, no matter our best intentions.
This is why the Brubaker/Fraction/Swierczynski Immortal Iron Fist run is so excellent. Sure, on the surface it’s about heroes fighting with mystical arts to save the day. But it’s also about creating a better world, not by fighting evil bad guys, but by changing society to give people the power to chose their own fate. And the final arc is an object lesson in how hard it is to actually live up to the promise of basic democracy. Everyone who tries to take away that choice, even for the best of intentions, is more threatening to society than any external threat could ever be.