The Comic Book Club: Love & Capes and Power Man & Iron Fist

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DOUGLAS: I had moderately high hopes for Fred Van Lente and Wellinton Alves’ Power Man and Iron Fist miniseries–I liked the teasers for it in the last couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the comics Van Lente’s been writing, and I’ve got fond memories of the original PM/IF series. (It was a great idea in the ’70s when Marvel grafted together a struggling blaxploitation series and a struggling kung fu series to build a considerably more durable buddy act.)

But this one’s not quite clicking for me, and I’m trying to figure out why. The premise is reasonably sound–the new Power Man is an arrogant young kid learning the ropes under the same old Iron Fist. Still, there are some things here that don’t quite sit right: the bizarrely broad stereotype of the villain in the first fight scene (I kept waiting for that to go someplace surprising, and it didn’t), the fact that the cliffhanger in the first scene and the cliffhanger at the end are basically identical, the general lack of badassery in a series that stars a kung fu master.

There’s some promising stuff here–a commedia dell’arte troupe of killers would be a better idea if something similar hadn’t already appeared in Batman. Alves’ art, though, isn’t much more than functional: it’s slicker than, e.g., Ernie Chan’s and Mark Bright’s were in the old series, but doesn’t have their sense of grit and urgency. For that matter, the specific callbacks to minutiae of a series that ended 25 years ago sometimes hamstring the “all-new, all-different” setup the cover promises. I kind of hate that cover, too: there’s dramatic foreshortening, and then there’s drawing a character in a pose that makes it look like his leg’s been amputated above the knee.

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EVAN: It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month, which also means I’ve been thinking about black superheroes a lot. (I mean, I always think about them a lot, but the shortest month of the year is when people must put up with my yammering about them.)


That said, I can’t help but notice how rough it’s been out there for a super-powered brother. Steel’s just so much shiny cannon fodder, and what’s been done to T’Challa is just such an ugly and bland fate for a really great character.

So I was wary on this book. The original PM/IF run was a seminal foundational document in young Master Narcisse’s nerd-dom. In particular, the Jim Owlsley (before he changed his name to Christopher Priest) and M.D. Bright tenure stood out as a clever, self-aware example of comics work that was way ahead of its time, in terms of characterization and meta-commentary.

I picked up the Shadowland tie-in where the new Power Man made his debut and was left cold. Honestly, I wanted to hate this new series. But I don’t. I love this first issue. I think it’s a great example of how to use legacy in a shared universe, in how it seeds new characters in the soil of what’s come before. One of the things I loved about old PM/IF was that it felt like New York City: the rhythms of the dialogue and the way the characters moved through the panels generated a sense of place that echoed early-1980s Manhattan to me. Van Lente–with the very able work of Alves–pulls it off here. Using the West Indian Day parade as a backdrop for a fight scene just fits, really fits, for these characters in this comic.

The world-building also drew me in. Calling back to the third-tier characters who also rolled with Heroes for Hire (El Aguila!) while introducing new villains and mystery folk could’ve been tricking, but it left me intrigued.

The other thing Van Lente pulls off–also crucial to PM/IF–is the buddy chemistry. The teacher/student thing here is way different from the street dude strongman/rich martial artist dynamic that Luke and Danny had, but the tension driven by class difference and racial difference is intact. The snappy dialogue makes none of those moments feel overly weighty, rather like Van Lente knows that the stuff is there and nods at it. I laughed a lot at the repartee between Vic and Danny, and I’ll definitely be back for more.

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GRAEME: I’m closer to Douglas than Evan here. I, too, loved the original PM/IF series, which remains one of my favorite Marvel series of all time (especially when Jo Duffy was writing, although the Owsley/Bright run at the end was wonderful in a much more cynical way), but I can’t help but feel that I should like this book so much more than I actually did.

Part of it is that it feels so rushed; I actually went back and counted the pages, because I was convinced this was somehow shorter than the average comic, it felt so light. Maybe because the opening sequence and the final splash page cliffhanger are essentially the same page? Maybe because we get expositionary flashbacks that don’t really add that much to the story? I don’t know. But, as much as I liked the characters and the overall sense of humor at play here (Calling a villain Don of The Dead? I mean, that’s great), it felt like it failed as a first issue. I didn’t pick up the Shadowland debut of the new Power Man, and I really missed some kind of introduction to him here beyond “He’s a smart-ass and does something with collecting chi” (what does that even mean?). Why is Danny teaching him? Why is he agreeing to Danny teaching him, considering that he doesn’t seem to appreciate it? Is all of this in the earlier series, or am I not supposed to care?

Alves’ work is… all right. It seems to vary throughout the book; the first appearance of the leads seems drawn by a different guy than the one doing the out-of-costume scenes later, if that makes sense. I’ve seen better from him elsewhere, and think that a different inker would’ve done him more favors, to be honest.

I don’t know; I like the idea, I like the humor and the characters, but it isn’t coming together for me, which really frustrates me. I want to call myself a fan, based on the legacy of the title. I don’t know if I’ll pick up the second issue.

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