Sunday, January 24, 2016

REVIEW: THE IMMORTAL WEAPONS


INTRODUCTION
THE IMMORTAL WEAPONS collects issues 1-6 of the comic series of the same name. It springs from the main series entitled, THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST and if you have not read that, then this graphic novel could certainly still entertain you, but will probably seem a bit random since it largely builds upon some of the characters in Iron Fist's series and one of the issues actually takes place after the events of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 5. I have previously read and reviewed the core volumes of this series so I will be writing the review for this spin-off work with a pre-established bias toward these characters as well as the story space itself.

Effectively THE IMMORTAL WEAPONS is a compilation that features each of the six Immortal Weapons: Fat Cobra, Bride of Nine Spiders, Dog Brother, Tiger's Beautiful Daughter, and The Prince of Orphans. Many of these characters were massively underdeveloped prior to this piece due to their being side characters in the tale of Danny Rand, The Immortal Iron Fist. Now each gets their own moment in the spotlight which makes this graphic work kind of like a collection of short stories. Each is self-contained though the issue featuring Iron Fist does take place as a sort of continuation of the story told in his main series. The Weapons are also fairly isolated for the most part with some crossover in one of the issues.

HOW I RATED IT 

 4/5 There are a couple of distinct problems with this volume, but as a whole, it is a marvelous collection of character pieces that shed new light on characters that fans of The Iron Fist will already be somewhat familiar with.

CHARACTERS 

The Weapons
As I mentioned before, each of The Immortal Weapons gets one issue that features them. That said, some of these issues actually don't really feature the character that much at all. One example of this is with The Bride of Nine Spiders whose issue sort of plays out like a horror story. The Bride is quite aloof and really only shows up near the very end. In her case, it was a little disappointing that I never really get to know all that much more about the character than I did before. In her stead though are a number of other characters whom the story gives more attention to and while they may not be super heroes, they were still pretty great. With characters like Fat Cobra and Tiger's Beautiful Daughter, there is more of an origin story treatment going on which makes for a far more personal angle. At the end of those issues, I definitely felt like I knew the characters far more than I did previously and while the origin story formula is a bit on the safe side, both issues were done in a compelling enough manner to feel worthwhile. Then there is Dog Brother who I dare not say too much about because his story has a few very interesting and rather morbid twists. Danny and John Aman, The Prince of Orphans, definitely have the strongest appearances since their issues really just tell a story. Both still paint vivid depictions of who these characters are and what they are about, but they do so by simply showing the characters in action rather than relying on the trusty origin story formula to convey the sketch.

A shot of some sexy warrior women led by Tiger's Beautiful Daughter! 
WORLD/SETTING 
The nice thing about a collection like this is that it brings readers to a nice variety of locations rather than relying on a set of backdrops. From the seedy city streets in Dog Brother's issue to the creepy mansion in Bride's story, and the exotic jungle in The Prince of Orphans's issue, there is just a lot of visual variety to be enjoyed here - perhaps more so than what readers usually get to enjoy in a super hero story-line. In most cases, the setting is just a place for the action to occur, but in some instances it also gives a bit more insight into who the character is. The harsh streets of Dog Brother's tale and the lush kingdom that Tiger's Beautiful Daughter calls home are both locations that added a lot to how I viewed those characters. They're teaming with life and character and were really quite unlike anything I'd seen before. It was also quite a treat to see the section of New York that Danny lives in again since that's where we left him last. Having just one more issue that brought me back there really felt like something special even if the city is by far the most dank and dingy location featured in the entire volume. The worlds that these heroes inhabit are as hostile as they are compelling and the full gravity of each is fully explored throughout the course of the story

Subway trouble
PLOT/TONE 
There's some nice variety in the types of narratives that are told within the pages of this book. There are origin stories, tales of adventure, a little survival horror, and a lot of stories that feature personal strife. Most of these issues probably won't make you feel very deeply since there is so little real estate in which you can really get attached to the characters. The two main exceptions to this are with Danny Rand, who most readers will already know and love by now, and Fat Cobra. In Danny's case what moved me the most was the intimacy of the conflict taking place. There's no grand conflict or global catastrophe, it's just a story about The Iron Fist trying to make a difference in one little girl's life and realizing just how hard it can be to face these smaller-scope challenges. Equally somber is Fat Cobra's backstory which is told in retrospect by a side character who has collected information about Cobra's life since he himself does not remember a whole lot of it.  Much to Fat Cobra's dismay, the story in reality is far from how he likes to "remember" it and it's rather heartbreaking to discover the memories that this hero has repressed. Really all of these stories are quite sad in their own way which definitely fits with who they are in THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST series. It was perhaps a bit naive of me to think that ANY of these stories would be at all happy, but that's not to say that they weren't also uplifting in some ways.

ARTWORK
No shortage of Kung Fu here 
The art in this collection is a mix of breathtakingly beautiful to downright hideous. Each issue is illustrated by different artists which was nice in that it gave each issue a distinct look. It was also neat that the different artists seemed to have mostly come from the original series so those who read through THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST will likely recognize at least a couple of the styles. But like I said, not all of it is really all that good. There are a lot of artists who make use of really flat looking rendering techniques that just don't feel very inspired. I think that in a lot of ways the artwork very much lets down the stories being told and I really don't understand why a company like Marvel couldn't pull together higher quality artistry. The only real standouts here come from the artists who worked on the issues featuring Fat Cobra and The Prince of Orphans. These were definitely done using painstaking shading practices and the panels in these issues pop off the pages in a truly epic way that heroes like this deserve. Basically I think most will find this area of the work to be either a hit or a miss in a rather extreme way.

CONCLUSION
If you read THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST from start to finish, then I would highly recommend that you pick this one up. It's not essential reading so far as continuity is concerned, but it is a fantastic chance to spend some extra time with these characters and learning more about them in the process. The artwork will either thrill or disappoint depending on the issue in question, but almost all of the stories were entertaining in their own right and the sheer variety of every aspect of this volume is definitely something that sets it apart from other graphic works.

THE IMMORTAL WEAPONS is available in print and digital formats on Amazon.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

UPDATE: 2016, NEW YEAR, NEW BOOKS


A new year means that it's time for a new Goodreads challenge which means new books! There are some things that I am still wrapping up from 2015, but all in all, I'm very excited for what the new year will bring in terms of reading. 

Kicking things off is the completion of The Immortal Iron Fist series. Volume 4 and Volume 5 are the first two books I have read in the new year and the reviews for all of the volumes can be found in my Review Roundup post.


Currently in Progress is The Goblin Emperor. I kind of put this one on hold for a bit to do other things, but am back into it now and looking forward to finally reading through to the end. 


Still to be started is The Immortal Weapons, a graphic novel offshoot from The Immortal Iron Fist series. I'm stoked to have just a little bit more time to spend with these characters and can't wait to see what this collection of comics entails. 



It's a pretty solid way to start  my 2016 Reading Challenge and am looking forward to more great reads between now and December 31st. I've also been hard at work creating new pieces of fiction and am very excited to share more news on those projects during the coming months.


Monday, January 4, 2016

UPDATE: 2015 IN REVIEW

INTRODUCTION


2015 was a busy year for me in all regards. It saw the publishing of my debut novel, Digitarum, the birth of my Goodreads account, the start of my 2015 reading challenge for getting 20 books read, the inception of this very blog and the general renewal for my passion for literature (fiction in all forms really). Perhaps what I am most excited about is my new vigor for reading. I've enjoyed being a Goodreads user immensely and it has been great fun to run this blog. I've had a lot of other things going on to be thankful for like becoming a part of the indie author community, getting a fancy new day job that has been treating me far better than I could have ever asked for, and killing off one of my student loans.

Now that 2016 is upon us, I look forward to what I hope will be an even better year of reading and writing, and life in general. Time is something that always seems to be in short supply in life, but I'm very happy to have found such fantastic ways of spending it. I'll have another post to address how things will move forward with this blog during the new year, but for now, I will just look back on my 2015 year in reading which is brought to us by some of the nifty tools that Goodreads provides to users.

READING SNAPSHOT:



It would be an understatement to say that I am pleased with the amount that I was able to read in 2015. Sure it doesn't hold a candle to what some do, but for a guy that was only reading when classes demanded it, this is a big step forward. It's really neat to see my reading year broken down by the shortest and longest pieces of fiction I read as well as the average page count per book, but I wanted to look into this step forward and break up my 2015 reads into some more specific categories. Note that these categories are mainly just based off of how I have decided to classify each work that I have read.

Novels:  20

Short Fiction:  5

Graphic Novels:  11

Professional Development:  1

Interactive Fiction:  1


It's not a terrible lineup of book types by any stretch. I've tried a number of new genres and discovered that I really like Graphic Novels a great deal when they are done well. I also sampled my first piece of Interactive Fiction and found it that to be great fun as well. In 2016, I'll be looking to try even more new things and expand my reading count in all of these categories.

SOME OTHER COOL STATS:




FAVORITE BOOKS READ IN 2015:

Now for the fun part! Here is a list of all of my favorite books read this year. Effectively the criteria for this is whether or not the book received 5/5 stars from me and they are as follows:

NOVELS:

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Book 1)
Suzanne Collins
My reread of the beginning to this epic trilogy was every bit as good as my first time through it. While distinctively YA in style, the more adult subject matter made this a memorable tragic tale that continues to hold a special place in my heart.



Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Book 2)
Suzanne Collins
Few sequels manage to outdo their predecessors, but that's just what Collins' follow up to the original did. It is by far my favorite in the trilogy both in book and film renditions of the story because of how it seamlessly takes elements from the first installment and uses them to set up the events of it's third and final book in as exciting and tragic a narrative as one could hope for.


Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Book 3)
Suzanne Collins
Goodbyes are hard, especially when they are farewells to a beloved series. In Mockingjay I felt the full weight of the story's dark conclusion. It's the perfect example that happy endings don't come without their price and was one of the most worthy conclusions that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.



Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1)
Jay Kristoff
A bit of an experiment for me in that I don't generally gravitate towards steampunk literature. But this novel blew me away at every turn. Each page aches with somber emotion and dazzles you with lush imagery. Between it's moments of heartfelt sadness and dazzling action, this is one of the most satisfying books I have read all year.



Klubbe the Turkle and the Golden Star Coracle
Phillip Dodd
Not every book is packed with deep meaning or prolific thought, some are just fun. Such was the case with this little indie gem that I would recommend to anyone who simply wants a book to make them happy in a silly, somewhat childish way.



GRAPHIC NOVELS:

Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 2
Tom Taylor
While the first volume in this series (inspired by one of my favorite fighting video games) was good, the second surpasses it in every way. It's brimming with heartbreaking depictions of  a civil war between Earth's most cherished heroes. Surprising turns and brutal climaxes lurk around every corner making this an absolutely thrilling graphic novel from start to finish.



Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench
Geoff Johns
The only first volume of a comic to make my list of favorites, Aquaman surprised me in every possible way. It's characters were compellingly conflicted, it's artwork beautifully done, and the story riveting from start to finish. In the sea of mediocrity that I found to be The New 52, this title stood out as a rare pearl.
Review (4th review down)



The Immortal Iron Fist Volume 2: the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven
Ed Brubaker
Loaned to me by a friend, I started in on the first volume in this series and thought it was quite good, but had a bit of a rocky start, which seems to be a common trend so far with super-hero themed graphic novels. But the second installment was absolutely fantastic and before it was even halfway over, I was completely sold on this character and the series in general.
Review (2nd review down)



SHORT FICTION:

Sixth of the Dusk
Brandon Sanderson
I'd never read any Sanderson before, but heard a lot of good things. In spite of that, I wasn't convinced that I should jump right into one of his large novels, so I tried out a novella and was extremely surprised by just how much I could enjoy such a short work of fiction. It's not particularly exceptional in any one way, but the cohesive package is mind-blowingly good.
Review



I sincerely hope that 2015 was as good to you as it was to me and here's to 2016 being even better!

As one last note before ending this post, I would also like to plug that the Kindle Edition of my novel, Digitarum, will be free tomorrow, January 5th through Wednesday, January 6th on Amazon.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

REVIEW: MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3)

INTRODUCTION

Please note that while this review will be spoiler free for MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3), there will be some spoilers brought up for the previous two books in the trilogy.

In spite of all of the incredible challenges Katniss and Peeta have overcome over the course of Suzanne Collins' first two books in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3) is a harsh reminder that the odds were never in their favor. This pair may have survived not just one, but two hunger games tournaments, yet now the real game is upon them, one that is even more impossible to walk away from. MOCKINGJAY deals with Katniss' journey after she, Finnick, and Bedee have been rescued by the secret resistance force in District 13. The fires of rebellion have spread across the districts and Capitol forces have sprung into action in an effort to quell them. In many ways MOCKINGJAY feels starkly different from the books that came before it, but in others it carries a distinct familiarity. I'm not sure if this is exactly the ending that I wanted, but it is definitely the final book that this trilogy deserved.    

HOW I RATED IT

 5/5 This is no fairy-tale ending by any stretch, but it is one that is worthy of the dark subject matter that distinguishes this from other YA series and provides a fulfilling conclusion to one of the most prolific pieces of dystopian fiction that I have ever read.

CHARACTERS
The cast that this series sports has always one of the best things about it and fans will be happy that basically all of the people from previous installments make a return for the third and final adventure. The only person I really wanted to see a bit more of was Effie Trinket who played a substantial part in the MOCKINGJAY PART 1 film. Her role in those events is instead fulfilled by members of Cinna's styling team as well as Finnick and Haymich. That said, a lot of why I liked Effie had to do with the actresses performance of her, so the way she appears in the book feels about right given how she comes off in this version of the story.

Characters like Finnick, Haymich, Peeta, and Gale are all featured heavily in this book, but as far more broken versions of themselves than we have ever seen before. Katniss, is perhaps the most battered of all and on top of that, she finds herself the face of a full-blown uprising. The first third or so of the book contends with Katniss' struggle to redefine her identity as "The Mockingjay." Along the way she meets a myriad of new faces such as Lieutenant Paylor and President Coin, the somewhat shady leader of District Thirteen. The rest, I'd hesitate to spoil for you, but will state that they are every bit as colorful as you might expect an addition to the cast to be.

In fact, it's hard to say a whole lot more about any of the characters at all without giving away some of the major twists in the narrative. Essentially what needs to be said about the characters as a general group is that they are in one of the most dire situations of their lives. Their bodies will be beaten, their minds broken, and their souls put to the ultimate test. The redefined relationship between Katniss and Peeta is heartbreaking, in fact, every relationship between Katniss and another member of the cast is utterly tragic in just about every way. People you have come to know and love will die, people you thought were good and wholesome may shock you with their brutality, and by the time the final pages come around, you will know that no one's lives will ever be the same.

WORLD/SETTING
The setting of this story has never been more exotic. Gone are the controlled arena environments - now readers are brought into a whole new theater of combat. District Thirteen, the Demolished District Twelve, the war-zone in District Two, and even the streets of the Capitol will all serve as the backdrop for the action taking place. Each of these environments is beautifully described, but it is the Capitol that is by far the most interesting in that readers are taken into darker, less elegant corners of it than what they had probably ever previously imagined.

What is far more interesting than the world itself though, is the twisted politics that ravage the landscape. When reading through this book, there will be no mistaking that this is a nation at war - a war that poses the very legitimate threat of wiping out whatever is left of mankind. It's the ruthlessly decisive decisions that both sides make, the blatant ends-justify-the-means mentality that makes this such a gritty and tense setting. Then there is the sense of unity that Katniss is trying to bring to the nation in spite of all of the darkness surrounding everyone. It's this dynamic between the big and the little picture that makes Panem seem like such a poignantly defined place and makes the narrative feel like there is so much at stake.

PLOT/TONE
THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy has never really been about The Hunger Games. Ever since the first book there have been nuggets of political intrigue dropped for us to guess at their implications. But now all of those little hints and references and allusions are in our face as far more than just speculation. The end-product of the games has brought Panem into the inevitable civil war that it was always bound for. In the midst of it all is the children (though they can hardly be called that at this point) who never asked to be thrown into the fray, never wanted to become figureheads in a war, and certainly never desired a life with this much violence and pain in it. But when Katniss and Peeta stood on the podium together before their first Hunger Games, their fates, along with the fate of everyone in Panem was sealed.

What we get in MOCKINGJAY is a far more adult type of story. Stakes are higher, hearts are heavier, and there is a distinct sense of hopelessness and strife that fills the prose. Collins' also does not shy away from showing off the darker side of her characters, especially when it comes to "The Girl On Fire" herself. The horrors that these people have faced have really taken their toll and worn down their ability to keep themselves together at times. The Capitol has found ways to mess with their minds and break their souls which leads to some interactions that you would never have expected after reading through the first book. There's also this new sense of unpredictability which is now present. In the games, the rules were clear, but now anything can and will happen. Some of this darkness does get a bit too heavy at certain points and left me feeling a bit too down in the dumps for a piece of fiction, but this sense of isolated depression and mild self-loathing definitely felt realistic and fitting given the events surrounding it.

CONCLUSION
By the time I turned the final page, I was happy, sad, angry, and relieved all at once. It's probably the most bittersweet parting I have ever had with a work of fiction and I feel like this is the only ending that could possibly have happened given all of the extraordinary circumstances at play. It's certainly not a "happy" end, but it is an immensely fulfilling one which is all you can really hope for in a story such as this one. THE HUNGER GAMES is unlike any other series I have ever read. It's thought-provoking, visceral, and will not hesitate to rip your heart out when you least expect it to. I'm sad to see the series come to an end, but immensely gratified now that I have now read it all the way through.

MOCKINGJAY (THE HUNGER GAMES BOOK 3) is available in just about every known book format on Amazon.

Friday, January 1, 2016

REVIEW ROUNDUP: THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST

INTRODUCTION
It was never my intention to do two straight months of comic reviews, but I was recently lent a series done by Marvel which follows their lesser known hero, Iron Fist. The series consists of five volumes with a one-shot volume that features some of the characters known as the Immortal Weapons who all make appearances in Iron Fist's story-line. I've always been a big fan of how the character looks and the general mystical kung-fu warrior vibe that he gives off, but never really knew what he was all about so I am very excited to be diving into this series and adding new reviews to this post like I did with my NEW 52 NOVEMBER post.

I should also note that I read all of these in print and found them to be good quality. Because of that, I cannot comment on the fidelity of the digital version.

REVIEWS:

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 1: THE LAST IRON FIST STORY
4/5
Enter Danny Rand, otherwise known as The Immortal Iron fist. Our first glimpses of him feature the striking green and yellow gear that makes him such a visually interesting character and right away it becomes clear that this will be a very beautiful piece of graphic fiction to enjoy. Rand is the owner of his own company, but he's not really a billionaire as is the case with other heroes such as Tony Stark. Rand is a humble, if a bit snippy, honest businessman who wears his moral compass as proudly as he dons his kung fu tights. He's an easy enough character to love right from the beginning in that he is an earnest hero, but also a man with plenty of personal flaws. For starters, Danny is a bit reckless. His body is imbued with a substantial amount of power, but that power can sometimes go to his head and get him into trouble. Like other Iron Fists before him, Danny easily forgets that HE himself is not immortal, only the station of The Iron Fist.

In the first pages of the comic, readers are actually shown images of one of the previous Iron Fists and throughout the rest of this volume, we get sneak peaks at some of the other figures from history who earned the power of The Iron Fist. Who and what The Iron Fist is is something that the story takes a little time to unravel though. This is in part because even Danny is not fully aware of the history of this ancient power and makes sense for storytelling purposes, but things did get confusing for me because there is a lot of jumping around between different periods in time. Much of the story focuses on the current Iron Fist's struggle against Hydra (an evil organization known well by any who have watched the more recent Marvel films). In the midst of this conflict there are all sorts of flashbacks to different moments in The Iron Fist's history which largely drop hints at things to come. It all does eventually clear up towards the end though and by that point I was quite engrossed in this complex story-line and felt eager to dive right into the next volume as soon as I'd turned the final page of this one.
Some kickass action shots

For much of the volume, the story feels like pretty typical superhero fare with a bit of mystical kung fu mixed in for good measure. There are also vague allusions to the Marvel event known as CIVIL WAR (a brand-wide event which serves as the basis for the upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR movie). Personally, I was already familiar with the general gist of how these references were significant, but even if you have no idea, there's little need to be overly distressed by this series's ties to the larger marvel comic universe since Iron Fist's story exists largely in isolation of the CIVIL WAR event. That being said, there are other Marvel heroes who do appear in this volume such as Luke Cage and Misty, though who they are and how they relate to Danny is sufficiently explained. The only bit that is a tad confusing is the eight-page spread (taken from Daredevil's series) of Danny's time spent assuming the role of Daredevil. The moments captured in this section happen before the first issue of Iron Fist's own series so they can be enjoyed for what they are or ignored if Daredevil isn't a character you are familiar with.

A look at an Iron Fist from history

All in all, this is definitely a good read that just takes a while to really get going. The world is full of intrigue and lore, the characters are colorful and depicted in detailed representations, and the action shots are absolutely breathtaking. It's clear that this is just the start of a much larger and even more mystical plot, but the volume does do a nice job of opening and concluding it's primary story-arch. It's an extremely worthy read even if that isn't immediately obvious based on the first few issues.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 1: THE LAST IRON FIST STORY is available in print and digital editions on Amazon.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 2: THE SEVEN CAPITAL CITIES OF HEAVEN
5/5

Please note: This section of the post contains some spoilers for Volume 1 of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST series.

The first volume left readers off with Danny being summoned into the mystical realm of The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, the location (or collection of locations) after which this volume is named. Whereas the previous issues felt like a mystical take on a typical superhero story, those in this collection dive fearlessly into the weirder aspects of the Iron Fist character and the story couldn't have been better for it.

The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven converge at special set intervals when they are also all accessible from the real world. Each of these cities sometimes enters the real world individually, but this convergence is special in that all of them become part of our world at the same time. During this merge, a grand tournament is held in which the seven champions known as The Immortal Weapons (one for each city) must fight each other for ... well it's not actually entirely clear why ... it's just what they do. It is strongly hinted in the previous volume that the tournament somehow maintains a balance between these mystical realms or at least serve some unknown agenda of those who lead the cities. This tournament is particularly tense since Danny's predecessor, Orson Randall, refused to partake in the contest. As a result he was hunted down by the other Immortal Weapons and actually killed one of them. Danny plans to be a far more compliant Iron Fist, but those intentions are interrupted by a secret rebellion led within his own capital city. Meanwhile Hydra is contriving a plan to decimate the cities while they are merged with Earth and using one of Danny's friends to help them. Luke Cage and the Heroes for Hire are working hard to foil their scheme, but find themselves fighting against forces that they do not fully understand.

The stakes are quite high this time, but there is also a healthy amount of character development which takes place in the midst of all the political intrigue and brutal action sequences. Luke Cage and company are featured much more in these issues and I found myself liking this group quite a lot. Danny delves deeper into his identity as the Iron Fist and though he's not necessarily lost or insecure in the role, he does make a lot of personal progress to living up to what his station represents and is granted increased insight into the lineage of the ancient power which he wields. Although now deceased, Orson Randall is also given further character development through the use of flashbacks. Even more prominently explored in these segments is Wendall Rand, Danny's father who previously attempted to become an Iron Fist. As fate would have it Wendell's best friend also happens to be Danny's arch nemesis as well as the son of Danny's mentor. Through these complex relationships we gain a better understanding of one of this story's primary antagonists which makes the conflict feel far more personal than it would have otherwise. Rounding out the cast are The Immortal Weapons themselves who are a rather motley crew of martial artists. They're certainly an interesting bunch who add a lot to the more mystical elements of the story and are as visually interesting as they are personally compelling.


The action shots in this are top notch once again and as a general rule, the artwork is absolutely spectacular. The only section of this that was less than beautiful was the Iron Fist Annual issue which featured an artist who made absolutely no attempt to match the way the rest of the book looks. It's not bad artwork really, at least not bad enough to affect my overall enjoyment of the volume, but it does get hard to look at after a couple of pages. The artist employed this sort of dark oil on canvas look which definitely created a more vibrant visual experience, but the panels also struggled to convey what few action shots are used. When done in this style the panels that are less detailed than others look REALLY lackluster since some of the other shots are so elaborate. Overall though this was a fantastic volume that comes to a climactic conclusion and I am very excited to keep going with this series!

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 2: THE SEVEN CAPITAL CITIES OF HEAVEN is available in print and digital editions on Amazon.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 3: THE BOOK OF THE IRON FIST
3/5
Please note: This section of the post contains some spoilers for Volumes 1 and 2 of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST series.

Throughout the first two volumes in this series, readers have been given glimpses into the figures from the past who have wielded the power of The Iron Fist. This volume, however, brings some of those stories to the forefront. While this is certainly a treat for anyone who might have been curious about the various Iron Fists that have shown up in different historical flashbacks, I also felt that it was an awkward interruption to the high-octane tale of Danny Rand who takes the back seat in this volume despite this being HIS series. Now, from a storytelling perspective, I will admit that if the writers were going to take a break at all from Danny Rand's main thread, this was certainly the point in the story to do so. Hydra has been foiled, The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven are saved and The Immortal Weapons have joined Danny in New York City to investigate the possibility of there being an eight heavenly city. We as readers find ourselves in a sort of transitional period and some might very well welcome the chance for a bit of a history lesson while others will be more like me and just want to see what happens to Danny and his band of misfit heroes.

Now let me just throw out that I enjoyed the first two issues of this volume VERY MUCH. They focus on Iron Fists from the distant past and were easily the highlights of this volume for me. The first follows the story of the only female Iron Fist to ever live which is very exciting because she has
The lady Iron Fist!
been shown and mentioned in previous volumes a good deal and it was immensely rewarding to finally get more of her. The story featuring her has this sort of folk-lore feel to it and although it isn't immensely deep, it is quite charming. The second follows an Iron Fist I'm not sure I remember seeing any snippets of before, but his story is great and features some heroes and villains that derive their powers from Hindu-inspired sources.This second issue is by far the most visually distinct of the volume because of these Hindu influences.

Then the volume gets a little weird. There is one long, three-part issue featuring Orson Randall and his team which was shown off in the "Iron Fist Annual #1" issue from VOLUME 2. My main problems with this issue are that it employs three different art styles, two of which look really dated and that it doesn't really add all that much to Orson's character. Yeah it tells the story of why he had to separate from his team, and yes there is a bit more of Wendell, and sure there is a bit more insight given into one of the other Immortal Weapons (I won't spoil which one), but ultimately, there just wasn't a complex enough story to be told in so many pages. It just felt like this could have been told in far less space and with WAY less randomness.

Shots from "The Origin of Danny Rand"
Finishing off this volume is three issues that finally return focus back to Danny Rand, the current Iron Fist. The first of these issues returns us to where we left Danny last and centers around his struggle to find normalcy after the events of the previous volume. He has some heartfelt moments with his friend/business partner, his old flame, Misty, and his best friend, Luke Cage and is in a far more reflective mood than we are used to seeing him in. Nothing really happens in the way of action, but it is a really well done transitional issue which ends with a rather shocking twist and does give readers a short reminder of the Immortal Weapon's quest in NYC. Last up are a couple of issues featuring the origins of Danny Rand as The Immortal Iron Fist. These are okay, but don't really show readers that much more than they already knew about our favorite Iron Fist and are done in a slightly older style which was also okay, but I didn't love it.

Over all this volume is good, it's just not great. It won't leave you awestruck like the last one did, but it does have moments where it shines. If you've read the first two volumes, then certainly continue with this one, just know that it is a bit of a break from the main thread, but that it seems Volume 4 will provide readers with more of Danny's story.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 4: THE MORTAL IRON FIST
5/5
Please note: This section of the post contains some spoilers for Volumes 1 - 3 of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST series.

It's Danny's 33 birthday, but 33 isn't a happy number for him, or any Iron Fist for that matter. No, 33 is when Iron Fists reach their maximum life expectancy. The only person ever to break this streak was Randall and he took a path that Danny could never stoop to. What Danny is about to find out is that there is a mysterious figure who makes a living out of killing Iron Fists in a heartlessly gruesome way and stealing their hearts so that he can try to kill the dragonling which will grow into the beast that an Iron Fist slays to get its power. No one has ever defeated this heart-eater before, but Danny has the benefit of friends who stick their necks out on the line for his sake. The fight scenes in this volume are by far the most brutal and twisted that we have seen so far and the stakes have never been higher. Across the issues, readers will follow an Iron Fist from history who finds out exactly what the supernatural hunter can do firsthand and this sets up a really dire feeling since we know that's what could happen to Danny.

The entire volume is entirely centered around this conflict which comes as a major disruption to
A previous Iron Fist
Danny attempting to put his life back together. What's more upsetting is the fact that no one ever warned Danny about any of it. Not his mentor, The Thunderer, not The Book of the Iron Fist, not even Orson. There's a lot of mystical intrigue set up around this and even by the end of the volume, we get the sense that Danny is nowhere near out of the woods. There is an overall feeling that there are some larger powers at play and to see Danny's life treated with such disregard on the part of the Capital Cities of Heaven is more than a little disturbing. That said, we do get to see quite a bit more of the other Immortal Weapons who come to Danny's aid and eventually uncover more details about their search for the eighth city.

This is a volume that is every bit as dramatic and passionate as the second in the series and is graced by more beautiful artwork (the styles have changed a bit, but it's still quite good). There's a much more sinister overtone to everything from the visuals, to the finer points of the plot. It leaves me eager to read the fifth and final volume and has reinvigorated my love for the series in general. There is even a fun issue featuring Orson tossed in for good measure. While generally weird and mirthless, it is well done for what it is. There's a lot going on in this entry to the series, but it's all handled remarkably well and is bound to entertain any who have read through the series this far. It's hard to say a whole lot more without divulging some pretty deep spoilers, but suffice it to say that if you weren't thrilled with Volume 3, know that Danny's back and you definitely want to check him out in this installment!
Fighting the beast

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 4: THE MORTAL IRON FIST is available in print and digital editions on Amazon.


THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 5: ESCAPE FROM THE EIGHTH CITY
5/5
Please note: This section of the post contains some spoilers for Volumes 1 - 4 of THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST series.

If you were like me and thought that VOLUME 4 took a dark turn, then you will be blown away by just how morbid and gruesome the conclusion to THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST series is. Last volume, Danny and the rest of The Immortal Weapons discovered how to get to the formerly mythical Eighth City of Heaven. And as one might have guessed based on the creature that came from there to kill Danny, this is not a nice place. In fact it's not much of a heaven at all, it's far more like the other place. Throughout the course of this volume, readers will see The Immortal Weapons imprisoned in a city of sadistic and disfigured monsters led by an ancient madman. They will be beaten up again and again and again, until they are finally able to coordinate an escape plan.

Tough times for Mr. Rand
In the midst of all of the physical and psychological torture, there are a  number of other dark aspects of the plot which will be slowly unveiled. In my review of the last issue, I expressed concern and suspicion over the actions of the Seven "good" Capital Cities of Heaven and in this installment, those fears are realized in a way that I never would have anticipated. There are twisted secrets aplenty here which made this by far the most shockingly compelling entry into the elaborate saga of The Iron Fist. It's honestly a tale unlike any  that I have read before and I never would have guessed that the story-line would come to this sort of a conclusion after having read the first volume. It's proof that heroes should be very careful when they go about asking questions, since the answers that are uncovered are not always what you want to have brought to light.

Another notable difference this time around is in regards to the cast. Whereas characters like Luke Cage and Misty Knight have played an integral part in past volumes, it is The Immortal Weapons who take center stage in their stead. The Heroes for Hire do show up, but not in the same capacity that readers are used to. While this was certainly a bit of a bummer for me, I also really enjoyed finally getting more time with The Immortal Weapons since they're such a wildly diverse group of warriors and are some of the more visually interesting characters in the entire series. The final villain is also fantastic even though we don't really get to meet him until this volume.
Seriously, who gave this issue the green light?
It all just makes for a very fitting end to an immensely enjoyable series. It has drama, character, suspense, political intrigue, and brutal action. While I won't spoil details of the end, I will say that everything is tied up nicely and that it's rather bittersweet to bring Danny's tale to a close. Beyond those pages are two additional issues that focus on other Iron Fists. One is pretty good and has a sort of folk-lore feel to it. The other is honestly just not worth reading through. The art isn't too great and the story is just awful. It's like someone wanted to make a messed up dystopian, anime-esque type story and just throw elements of Iron Fist's story in. It's truly atrocious and I have no idea why the publisher tossed in such a trash piece to wrap up what is ultimately a fantastic conclusion to a wonderfully done story. My rating for this volume is purely based on the issues which feature Danny Rand, if I included the bonus ones in it, then I'd probably have to drop it a whole star.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOLUME 5: ESCAPE FROM THE EIGHTH CITY is available in print and digital editions on Amazon.


OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE SERIES

After Volume 1:
The first volume in this series was an intriguing start to what I hope will be a far wilder story-line. What starts as a somewhat typical superhero story quickly developed into something much more mystical and unique. This weirdness is something I hope the series will dive deeper into as it goes on.

After Volume 2:
If I wasn't 100% sold on the series before, I certainly am now! The characters, setting, plot, and action are all absolutely stunning. This is storytelling done right, pure and simple and I cannot wait to see what comes next in this series.

After Volume 3:
As my review indicated, this was a bit of a dip in what's been an exciting ride. I'm still stoked to see what the next installment has in store, this was just sort of a break from the main flow is all.

After Volume 4: 
The creators took this series to places I'd never thought they would go. The main story has definitely been reinvigorated and seems to be going in a whole new direction entirely. It's not what I expected, but Danny is back and the story is better than ever. I can't wait to see what comes next.

After Volume 5: 
I'm absolutely stunned by the twists and the turns and the uncompromisingly brutal qualities of this fifth and final installment. It is an absolutely legendary ending to a masterfully crafted tale, but it also highlights Marvel's weakness in tossing in bonus issues that  really just don't add all that much to the story and can occasionally detract from the overall quality of a volume.

Closing Thoughts:
When it comes to the story of Danny Rand, what begins as a sort of slow start quickly spirals into the most engrossing tale of mysticism, magic, and kung fu that I have ever had the pleasure of reading through.  It's a memorable tale brought to life with some high quality artwork and ultimately just a piece of graphic fiction that deserves to be widely read. As a whole, it does get bogged down by ancillary issues which typically don't directly relate to Danny's story and in general, don't do much in the way of adding value to the volumes in which they appear. Honestly, though, it's still well worth the read and if these additional issues don't much appeal to you, then I think you could very easily just skip over them entirely without missing out on much of anything when it comes to the main flow of the plot. Questionable publishing choices aside, it's a fantastic series that I'm glad to have read and one I'd recommend to anyone who loves comics or even just literature that is centered around mystical martial arts.