You know what I get sick of hearing? I get sick of hearing that in the 1990s, comics sucked. The comics YOU might have read in the 90s may have sucked, but I was mostly reading DC comics for that decade. Back then, DC wasn’t the creative wasteland that many like to characterize it as, it was actually a time of new ideas and exciting stories. Just consider these pieces of evidence:
* Mark Waid reinvigorated the Flash book turning Wally West from an also-ran into a fan favorite
* James Robinson’s Starman breaks new ground in character based story-telling and almost single handily revives interest in the JSA
* John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake shatter the pre-conception that no one can tell a long-form story about the Spectre
* Grant Morrison embraced the concept of widescreen story-telling and combined it with everything great about the Silver Age
* Chuck Dixon made the extended Bat-family his personal playground
So I really want to talk about Chuck Dixon today. Chuck Dixon became a central creator in the Bat-office in the 1990’s beginning around the time of Knightfall with his creation of Bane. From that time on he was incredibly prolific, simultaneously being the main writer behind Robin, creating and writing the Birds of Prey, handing the first seventy issues of the Nightwing solo book, having a few stints on Batgirl and Catwoman, becoming the regular Detective Comics writer and taking over Green Arrow after Mike Grell’s lengthy run.
He is undisputedly the benchmark writer for Tim Drake, Connor Hawke and Nightwing, to which all other writers will perpetually be compared when they tackle those characters. If you want to argue that point, then you haven’t read enough books. Gail Simone has possibly wrested Birds of Prey from Mr Dixon, but that’s the rare exception. It’s testament to how fondly these books are remembered that the trades that exist of his runs are mostly out of print, very pricey and highly sought after.
This brings me to the subject of the five part crossover “Brotherhood of the Fist” -- a white-hot pure distillation of everything great about Chuck Dixon’s DC work in the 90s. I’m calling it a Green Arrow trade that never was, but it could easily have been branded as a Batman, Nightwing or Robin book by the mere inclusion of an additional chapter. The story is told over these five issues:
Part 1 – Green Arrow #134
Part 2 – Detective Comics #723
Part 3 – Robin #55
Part 4 – Nightwing #23
Part 5 – Green Arrow #135
For those of you who have the DC trade paperback timeline tattooed on your back, this story falls after Cataclysm but before the debut of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl in No Man’s Land.
The back story of this crossover is that Connor Hawke has previously defeated and shamed a fighter called The Silver Monkey. Silver Monkey belongs to an order of martial artists The Brotherhood of the Fist who wish to avenge his impugned honor by declaring war on the new Green Arrow and every other distinguished hand to hand combatant in the world. That puts targets on the backs of everyone from Batman to the Question [Vic Sage is in this story? Cool; did not remember that. -- ed]. Game on.
The story opens with Connor encountering Batman in the Alaskan wilds on the trail of a Kobra terrorist cell. They’re not exactly buddies, as Batman puts Connor in his place with “Your saves with the JLA could have been flukes.” Pretty soon things are exploding and the major stirrings in the martial arts underworld are spilling everywhere.
The story whips around the globe showing us hordes of monkey-masked assassins attacking all the major and minor players, such as Katana, Black Canary, Bronze Tiger, Judomaster, Nightwing and Robin. This sets off a variety of missions and team ups as the heroes try to protect each other and shut down the cult at the source. There’s fun to be had as the cult is made up of different schools of martial arts, in various quantities with different skill levels -- jade, steel, bamboo and iron monkeys are all represented. The harder the style, the less proponents, and the thinking behind each is delightfully non-western as Connor observes “Ivory is strong but brittle, bamboo is strong but flexible.”
The story includes some nicely understated nods to continuity as Black Canary’s team up with Bronze Tiger prompts discussion of the mysterious Oracle who assisted the Suicide Squad on missions, and is now working with Black Canary (in the days before Black Canary knew Oracle's identity).
It’s not just all kung fu -- we also get to see some "gun fu" too as Connor’s ex-CIA sidekick Eddie Fyers [longtime Green Arrow Oliver Queen ally -- ed.] takes the fight to the Monkey’s hidden temple in Burma and finds himself up against a familiar one-eyed mercenary.
The story builds towards a Gotham City showdown in a sideways sky-scraper (thank you Cataclysm!) as Connor and the Bat-family find themselves outnumbered by hordes of fighters, and inevitably the always-deadly Lady Shiva appears. Faces are kicked, necks are snapped, respect is earned and debts are cashed in. The resolution returns things to relative normality for our heroes, but the martial arts pecking order has been re-sorted.
Art-wise, each title has its own artist, with pre-Daredevil’s Alex Maleev putting in a robust showing in Detective Comics, Will Rosado contributing strongly to Robin, Scott McDaniel providing his usual delightfully dynamic Nightwing art and the always reliable Doug Braithwaite providing the pencils for Green Arrow. All artists have a confident approach to story-telling and they each make the action clear and easy to follow.
While it’s not Watchmen, "Brotherhood of the Fist" is undiluted fun, with no slow or flat spots. It would have made a great little trade paperback, fitting snugly on the shelf amidst the Dixon Nightwing run. I recently saw a bundled set cheap in a local comic shop. You might also be as lucky in your country or through the magic of the internet.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Posted at 8:02 AM (Permalink) | 7 comments | Tags: Batman, Green Arrow, Paul Hicks, Uncollected Editions