By Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker (writers), Tonci Zonjic, David Aja & Kano (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)

The first half of this issue left me disappointed. As a story arc that was much touted as a big tournament, there sure hasn’t been a lot of fighting. I was really hoping we’d get an “Enter the Dragon” type setting where Iron Fist fights his way up the ladder while uncovering a vicious plot. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. The story hasn’t been a total loss, however. It’s just lost some steam.

There’s a lot going on with this story, and at times it’s a bit hard to tell what’s what and who’s who. We’ve got a lot of scene changes, three Iron Fists, and flurry of masked men (some good, some bad). It’s easy to get lost. The art chores have been divided up between Kano, Tonci Zonjic, and David Aja – each handling certain scenes. And while this division of art has been a running theme throughout the series, it doesn’t work as well in this issue. Much of it has to do with Kano’s art, which feels simplistic and out of place. It’s not that Kano’s artwork is bad, but when you compare it to regular artist, David Aja’s and even (fill-in artist) Tonci Zonjic’s artwork it feels even more uneven.

I realize a lot of this is a set up for next issue’s big brawl, but the story stumbles in the first half. I mean, we’re given the biggest cliche of all when Iron Fist says, “It is what it is.” I groaned when I read this. I even checked the writing credits twice just to make sure it was Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction listed as the writers. The pacing is just off. It’s only when Davos confronts his father that the story begins to pick up.

And Xao? What started off as a ruthless villain has now become somewhat of a parody. Sure, he’s good at threatening, but it’s very telling when his prisoners (Luke Cage and company) don’t take him seriously. And when I finally got to the last page, I laughed out loud. A poignant cliffhanger that’s proper to this entire story line. Kick their ass, Danny! (Grade: B-)

-J. Montes