The Immortal Iron Fist is one of the most critically acclaimed comics in the American mainstream. An epic reanimation of one of Marvel's post-exploitation-flick '70s heroes, it's made millionaire martial artist Daniel Rand relevant and exciting to superhero comics fans for the first time in living memory. It's even been shortlisted for this year's prestigious Eisner Award for Best New Series. It's the product of an inspired collaboration between crime-pulp godhead Ed Brubaker and comics' new golden boy, Matt Fraction. Co-writing, while not commonplace, has a long history in comics. In fact, even when working on a title by themselves, writers often talk about picking up the phone and calling a friend to hammer out the tricky narrative problem of who's going to be punching who in whose face this month. Collaboration over the phone is how a previous generation of writers got tasks like The Immortal Iron Fist done.
While Fraction and Brubaker have been known to get on the ringer, it wasn't how they broke down narratives like "The Last Iron Fist Story" and "The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven." They did it over Xbox Live.
It's not at all uncommon. There's a loose social group of Marvel writers who get together to play, gossip and insult each other. To Matt Fraction, a newcomer to mainstream comics living in the Midwest, this was a terribly attractive idea. "I know it was Ed who convinced me to get the Xbox," explains Fraction. "Maybe it's because I knew it was something some of the guys did. I know I blame Ed for it. And my own neurotic insecurity of not living in New York, to work for Marvel, feeling as if I needed some social engagement with them." It became something more than just a way to chat, however. "It really did end up being super beneficial to Ed and my working procedure, as we really did break out a lot of Iron Fist to videogames," says Fraction.
"Initially Ed and I really behaved, and it was nothing more stressful than [Rockstar] Table Tennis," says Fraction. "But that quickly went away. It tends to be the shooter du jour. It was Call of Duty 4 for a long time. Call of Duty 2 was popular for a long time, too. We broke the trend for a little while and played Burnout Paradise, which was more of a crashing game than a shooting game. It's GTA4 now. But very proto-male kind of things, that all our girls and wives are embarrassed to see."
Matt is even able to tie down specific games to specific stories. For example, the first Iron Fist arc, "The Last Iron Fist Story," was from when he and Ed were being good boys and playing Rockstar Table Tennis. They started the second arc, "The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven," while playing the Halo 3 beta before the plotting got too intricate and they had to resort to old-school telephone calls. There are interesting links between Halo and the plot, too. It's set around a tournament of competitive fighters. "A friend of mine said the one thing he wished we'd done was actually kept the tournament chart, and had one character listed as a bot," says Fraction.