I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. That’s a quote from Futurama’s Professor Farnsworth, as well as a popular internet meme. But it could also very well be what Fongji, the ancient Iron Fist who bonded with the Phoenix Force, said at the end of her little story arc here. These three issues were light on Spider-Man content, but he does show up in the end to deliver some sage advice to Hope. And somebody else shows up in this review to help me catch back up now that I’m getting settled into my new living quarters. So welcome back to the Late Night Crawlspace Show. Tonight’s guest: Fongji!
The New Avengers, vol. 2 #25 – #27
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mike Deodato (and Will Conrad, #25)
Color Artist: Rain Beredo
Letters & Production: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Mike Deodato (and Marte Gracia, #25; and Beredo, #26 and #27)
The New Avengers: Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Thing, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Mockingbird, Jessica Jones, Victoria Hand, Daredevil.
The story of Fongji: Hundreds of years ago in the mystical city of K’un Lun, Master Yu Ti awakens from a prophetic dream. In his dream, he witnessed a girl of crimson hair mastering the force of a cosmic, fiery bird. The following day, Master Yu Ti walks the streets of K’un Lun and visits a training session being held by Lei Kung. Yu Ti asks the Thunderer if he has ever seen a red-haired girl such as the one in his dream. Lei Kung does not have an answer for his master but offers to begin a quest searching for the child. Yu Ti turns down the offer for the time being.
Later that day, Yu Ti visits the Scrying Vessel of Bo-Ling which shows him another vision of the Phoenix Force but reveals nothing about the girl from his dream. At night, Yu Ti dreams of the girl again and her encounter with the cosmic being. This time the Phoenix Force has a more corruptive effect on the child. The following day, as Yu Ti walks the streets of K’un Lun, he encounters a girl with crimson hair.
Yu Ti asks the child questions about her origin, but the girl is unresponsive, so Yu Ti speaks to the girl’s mother. Fongji, whose name means Bird of Fire, was conceived following her mother’s encounter with a companion during her last pilgrimage to Earth. This unusual heritage resulted in the girl’s complexion and hair color. Yu Ti declares that Fongji will come to the temple in order to be trained as the first Iron Fist in 75 years.
Elsewhere, Chan Kong-Sang, a messenger from K’un Lun, visits Leonardo da Vinci and tells of Master Yu Ti’s prophetic dream. The famous Renaissance polymath asks what the Master of K’un Lun would ask of da Vinci in order to help the prophecy reach its natural conclusion. Meanwhile, in K’un Lun, Fongji begins her training with Master Yu Ti and Lei Kung in the Temple of the Dragon.
Master Yu Ti instigates a fight with Fongji by insulting her upbringing. The master easily fends off Fongji’s ensuing attack, and halts her assault when Fongji grabs a dagger. Yu Ti tells a defeated Fongji that she will learn to control her emotions and fight like a warrior. He leaves the temple and tells Lei Kung that he has his work cut out for him.
Da Vinci arrives in K’un Lun and witnesses an intense training session between Fongji and Lei Kung. Da Vinci talks with Master Yu Ti and both are surprised when Fongji unleashes a fiery attack that sends Lei Kung flying backwards across the courtyard. Fongji passes out and a crowd forms around her. Da Vinci hypothesizes that they witnessed a tremor and begins to construct a giant telescope that will give K’un Lun an early warning before the Phoenix Force arrives.
Master Yu Ti visits the Scrying Vessel of Bo-Ling once more, this time with Fongji in tow. The resulting vision reveals both the Phoenix Force and the Dragon Lord. Yu Ti declares Fongji ready for the ritual of the Iron Fist. Da Vinci, Lei Kung, and Yu Ti escort Fongji to a cave where she is to meet with the dragon Shao Lao. After two days, Fongji emerges from the cave as the new Iron Fist, with the ability to wield the power of Dragon Fire. Fongji finally breaks her silence to thank her master.
Later, da Vinci sits at his grand invention and views the cosmos. Through his machine he witnesses the Phoenix Force approaching. Master Yu Ti and Fongji are roused from bed for the galactic bird’s arrival. Fongi asks her master about his prophecy once more. Yu Ti confesses to having two prophecies. One in which Fongji embraced the power of the Phoenix and became a being of pure light; the other ended with Fongji being corrupted by the power and destroying K’un Lun. Master Yu Ti tells the Iron Fist that there are always two paths, and Fongji engages the Phoenix. A bright, fiery battle between the Phoenix and the Dragon Lord begins.
The aerial combat concludes and Fongji stands before her former mentors, transformed in both appearance and power. Fongji, now the vessel for the Phoenix and its boundless knowledge, speaks of the cosmos and the numerous creatures that inhabit them. After a brief struggle with the power she now wields, Fongji tells Yu Ti and da Vinci that their world is not ready for the power and she must leave. Yu Ti asks Fongji if she will return as there is much to study, and his pupil replies that there are always two paths. Fongji then leaves K’un Lun, and disappears among the stars in the sky.
The story of Hope: In present day K’un Lun, Danny Rand, the current Iron Fist and member of the New Avengers, tells Hope the story of Fongji. Hope is frustrated when she learns she is to begin further training while others continue to fight her battles. Master Yu Ti, which Iron Fist explains is just a title passed down through the generations, interrupts Hope’s tirade, stating how envious he was of the Master Yu Ti who trained the mute Fongji. Iron Fist and Hope are puzzled when Yu Ti hints that they may be able to have two Iron Fists.
At the Scrying Vessel of Bo-Ling, Hope has a difficult time emptying her mind and remaining silent long enough for any visions to occur. When Hope finally concentrates, the waters reveal the Phoenix Force, followed shortly by a giant spider. Hope believes the pictures were confirming her destiny as the Phoenix, but Master Yu Ti, a bit put off by Hope’s naivety, replies that the visions meant she will require further training from the Spider.
Spider-Man is rushed to K’un Lun and is just as shocked as Hope is to learn that Master Yu Ti wishes Spider-Man to train the young mutant. Quick to down play his ability as a teacher, referencing the numerous mutants who had already trained Hope, Yu Ti wonders out loud whether Spider-Man is to teach Hope self-loathing. Iron Fist and Yu Ti leave the heroic odd couple alone to begin their training.
Without anything else to talk about, Spider-Man asks Hope what Magneto is like. Hope, as she is wont to do, flies off the handle and yells at Spider-Man about the power she is expected to wield. Spider-Man replies by quoting his Uncle Ben’s famous adage “with great power comes great responsibility.” Hope rudely asks what that is supposed to mean. Spider-Man tells Hope the story of his uncle and the hard lesson the hero learned about using his powers to help others. Hope is shocked and speechless as Spider-Man recites his tale. In the end, Hope runs after Spider-Man, asking whether or not his uncle had anything else to say and questioning her costume choices.
An interview with Fongji
Brian Bradley (Crawlspace Reviewer): Welcome Fongji, it’s an honor to have one as illustrious as yourself agree to be my second celebrity guest on a New Avengers review.
Brian: I agree, but we’ll get into Spidey a bit later. First, let’s talk about you since the majority of this story focuses on your background. As Bendis likes to do, he stretched your introductory story out over two and half comics. There are some out there who would ask “So what?” or “Where are the Avengers and the X-Men?” I, for one, liked your story, but admittedly would rather have seen more Daredevil than da Vinci in an AvX tie-in book.
Fongji: I understand your concern, but my background is essential to understanding the history of the Phoenix Force. Brian Michael Bendis realizes this. Now that the Phoenix Force has returned to your planet, you will begin to see your mightiest heroes respond to this event. The Avengers and X-Men will be battling for a long time; Brian Michael Bendis has a lot of space to fill.
Brian: I didn’t know a sense of humor was part of the Phoenix’s vast power set. I like it. I also like the cosmic entity having its background fleshed out a bit more. It’s interesting to see the “character” explored in a non-X-Men comic. It looks like Iron Fist could have just as big a connection to the Phoenix Force as the mutants do. Do you think that this could be why Iron Fist was included on Bendis’ New Avengers to begin with?
Fongji: The Iron Fist known as Daniel Rand is a true hero. Any who are strong enough to pass the tests of the Iron Fist deserve to stand amongst the greatest of heroes.
Brian: I can’t disagree with you. I’ve come to like Iron Fist and have enjoyed his role in the New Avengers. We don’t see the current Iron Fist until the end when he introduces Hope to Spider-Man, but we did see your trials in becoming the Iron Fist. I haven’t read Danny’s origins, so I liked getting this little insight into the character and the eternal city of K’un Lun, even if it wasn’t about him.
Speaking of K’un Lun, you were raised there by your mother after being conceived on Earth. What did you think of K’un Lun in your time there? It seems nice.
Fongji: K’un Lu is a peaceful city. I knew nothing of Earth until I joined with the Phoenix Force, but now I can say I prefer the tranquility of the home I was raised in. There are several metropolises in your world which could aspire to be more like K’un Lun.
Brian: You’re telling me. My hometown could use a little bit of that serenity. You have several similarities to Hope. Your upbringing for instance. Both of you were brought to a different world to be raised by a single parent. You two even manifested the Phoenix in a similar manner, da Vinci referred to it as a “tremor.” Am I reading too much into this connection?
Fongji: Hope Summers is the Phoenix Force’s next intended vessel. Why the Phoenix has chosen this mutant girl is as much a mystery as why I was chosen. Only the Phoenix knows its true purpose, and the Phoenix always fulfills its destiny.
Brian: How very cryptic and foreboding. Well, how about the fact that you both have crimson hair? The Phoenix embodied another famous redhead in its first notable appearance. What is it about redheads that draws the Phoenix to them, and should Mary Jane Watson be on the lookout?
Fongji: I see no direct correlation between the Phoenix and the color of its intended vessels’ hair. Perhaps it is because of this fiery temperament that redheads are assumed to posses. Mary Jane Watson is a strong, independent woman, much like the others who are chosen. She would make a fine avatar for the Phoenix, but there are rumors of a more sinister force controlling her destiny.
Brian: Are you referring to Mephisto or Dan Slott? I’m kidding. Let’s change topics to other pretty things, such as Deodato’s artwork. I love his artwork on New Avengers and was glad to see him handle the lion’s share of the work again for these three issues. Deodato drew some nifty fireworks representing the battle between the Phoenix and Dragon Lord. My only concern was that during the struggle between the Phoenix and the dragon, it was a little hard to tell where one entity began and the other ended.
Fongji: Well as you can see, Brian Bradley, I am evidence that the two are not always mutually exclusive. The Iron Fist and Phoenix work well together, as does Mike Deodato and Will Conrad. Their styles are very complimentary like the dragon and the Phoenix, and their talent has been a great boon to the New Avengers book since their pairing.
Brian: I notice you are a lot more vocal than you were before your trials as the Iron Fist. Nobody knew if it was because you were mute or if it was just because you didn’t want to speak with anyone. Your mother ordered you to speak to Master Yu Ti, so I assume that means you always had to ability to speak. However, the first words you spoke in these comics were to thank Master Yu Ti. That could have been a dramatic moment, but because of the time that had passed between the comics were released, I actually forgot about your vow of silence until rereading the whole story.
Fongji: Because of my heritage and my different appearance from the rest of the K’un L’unans, I was raised by my mother to remain silent in order to not draw attention. It has always been my belief that unless one has something valuable to contribute, it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Brian: Nice. I believe a presidential vampire hunter had the same belief. As I mentioned earlier, another prominent historical figure from Earth makes an appearance in these comics: Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci is one of the most famous intellects in the history of Earth and even he believes that the Phoenix could represent great things for Earth. This makes me happy because Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, believes the same thing.
Fongji: Scott Summers, the mutant known as Cyclops, is known to the Phoenix. His unique perspective of being so close to the Phoenix’s past vessels should not be discounted.
Brian: Back to da Vinci quickly. Bendis depicted him as a man of science, but he also gave him some funny interactions with Master Yu Ti. I thought the conversation about da Vinci taking the trials of the Iron Fist, should you fail, were pretty funny. Did Bendis get this right? Did da Vinci have a sense of humor?
Fongji: Great intellect has as much to do with humor, as a lack of intelligence does with rage. Leonardo da Vinci was a wise man, and thusly possessed a quick wit and sharp sense of humor.
Brian: Good to know. Now, on the other hand, there’s Hope. Hope is loud, obnoxious, entitled, confrontational, and selfish to list a few of her characteristics. How do you feel about having Hope as one of your successors? Were you as satisfied as I was to see that the Scrying Vessel of Bo-Ling wouldn’t work for her until she shut her mouth for once?
Fongji: Hope Summers has led a very turbulent life. From a young age she was thrust into a world where she was hunted. She has witnessed the man she viewed as a father come close to perishing in front of her eyes on several occasions. These tribulations have hardened a girl too young to be this jaded. Hope Summers is still raw with much to learn, but as with all the Phoenix’s chosen, she has the potential to do great things. Humility and responsibility are a few of the lessons she has yet to accept.
Brian: I’m glad you mentioned responsibility because that brings us to the real reason we’re interviewing you for this site. The Spider is revealed to be the next step in Hope’s training. This led Master Yu Ti to call on Spider-Man. I thought the master’s line about Spider-Man teaching Hope self-loathing was humorous, even though Spider-Man seems to be training every teenage wannabe hero nowadays, including Miles Morales; his soon-to-be sidekick, Alpha; and now Hope. I do find it fantastic that Uncle Ben’s line about great power and responsibility will play a part in saving the Marvel Universe.
Fongji: I agree. Ben Parker may not be as revered as Leonardo da Vinci, but never had wiser words been spoken, than “with great power, comes great responsibility.” It is a true shame that Ben Parker was not credited with the line in the Amazing Spider-Man movie.
Brian: Wait. You’ve seen the Amazing Spider-Man movie?
Fongji: Yes, Brian Bradley. I have seen all of the Spider-Man movies that have been, and those that are yet to be.
Brian: That’s amazing, for lack of a better word. Would you care to offer up any spoilers?
Fongji: I fear I cannot, as your world is not ready to hear what comes next for Peter Parker in the cinematic universe. All I can say is that the year 2022 will be a great year for all Spider-Man fans.
Brian: Fantastic, I can’t wait. That will wrap it up for now. Thank you Fongji, bird of fire and fist or iron, for joining me on my latest New Avengers review. You’ve given me a lot to think about, and a lot to look forward to. Don’t be a stranger to this corner of the universe.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Moment: Spider-Man is rattling off a number of heroes better suited to train Hope:
Spider-Man: Yes, but, see, Wolverine actually is a teacher – to the shock of all mankind – and Danny here, Danny knows all the…
Master Yu Ti: I wonder if you are to teach her self-loathing.
Spider-Man: Well, it is what I have my doctorate in.
An interesting side story which delves into the history of the Phoenix Force. Not a bad companion piece to the Avengers vs. X-Men event, but a somewhat unnecessary appearance by Leonardo da Vinci and the focus on lesser known characters detract from what could have been a good opportunity to go deeper into the actual AvX event.