Something wonderful happened in 1977. Someone at Marvel decided that it would be a great idea to pair their urban superhero Power Man with their master of the martial arts Iron Fist. With their individual titles on the verge of cancellation it was decided that Iron Fist would join Power Man in his book and with issue #50 the comic officially became Power Man and Iron Fist and one of the best books Marvel has ever produced.
Luke Cage was first introduced in his solo title Luke Cage: Hero for Hire. Over the course of 47 issues his stories had a little bit of everything. There were tales of an urban hero caught in gangland strife. There were storylines where Power Man traveled the world as a hero for hire and found himself in several interesting locations and situations. Luke fought alongside the Defenders and for a brief moment in time he was a member of Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four. He also took on a long list of ridiculous villains such as Spear, Stiletto, and one of my favorites, Mr. Fish. I didn’t get to read the book until after it had switched titles but when I went back I really enjoyed those early adventures. The book was fun and was consistently entertaining but eventually it struggled to sell. It’s somewhat understandable as the Blaxploitation craze that had originally sparked the creation of the book was dwindling and Marvel wasn’t sure what to do with the character.
Iron Fist first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15 and was the feature in that book until issue #25. I’ve read these issues and enjoyed them but to me the best Iron Fist stories came from his first solo book simply titled Iron Fist with the creative team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Claremont and Byrne would of course go on to do incredible things with the Uncanny X-men but their creative talents were clearly on display here with the 15 issues that this title ran. After issue #15 Iron Fist went on to guest in Marvel Team-Up #63 & 64. But just like the fad that had created Power Man was fading so was the Kung Fu craze of the early ‘70s that had given birth to Iron Fist.
Someone at Marvel had a love for these two characters and even though it made little sense it was decided that they should be paired together. With that simple decision one of comics greatest bromances’ was born. Power Man and Iron Fist became such a cohesive teaming that any time I see one of these heroes I expect the other to appear, and I become sad when they don’t. At the beginning though it was an unusual pairing. Power Man was a huge African American, born and raised on the streets. He was a former gang member who cleaned up his act and became a cop before being framed and going away to jail. Iron Fist was white and wealthy who was raised in the mystical city of K’un L’un where he was trained to be a living weapon and became the Immortal Iron Fist. Using logic this combination shouldn’t have worked but it was perfect.
Claremont and Byrne were on hand to for the three issues of Power Man, #48-#50, that merged the two worlds. These three issues helped resolve a long running plot thread of Luke Cage’s life. Luke Cage had been framed for trafficking Heroin and was a fugitive of justice while operating as Power Man: Hero for Hire. The villain Bushmaster had kidnapped two of Luke’s friends and would kill them if Luke didn’t do as he was told. Bushmaster wanted Misty Knight dead, which drew Luke into conflict with Misty and her partner in Nightwing Restorations, the samurai Colleen Wing as well as Misty Knight’s significant other Danny Rand, the Immortal Iron Fist. Issue #50 finally clears Luke’s name and he can move forward as a free man and that is where Power Man and Iron Fist begins as the Heroes for Hire.
Claremont stuck around for the first few issues but is soon replaced by Mary Jo Duffy who will write the book for years. Originally billed as Jo Duffy since I can only imagine what the late ‘70s had been like for a female writer in the male dominated comic book industry, but eventually she shifts to Mary Jo and is the definitive writer on the book. Kerry Gammill was the most consistent artist joins her during her run but others included Trevor Von Eeden, Bob Layton, and Kieron Dwyer. Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan had a brief run on the title. Later the book would be one of the first titles to be written by the great Kurt Busiek and wrapping up the title would be the fantastic team of Jim Owsley (AKA Christopher Priest) and Mark Bright. Maybe not household names to comic fans but these were very talented individuals telling great stories.
Power Man and Iron Fist was a consistently good book. It was fun. It was light hearted but filled with action and suspense. Luke Cage and Danny Rand’s friendship was believable and iconic. There were great supporting characters. Misty Knight and Danny Rand became a couple, one of the first interracial romances I can remember in comics. Misty’s partner, Colleen Wing, in Nightwing Restorations AKA the Daughters of The Dragon was a consistent supporting character as was D.W. Griffith from Luke’s solo book. Jeryn Hogarth was the executor of the Rand Estate and therefore in charge of Danny’s fortune became the CFO of Heroes for Hire and along with office manager Jenny Royce they ran the day-to-day operations of what became an international business.
Power Man and Iron Fist ran for 75 issues, ending with issue #125. The ending was controversial and I remember not liking it when I read it for the first time. It made no sense to me, as it appeared Luke had killed Danny and was once again a fugitive from the law. This played out in the sold Cage series of the ’90s. But this is a comic book and Danny wasn’t dead long, or actually dead at all as he had been replaced late in the series by an alien and John Byrne brought Danny Rand,the Iron Fist, back in his Namor series. Luke is cleared and the duo eventually returns in a new Heroes for Hire book during the post Onslaught Marvel Universe when the world desperately needed superheroes. It was enjoyable but it never had the magic that the original Power Man and Iron Fist had.
Today both Luke Cage and Danny Rand are getting a lot of love. Luke Cage has already premiered on Netflix and Iron Fist is coming in the spring. They will also join Jessica Jones and Daredevil in the Defenders. Luckily Marvel has made an effort to release their early adventures with the release of two of epic collections that cover issues #48-89. Hopefully in the near future we’ll get the rest of the series, but pick up their early adventures now, you won’t be disappointed.