The ‘70s was an experimental time in comics. Creators were given a lot of freedom to explore the American zeitgeist allowing them to create the next wave of superheroes and no one did it better then the House of Ideas. Marvel tapped into just about every ‘70s phenomenon, most with little staying power but a few of them had so much quality behind them that even as the ‘70s ended and the fads that gave birth to them faded into the ether the heroes strode into the next decade and the next to the point they have become staples, fan favorites, and in some cases television stars.
Iron Fist should never have been a success. Roy Thomas and Gil Kane created him to tap into the Bruce Lee inspired martial artist movies of the mid ‘70s. He was first introduced in Marvel Premiere #15 with his gaudy green costume; capris pants, yellow slippers, one of the biggest collars ever in comic history, as well a shirt with one of the deepest v’s in pop culture that no doubt made many a bro jealous. To be honest he looked ridiculous but I loved him anyway. I gravitated toward Iron Fist quickly when I happened upon a box of comics of street level heroes that included Power Man, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu (more on him later), and of course Iron Fist. I enjoyed all of the books; so much so that I read them to shreds but my favorite was Iron Fist. Maybe it was the fish out of water aspect, the lost child returning to the real world. Or it was the multi-millionaire do-gooder social activist that appealed to me but I was also hooked on the idea of a kid who looked like me learning the mystical martial arts in a magical city and using what he learned to fight crime. Whatever it was I was hooked on Iron Fist and have read every incarnation since and am down right giddy about the upcoming Netflix premiere.
I don’t know how true the Netflix show will be to the origin of Danny Rand and his ascension to become Iron Fist but I hope that they keep much of it since it is such an excellent story. Danny’s tale begins with his father, wealthy industrialist Wendell Rand, who wishes to return to the mythic city of K’un-Lun that he trained in as a youth but left as a young man. Wendell takes his family and business partner, Harold Meachum, into the Himalayas to find the mystical gate to the other realm. Tragedy and betrayal strikes as Harold, who is in love with Danny’s mother Heather, murders Wendell. Heather refuses Harold’s advance and flees with Danny in a desperate trek across the mountains. Heather and Danny find an ancient rope bridge as they are chased by a pack of wolves. Heather sacrifices herself as she pushes Danny across the bridge just as the wolves pounce. Archers from K’un-Lun arrive but are to late to save Heather but they collect Danny and take him to K’un-L’un. While in K’un-L’un Danny had become their greatest martial artist, trained by Lei Kung, the Thunderer, under the watchful eye of Yu-Ti, the masked leader of K’un-L’un. At the age of 19 Danny challenges the Dragon Shou-Lao for the right to become the Iron Fist, a mythical warrior with complete command of his or her Chi and able to focus it into their fist, which makes it glow and as hard as…. well as hard as iron. Rather then stay in K’un-Lun Danny returns to New York City in the traditional Iron Fist garb and looking for revenge.
The Marvel Premiere issues and the first Iron Fist series deal with Danny’s return from K’un-L’un seeking revenge on Harold Meachum. There is a reversal as Iron Fist is accused of Meachum’s assassination and he is hunted by Harold’s daughter Joy, brother Ward, and exiled K’un-Lun martial artist Davos who becomes known as the Steel Serpant. These is the focus of Iron Fist’s early adventures and for the most part are guided by the legendary team of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. Claremont and Byrne finished up the Marvel Premiere run and were the only creative team for volume 1 of Iron Fist. It was under these two legends that Iron Fist ran a gambit of ‘70s villains, such as Angar the Screamer, Master Khan, the Steel Serpent and countless others. The first volume of Iron Fist also is where the perpetual thorn in Wolverine’s side, Sabertooth, was first introduced.
These early stories are some of my favorite Iron Fist comics of all time, not just for Claremont and Byrne Iron Fist but because these issues weren’t just a Danny Rand story but created an incredible ensemble cast that are as entwined with Iron Fist as Power Man has come to be. The first and most notable of these is Colleen Wing, a samurai who becomes a private investigator in Nightwing Restorations, LTD AKA the Daughters of the Dragon. Colleen is first introduced in Marvel Premiere #19 and becomes one of Danny’s closest friends as she aids him in his fight against the Meachum’s. Over the years Colleen and Danny have frequently worked together and it is one of the most lasting friendships in Marvel Comics history. Colleen will play a major role in the upcoming Netflix series and just like the comics it appears she will be the person who helps Danny re-acclimate to the real world just as she did in those comics of the ‘70s. I hope that romance isn’t introduced since their relationship has always felt more brother and sisterly then romantic, especially since the love of Danny’s life is Colleen Wing’s partner in Nightwing Restorations, LTD and fellow Daughter of the Dragon Misty Knight.
Danny and Misty’s relationship begins in these early stories by Claremont and Byrne. Misty is an ex NYPD police officer who lost an arm due to a bomb and was gifted a bionic arm by Tony Stark and opened Nightwing Restorations with Colleen Wing. Misty and Danny’s relationship begins pretty quickly after her introduction in Marvel Premiere #20. It was also very progressive for the ‘70s as it was an interracial relationship, with Danny being white and Misty African- American. This is common today in pop culture but unfortunately in the ‘70s was not seen regularly but to my young mind it helped open my mind. Over the years the two have been on again and off again but have been very important to each other. Misty and Danny’s relationship was always believable and realistic, well as realistic as you can get in comic books. She was important in Danny’s evolution and was the rock he often needed to rest upon. I’m very hopeful that Simone Missick’s portrayal of Misty from the Netflix Luke Cage series appears in Iron Fist but surely their paths will cross in the Defenders series and without a doubt sparks should fly.
Iron Fist also introduced us to NYPD Lieutenant Rafael Scarfe, who was Misty’s Partner until the bomb took her arm, and a close friend after. He aided Iron Fist often during his solo series and even during the Power Man & Iron Fist run. We’ve already been treated to Scarfe in Luke Cage, played brilliantly by Frank Whaley, who comes to an untimely end but continuity be damned I’d love to see Whaley make an appearance in Iron Fist.
Unfortunately sales declined on Iron Fist and by Iron Fist #15 the writing was on the wall that the book was going to be cancelled. Claremont and Byrne actually had to wrap up their storyline with the confrontation of Iron Fist and the Steel Serpent in Marvel Team-Up #63-64. Then someone at Marvel made either a desperate decision or a brilliant decision, or desperately brilliant, and decided to pair Iron Fist with Power Man, another faltering series born of the Blaxploitation craze of the ‘70s. Somehow it worked as Power Man & Iron Fist ran for 75 issues, starting with issue #51 of the Power Man series and ending with #125. Power Man & Iron Fist is such a good series. Power Man & Iron Fist was a lot of fun as not only was it action oriented but also a buddy comedy, with Luke Cage being the straight man to Danny’s hijinks. I was devastated at the end of the series as Iron Fist was apparently killed and with no follow up I assumed he was gone for good. It hurt but I moved on. I should not have worried to much as these are comics and rarely does dead mean dead and luckily John Byrne has a love for Iron Fist as deep as my own and revived the character in his Namor series. Danny was back and for the remainder of the ‘90s he had stints in Marvel’s weekly series, Marvel Comics Presents, as well as a couple mini-series and crossovers. The ‘90s ended on a high note for Danny Rand as he reteamed with Luke Cage and several other heroes to fill the void left during the Heroes Reborn event as they reformed Heroes for Hire for a 19 issue run under the writing talents of the under appreciated John Ostrander. As the 21st Century began Iron Fist appeared in the Bendis Daredevil run as well as New Avengers and a short-lived Defenders series. Then something incredible happened in the life of Iron Fist, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja were green lit to create the Immortal Iron Fist, which is hands down one of the greatest comic books to ever see print. But more on that later this week.