Grasping ‘Iron Fist’

  • Finn Jones as Danny Rand / Iron Fist Netflix

  • Iron Fist Marvel

  • Iron Fist Marvel

Thursday, March 16, 2017

With today’s release of Netflix’s latest Marvel series, “Iron Fist,” the lineup of its supergroup “The Defenders” is complete. But unlike Daredevil, Luke Cage, or even Jessica Jones, “Iron Fist” is pretty obscure for the average viewer’s familiarity. Comics pro L.A. Williams and artist George Carmona III break down the series for the new viewer.

L.A.Williams: “Who or what is Iron Fist?” has to be the reaction Marvel Comics expects from most who learn about their new TV show. But they can afford that reaction nowadays.

After the epic failure of their “Howard the Duck” movie in 1986, Marvel and their studio partners learned to lure audiences with films centered around either bankable actors (Wesley Snipes in 1998’s “Blade,” Halle Berry in 2000’s “X-Men,” Travolta in 2004’s “The Punisher,” etc.) or around their iconic characters (2002’s “Spider-Man,” 2003’s “Hulk,” etc.).

Now, after building trust with nearly two decades of hit movies and programs, they confidently launch TV shows based on their obscure characters like Iron Fist, knowing folks will give the series a chance.

George Carmona III: Danny Rand is an orphaned child raised by strangers in another dimension and taught their secret form of martial arts, a standard trope of the ‘70s and comics.

LAW: Danny becomes Iron Fist, one of Earth’s greatest martial artists. When his skillset’s insufficient to get out of a jam, he can make his fist “iron” hard and crackle with glowing energy and then throw a limited number of brick wall-destroying, super powered punches.

GC3: He comes back to the U.S. to avenge his parents and claim his birthright. Iron Fist is a character that I really didn’t appreciate as a kid when I would see him pop up every now and then in a crossover or comic event.

LAW: Iron Fist wasn’t an idea that had been given a lot of advance thought but instead was quickly created in 1974 to cash in on America’s Kung Fu fad. His initial origin story (a white guy arrives in a foreign land and discovers and virtually immediately becomes the greatest master of whatever skillset the natives who created it failed to be the best at) was clichéd and insulting.

On the other hand (pun intended), things in his comic that may not seem like much today were groundbreaking then. Before “Iron Fist,” most comic captions would exclaim, “Batman rushes to the Batmobile!” To get the reader invested, “Iron Fist” captions would read, “You are silent in the darkness, for you are the Iron Fist and you know danger lurks.” Additionally, I believe Iron Fist was the first superhero in an interracial relationship, in 1975 (To avoid “spoilers,” let’s just say Danny was involved with a character from another Marvel Netflix show). And Wolverine’s eventual nemesis, Sabretooth, actually debuted in Iron Fist #14.

But as the Kung Fu craze “waxed off,” “Iron Fist” sales plummeted. Marvel had another book called “Luke Cage, Power Man,” born from another ‘70s fad (Blaxploitation) and suffering the same sales decline, and they came up with the clever solution of combining the titles. “Iron Fist” was cancelled and he and his supporting cast joined Cage’s book, retitled “Power Man and Iron Fist.” They fought everything from drug dealers to dragons. Writer Mary Jo Duffy — realizing martial mastery alone couldn’t sustain interest — humanized Danny, reminding readers he spent his formative years elsewhere and was essentially a cultural immigrant here. Through her writing, Danny still kicked behind, but discovered (and loved) pizza and was befuddled by why an elevator wouldn’t have a 13th floor button. He was naive about flirting rituals yet astute when someone tried deceiving him or themselves.

GC3: Depending on who’s writing him, he’s either an entitled frat boy or a Kung Fu/Zen master. It took a bunch of revamps for me to like him. Now, we see a person who makes mistakes but learns from them. Danny’s quest for being better brought me back to this character who had been a mashup of clichés and Kung Fu. His journey in learning that there is more to his power than just turning his fist into “iron” and being an “Immortal Weapon” turned my opinion of him around.

LAW: Take karate flicks, private eye movies, super heroics, romance and mysticism, mix them all together and you’ve got Iron Fist. His Netflix series (for mature audiences) begins March 17 and his solo comic series gets relaunched on March 22.

GC3: Not sure what this new show will bring to Danny’s journey but hopefully it will continue to explore his growth and — as a bonus — be the last piece to the puzzle that will launch us into the next Marvel Netflix series, Defenders, the way “Captain America: The First Avenger” launched “The Avengers” as a franchise.

LAW: And if you want to be cooler than the other kids, here are the back stories either one or both of us recommend:

“Essential Power Man and Iron Fist,” Vols. 1 and 2 (LAW)

“Power Man & Iron Fist,” Priest & Bright run (LAW)

“Daredevil,” Brubaker & Lark Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (GC3/LAW)

“New Avengers,” Bendis run, Vol. 2, 2010-2012 (GC3/LAW)

“The Immortal Iron Fist,” Vols. 1-3 (GC3/LAW)

“Power Man & Iron Fist,” Walker & Greene run (GC3/LAW)

George Carmona III is an Artist/Designer operating FistFullofArt.com.

L.A. Williams is an Amherst Regional High and UMass Amherst alumnus and former comic book editor who runs AquaBabyBooks.com online bookstore.