On March 17th, a new world is coming to the Netflix corner of the Marvel Universe: The magical city of K’un Lun. Yes, the middle of March will see the release of all 13 episode of The House of Ideas’ newest Netflix offering, Marvel’s Iron Fist. This is the “Final Defender” we’ve been waiting for. The wait’s almost over but we still have a day to prepare. “Prepare for what?”, you might ask. Out of every hero we’ve seen come to the streaming service thus far, Danny Rand (a.k.a. Iron Fist) is probably the most convoluted when it comes to back story. So consider this your crash course on the martial arts master from a magical city that only appears once every ten years. From his revenge filled origins to his current status in the Marvel Universe, all will be covered. We probably won’t dwell on his “resurrection” in the pages of Namor, but we’ll fill you in on all the good stuff. Come along for the ride to find out more about the man named Danny Rand who can make his fist like that of iron.
The mid-2000s were an interesting time at Marvel Comics. A lot of strong writers were making their mark at the company. Brian Michael Bendis had successfully revamped the Avengers and was finishing up a legendary run on Daredevil. Joss Whedon had scored his comic dream job, writing Astonishing X-Men. And, of course, Captain America was seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to a writer by the name of Ed Brubaker. Brubaker’s espionage-focused Cap tale was grabbing the attention of fans and Marvel was ready for the comic scribe to take on other heroes in their sandbox. So they gave him Daredevil and he did not disappoint. One of the most interesting elements of his Daredevil run (aside from Matt being in jail for the first arc and Mr. Fear becoming one of the biggest, baddest villains on the block) was his inclusion of Iron Fist.
While Matt Murdock was in jail, awaiting a trial to prove he was a vigilante, there was another Daredevil on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. For the first few issues, his identity remained a mystery. When Matt finally got out of prison, he tracked down the imposter to find out that it was Danny Rand. Danny had been asked to “play Daredevil” while Matt was behind bars. Now that Matt was out, he wouldn’t need to anymore….except that Matt asked him to keep it up for awhile. Matt had some business to attend to out of country and wanted DD to still keep up appearances at home. So throughout Civil War, that’s actually Danny Rand dressed up as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.
The appearance of Iron Fist in Brubaker’s Daredevil run was not just some flight of fancy. Ed’s main play here was to segue Danny into a solo book. That play panned out and in the fall of 2006, we got The Immortal Iron Fist. The book sported an impressive creative team all around. Matt Fraction joined Brubaker on writing duties and art was handled by David Aja and Travel Foreman. Together, they created a tapestry of kung-fu crazy that perfectly paid tribute to Iron Fist’s exploitation roots while also revamping the character for the modern era.
One of the most interesting aspects of the run was that it focused on the legacy of the Iron Fist. We always knew that Danny had won the right gain the power of Shou Lao and faced off with the immortal dragon to claim the prize. But the fact that Danny couldn’t have been the to first try and succeed was never touched upon until now. 66 different men and women from various walks of life (some outsiders, others home grown champions) had triumphed in gaining the mantle of Iron Fist. There were many great champions and their history had been lost when someone had stolen the book of the Iron Fist from K’un Lun. In fact, the Iron Fist before Danny had kind of broken the whole system of picking an Iron Fist when he fled the city because he refused to enter a tournament. Not only was the former Iron Fist a disgrace who was never talked about…..he was also still alive!
Danny ends up meeting his predecessor, Orson Randall, after he’s flushed out of hiding by Iron Fist’s old foe, Davos. Now going by the name Steel Phoenix, Davos had new powers and was planning to kill all Iron Fists. This brings Danny and Orson together. It’s here that Danny finds out the truth about the Iron Fist legacy and is given the book of the Iron Fist (which Orson had stolen) outlining the history of all those that came before him. The rest of the first story arc sports some crazy fights with Hydra Agents and the Steel Phoenix before the ultimate climax of Orson’s death at the hands of Davos.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for Danny to mourn the loss of his new mentor as Lei Kung and Yu Ti, his master and the ruler of K’un Lun respectively, appear to whisk Danny away to the mystical city for the greatest challenge of all: The tournament of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. Turns out there’s more than one mystical city out there. They meet up every 100 years to see who gets additional power and riches. The last tourney was called off when Orson fled, so K’un Lun has been enjoying the advantages of power for longer than they should have in the other cities’ eyes. Now Danny must defend the honor of his people……but that’s not the important part of the story (at least not for Danny).
The real story involves a mystery uncovered by the book of the Iron Fist. Great conspiracies and cover ups took place in K’un Lun and Danny attempts to get to the bottom of them while still keeping up appearances in the tournament against the other “Immortal Weapons”. There’s also a madman named Xao who’s taken a branch of Hydra and is using the Rand Corporation (Danny’s own company) to finance and build a super train that he’ll use as a battering ram to break into K’un Lun. Not to mention, Lei Kung is secretly training the women of the mystical city to overthrow the corrupt Yu Ti. A lot of plot threads that amazingly pay off in the end.
Without giving it all away, K’un Lun and Danny are very different at the end of the tale. Danny has new sense of purpose and feels closer to his K’un Lun roots after this adventure. The story also gave him a new set of allies – The Immortal Weapons (some of which show up for cameos in the Netflix series). Fat Cobra, the Bride of Nine Spiders, Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter, Dog Brother #1 and Prince of Orphans were welcome additions to the Iron Fist story and could’ve easily become breakout characters on their own…..if things went differently.
The success of the book, while minor, was still enough to make some waves. Brian Michael Bendis would end of up adding Iron Fist to the New Avengers lineup and the book would go on for another 12 issues after Brubaker and company’s run on the series. So why was Ed taken off the book? While it was good enough to keep going, Marvel felt that the sales weren’t high enough to keep one of their top writers on it. In other words, Iron Fist didn’t sell as well as Captain America or Daredevil. They now felt that a Brubaker book should make a certain amount of money and Iron Fist didn’t hit that mark. So he and Matt Fraction moved onto Uncanny X-Men and Duane Swierczynski would take over as writer for the remainder of the series.
It goes without saying that Immortal Iron Fist never recovered from the loss of Brubaker, Fraction and artist David Aja. Travel Foreman would stay on as series artist after the others departed but it wasn’t enough to keep the audience the original creative team had acquired. One editorial decision took the Immortal Iron Fist and made him mortal pretty fast.
While there have been Iron Fist series since (I’m not getting into Kaare Andrew’s Living Weapon series as I try to forget it even happened), none have resonated with Iron Fist fans the way this one did. It had heart, gave the character a much needed ret-con and gave us a series that had the potential to be as long lasting and beautiful as James Robinson’s Starman. All good things come to an end and we should be happy that we got it in the first place……but there’s still hope.
A new Iron Fist series is on the horizon. Sporting the creative team of writer Ed Brisson and artist Mike Perkins, it promises to be one for the ages. Ed has mentioned in multiple interviews that the Immortal Iron Fist series played a great inspiration for his take on the character. Could lightning strike twice? Let’s hope so.
So this brings us to the end of our Countdown to Iron Fist. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned something. If Marvel’s Iron Fist has a tenth of the amazing storytelling from the various series we highlighted, it’ll be worth checking out. We’ll find out this Friday.
Marvel’s Iron Fist debuts on Netflix on March 17th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!