The initial intention of this focus was to ride on the release of Netflix’s latest superhero series Iron Fist on March 17, and sing the praises of Daniel “Danny” Rand.
However, reviews of the show have not been promising, with a paltry 14% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 33% on Metacritic.
While Finn Jones (the actor who plays Iron Fist) has said that the Netflix series wasn’t made for critics, it doesn’t seem to have been made for its fans either!
Anyway, we won’t dwell too much on the TV show. Instead, we’ll stick to our original plan of sharing Iron Fist’s comic-book journey.
Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Iron Fist first appeared in the pages of Marvel Premiere #15 (May 1974). Thomas and Kane were inspired by a number of things – a kung fu movie with a “ceremony of the Iron Fist” scene; Marvel’s Master Of Kung Fu series, starring Shang-Chi; and a 1940s Bill Everett character named Amazing Man.
Unlike Shang Chi, whose Asian-heritage made him synonymous with kung fu, Danny Rand’s childhood was sacrificed to make his martial arts background a whole lot more believable. When he was nine, Danny lost his parents during an expedition to seek out K’un Lun, a mystical city his dad discovered some time back, which only appears on Earth once every 10 years.
The expedition ended in tragedy when Danny’s parents were betrayed by their friend/business partner Harold Meachum. After escaping Meachum, Danny also had to fend of sub-zero weather conditions and a pack of wolves, and eventually survived the tragic outing thanks to K’un Lun’s archers. Subsequently, he was taken in by its ruler Yu-Ti and raised as a citizen.
Rise of the Iron Fist
At K’un L’un, Danny was placed under the tutelage of Lei Kung the Thunderer, who taught him martial arts. Fuelled by vengeance, Danny emerged top of Lei Kung’s class, and when he was 19, he was given the chance to attain the power of the Iron Fist by fighting Shou-Lao the Undying Dragon.
Danny defeated the serpent by embracing its molten heart, from which it derives its life energy, until it exhausted its power and died. In the process, Danny was left with a permanent dragon silhouette tattoo on his chest, as well as the power of the Iron Fist, which allows him to focus his chi energy into his hand, giving it superhuman hardness and power.
Danny’s timing was perfect, as K’un Lun was due to make its reappearance on Earth, enabling him to return to New York to avenge his parents. It wasn’t that difficult to locate Meachum, who was now the high-profile owner of the Meachum Industries corporation.
However, what surprised Danny was that Meachum had already been paying his dues for the last decade, having lost both his legs (to frostbite) during that tragic incident involving Danny’s parents.
Overwhelmed by pity, Danny put aside his desire for revenge, but Meachum still met a violent end when he was killed by a ninja named Master Khan. With no revenge to fuel his rage, Danny set out to establish himself as a hero by using the power of the Iron Fist to do good.
The fist of Chris
What made Iron Fist unique and a cult hero was the host of top-notch creative talents guiding him. Starting with his introduction by Thomas and Kane, his 11-issue Marvel Premiere run (#15-#25) was also graced by legendary names such as Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella and … drumroll please … Chris Claremont.
It was with Claremont, and a fairly fresh John Byrne, that Iron Fist was granted a regular series which lasted 15 issues and helped induct the character into the mainstream Marvel Universe, crossing paths with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and the X-Men. He even managed to make an enemy of Sabretooth!
My most memorable Iron Fist tale took place in the pages of Marvel Team Up #63 and #64. Produced by Claremont and Byrne, this two-parter gave closure to the cancelled regular series, with Iron Fist in a showdown with his numero uno K’un Lun nemesis, Steel Serpent. Ambushed by the Serpent, Danny not only lost the battle but also his Iron Fist powers.
What followed next was an awesome display of kung fu fighting between a powerless Iron Fist and a souped-up Serpent, which till today remains the benchmark for Byrne’s Iron Fist work. Spicing up the event was the presence of Spidey and the Daughters of the Dragon (Fist’s femme fatale posse, comprising Misty Knight and Colleen Wing), which made this an action-packed adventure.
Heroes For Hire
With Claremont and Byrne destined for further greatness (through The Uncanny X-Men), Iron Fist was left in the hands of Ed Hannigan and Mary Jo Duffy. Claremont and Byrne’s final act was to tag-team Iron Fist with another character with flagging sales: Luke Cage, on Power Man #48 in 1977. That three-part story did well as an ice-breaker for the duo, who later formed the Heroes For Hire. The title was changed to Power Man And Iron Fist from issue #50 onwards.
Unfortunately, the stark contrast between Claremont’s more serious tone and Duffy’s more light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek approach was just too jarring. The approach was nowhere near the benchmark set by J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen for the “Bwa-ha-ha” Justice League run over at DC Comics. Worse still, Marvel allowed this light-hearted experiment to continue for 75 issues!
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, Danny was killed off in the most ridiculous manner (Power Man And Iron Fist #125) – mistakenly punched to death by Captain Hero, who was just trying to wake him up from his sleep!
Even writer Jim Owsley (who later changed his name to Christopher Priest) acknowledged that “Fist’s death was senseless and shocking and completely unforeseen”.
“It took the readers’ heads clean off. And, to this day, people are mad about it,” he wrote on his official website (digitalpriest.com).
Back from the dead
Fortunately, John Byrne returned to resurrect Iron Fist via a five-part story arc in Namor, The Sub-Mariner #21-#25, by revealing that the earlier dead Iron Fist was a doppelganger created by the extra-dimensional H’ylthri.
Byrne may have reset Danny’s career path but sadly didn’t stay on to guide him further, instead leaving him in the hands of various creative teams, resulting in forgettable appearances in the Marvel Comics Presents anthology and a few other limited series.
Seeing that Iron Fist wasn’t going anywhere on his own, Marvel revisited the team option by souping up the Heroes For Hire (H4H) franchise in 1997. Making Iron Fist the main character (a la Spidey in Marvel Team-Up), the new H4H enabled Danny to team up with a host of heroes including Luke Cage, Black Knight, White Tiger, Hercules, She-Hulk, Ant-Man and Deadpool(!).
While this experience broadened Iron Fist’s presence in the Marvel Universe, it did little to boost his popularity into the A-list. After the H4H series ended in 1998 with issue #19, Iron Fist wasn’t even considered for the subsequent relaunch a decade later.
Up to 2006 (or 32 years after his debut), Iron Fist’s success was synonymous with Claremont and Byrne’s influence. That changed with the 2006 release of The Immortal Iron Fist by co-writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and artists David Aja and Travel Foreman. The seminal series raised the bar and changed everything we thought we knew about the character by infusing a Witchblade-like concept into the bearer of the Iron Fist, revealing that he was just the latest in a long line of past Iron Fists!
The first storyline, The Last Iron Fist Story, introduced fans to Orson Randall (Danny’s immediate predecessor), who shunned his heroic duties after succumbing to post-WWI psychological trauma.
He lived as a junkie and was forced to seek refuge with Danny after being outed by agents of the Steel Serpent and Hydra. This new development certainly added depth and dimension to Danny’s once-predictable adventures, as this 27-issue regular series paved the way for major developments (i.e. The Book Of The Iron Fist, Tournament of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, Danny & Misty tying the knot), and introduced new “past” and “future” Iron Fists (i.e. Li Park, Wu Ao-Shi a.k.a. the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay, Bei Bang-Wen, and Wah Sing-Rand).
While the Iron Fist TV show has not been receiving particularly good reviews so far, it has at least increased Danny’s profile. The character will be part of the Netflix series The Defenders together with Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Here’s hoping his chi never runs out again.