A Primer on the Character of Iron Fist
I am so excited. March 17th is just around the bend. It’s going to be a great time for me. Lots of action and people wearing green.
I’m talking about, of course, the premiere of Netflix’s Iron Fist.
Just so you know, I’m intentionally writing this piece before the premiere of Netflix’s Iron Fist. I figure that before I start talking about how well the show kept to the comic book character, I’d write about him without any prejudices. This way if the season does something extraordinarily good, it won’t cloud my commentary.
Also, by contrast, if I see something terrible, I won’t swear like a Tourette’s syndrome patient who’s been off his meds for a week.
Talking about Iron Fist is like peeling an onion. There are lots of layers to his myth. I could summarize his story with a few sentences and you’d get the gist, but it wouldn’t do the character justice.
Reviewers unfamiliar with the character probably went in with this supposition:
Daniel Rand, orphaned in the Himalayan Mountains after his billionaire parents were murdered, is found by alien monks who teach him martial arts. He gains superpowers in addition to his amazing fighting skills and returns home as an adult, swearing vengeance against his parents’ killer and becoming a vigilante.
Small-minded critics would leave with the feeling that this character is a Batman wannabe. Iron Fist and Batman certainly share the same archetype and have similar backgrounds. They both are orphans. They both inherited a vast fortune. They are both driven by vengeance. And they both are excellent at hand to hand combat, fighting vigilantes. Like the Hebrew myth of the golem, until some tragedy comes into their lives they are purposeless children, and then afterward that tragedy gives these innocent lumps of clay the life force spark, that gives them direction for greatness.
Outside of that, Iron Fist and Batman are two completely different characters. Comparing the pathologically brooding obsessed dark knight of Gotham to the Zen Buddhist-like guardian of K’un L’un who forged his body as a living weapon, is like comparing a serial killer with a boxer. Batman is not Iron Fist and Iron Fist is certainly not Batman.
While the above summary is somewhat accurate, to truly understand this character, we need to talk about him in detail.
So let’s talk about Iron Fist.
Let’s talk about one of the greatest unarmed fighters in the Marvel Universe. He is that good, you know. Marvel geeks still wage the long-standing debate about who really is the best fighting martial artist – Iron Fist or Shang-Chi, The Master of Kung Fu like Star Trek geeks fight about Kirk versus Piccard. Popular opinion says it’s Shang Chi. But, in reality, it’s really a toss-up.
For me, personally, I’ve always been a Shang Chi fan. He has no powers whatsoever and manages to annihilate almost everyone he encounters.
Then there’s Danny Rand, the Iron Fist. First, let’s ask…
Who Is Iron Fist
Daniel Rand is the son of Wendell and Heather Rand. Wendell, as a child, had spent time in the ancient city of K’un L’un (pronounced Koon Loon). While there, he saved the life of Lord Tuan and was adopted by him. He left K’un L’un as an adult and made billions in New York. He then, married his socialite wife, Heather, and had his son, Daniel.
Danny had a rough childhood, after Wendell’s business partner, Harold Meachum, decided he wanted everything that his partner had. That included Wendell’s business and wife. On a family trip to seek out K’un L’un again, he took his family and business partner with him.
Let me interrupt this to explain something about K’un L’un; it’s not a normal city.
In the original story, a space ship crashed thousands of years ago in the middle of the Himalayan Mountains. The crash survivors cannibalized the ship and created a city around the wreckage.
The ship became the city’s center. However, due to an unstable and malfunctioning warp drive, the city only appeared on the earthly plane periodically.
Since then the population has settled and rarely leaves the city.
Marvel retconned K’un L’un’s history and made it a mystical place instead. Now, the city only appears through magic and periodically on it’s own, naturally.
In either origin, it’s not easy to get to.
When Wendell went back with his family and Meachum, they had to climb mountains to get there. Meachum sabotaged Wendell’s tie rope and he plunged to his death. Meachum offered to save Danny and Heather. She refused and made an escape into the mountains. Hungry wolves picked up the Rand’s scent and chased them both to the bridge to K’un L’un. While Danny crossed the bridge, wolves killed Heather before K’un L’un’s archers killed the wolves.
Danny was adopted by Lei Kung (the Thunderer). He expressed to his adopted father he wanted revenge. The Thunderer taught him extensive martial arts along with his own son, Davos. As part of his regimen, he toughened his hands in various substances from hot sand to rocks. Danny proved to be extraordinarily gifted at combat. At age 19, he won the right to fight the dragon, Shou-Lao, the Undying to gain the power of “the iron fist”.
The dragon’s molten heart lay on a brazier outside of its body which it absorbs through a large dragon-shaped hole within his chest. Danny killed the dragon by hugging the dragon and blocking its heart hole with his chest. In doing this, he burned a dragon symbol onto his chest. After killing the dragon, Danny drove his hands into the molten heart and gained the power of the Iron Fist.
The Iron Fist power allows Rand to focus his own chi (life force) into his fists and make it like a thing of iron.
In addition, it enhances his strength, speed, and stamina.
Iron Fist can shatter wood, stone, and concrete, as well as dent metal and steel.
He can also use the power to heal himself and others.
Unfortunately, the Iron Fist technique is also so exhausting he can only use it once a day. On rare occasions he can do it twice – but not often. After all, what good is a devastating move that will make you exhausted after its second use?
As part of his gig, he also gets to wear the ceremonial garb of “the Iron Fist” which is green and yellow and cool as hell.
When Danny turned twenty-nine, K’un L’un appeared on the earthly plain once more. Once there, he left for New York for vengeance.
When he found Meachum, he saw the man lost his legs due to frostbite from abandoning the Rands all those years ago.
Iron Fist felt pity and didn’t kill him – however, someone else did. He was framed for the murder and spent years trying to clear his name. Eventually, he did and inherited his father’s billions. With that money, he went into business with fellow vigilante, Luke Cage (aka Power Man) with “Heroes for Hire”.
Retcons have been made to the Iron Fist’s origin. As I’ve already mentioned, some writers have changed K’un L’un into a mystical martial arts haven where many tribes compete for the power of the Iron Fist. Rand’s origin was expanded when Danny discovered he was one in a line full of Rands to inherit the power of the Iron fist. Orson Rand, his grandfather still survives and also has an iron fist. He apparently had given the fortune he’d made to his son, Wendell, to start the Rand business empire.
What to Look Out for
What viewers of the Netflix series should look for, are the bare bones of the character. These include Danny’s involuntary stay in K’un L’un, his training, his origin in attaining the iron fist, and his return to New York.
From what I understand, the Netflix series will prominently feature Colleen Wing. She’s a modern day samurai and an excellent martial artist. Along with the Misty Knight (from the Luke Cage series), she starts Daughters of the Dragon (originally Knightwing Investigations).
Right now, we’re just getting a taste of who she is, how well she fights, and what drives her.
We should see a lot more of Knight if the series is to remain loyal to the comics. She’s important to Danny.
Daniel Rand’s personality is the polar opposite of his partner, Luke Cage. Where Cage is hotheaded and impulsive, Rand is not. Iron Fist is definitely the calmer of the two and approaches his missions much like that of a Zen Buddhist.
This era within Marvel was full of other martial arts characters. I don’t expect them all to show up within the first season of Iron Fist, but that doesn’t mean they won’t show up in The Defenders.
The “Sons of the Tiger” are three young men who were mystically chosen to fight for good and follow a mission to avenge the murder of their master. There is also the White Tiger, a mystically powered martial artist and crime-fighter who gets his powers from a jade amulet.
I would also like to clarify one thing, too.
I said before that I thought Shang-Chi might be the better fighter of the two. What I didn’t say was who I thought the cooler one was in the comics.
It’s Iron Fist.
Everything about him is just awesome to a ten-year-old kid who grew up in the seventies. His costume is an emerald green costume with an “Elvis Blue Hawaii” yellow collar. Plus his mask looked like a yellow dew rag, tied at the back with “Spider-man-like” eye slits in the front. Whenever artists drew the Iron Fist for the logo or whenever Rand used the iron fist, it glowed with power. It glowed so much, most of the artist would draw it with a streak of energy as it hit its target.
And when the Iron Fist struck anything, it was annihilated.
Some of Iron Fist’s Best Stories
Ever since Iron Fist premiered in Marvel Premiere #15 in 1974, he’s been an exciting character.
The issue, dedicated to the late comic book writer-artist Bill Everett (1917-1973) and planned, plotted, and polished by writer, Roy Thomas, and artist, Gil Kane, introduced the character during a baptism of fire battle trial and most of his origins were revealed through a series of flashbacks. Here we get a taste of what drives the character and how much of a living weapon he’s become.
His first issue was a roller-coaster of action and emotion. From seeing him beat the hell out of a legion of martial artists in a deadly gauntlet of foes to the soul-wrenching murder of his parents. What we saw was a true warrior who wasn’t only an unstoppable force but a man driven for revenge and justice.
Iron First had been a mainstay on the comic book shelves when he joined Power Man’s “Hero for Hire”. He came aboard in issue #50.
The final issue of the first volume of Powerman/Iron Fist #125 ended with Rand’s apparent and unexpected death.
But he didn’t die.
The original Iron First was replaced by a doppelgänger within the last ten or twelve issues of the comic. That doppelgänger was murdered by an irrational child with super powers (the aptly named “Captain Hero”) while he was sleeping.
Rand’s hiatus came when he discovered he was dying of cancer and through focusing his Iron Fist power into healing, cured himself.
Most of the Iron Fist’s classic stories are hard to find, but they’re not impossible. You can find most of them through ESSENTIAL editions. Here’s a recommended list of stories.
THE DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #10
Danny faces off against one of his arch nemeses, his step brother, Davos. His step brother challenges him to a fight for the power of the Iron Fist, which is rigged due to Davos poisoning Danny.
He must fight Davos in three fights. Danny manages to win the third bout by blocking Davos’s “death blow” and having it backfire on him.
Written by Doug Moench.
The great thing about TDHOKF is that it featured many of the martial arts heroes in the MU. These included Iron Fist, Shang Chi, The Sons of the Tiger, The White Tiger, and The Daughters of the Dragon. Most of the characters later became the supporting cast within the Power Man and Iron Fist series.
THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST VOL 1
This one’s by Ed Brubaker best known for his Captain America run.
It’s a modern Iron Fist tale where we look at Daniel Rand and the Iron Fist legacy throughout the Rand family. We see that Orson Randal is still around which says volumes about the “undying” part with “Shao Lao the Undying” energy.
Danny has to fight in a tournament of other immortal weapons that happens every eighty-eight years. This story is full of gritty violence and it’s delicious for every fan boy. It shows the conflict in the character between his desire to be a vigilante or a protector of K’un L’un. This story tells us about his place in the immortal champions of heaven.
POWERMAN AND IRON FIST
I love this series.
This is a retelling of the meeting between Luke Cage and Daniel Rand and focuses on their friendship.
These two polar opposite characters are the best of friends and the closest of allies. Written by David Walker and illustrated by Daniel Green, it is the rebirth of some good “buddy stories”. The plots are pretty basic. There’s a stolen magic stone and the two have to recover it before chaos ensues. The best part is the chemistry between the two characters. The dialogue is magical and readers will laugh out loud. Fans get a better understanding why this superhero odd couple works so well.
THE FURY OF IRON FIST
This is the original Iron Fist story arc. It’s where the first few issues reveal Daniel Rand’s first origin story, introduce Colleen Wing, and starts him on his road to revenge to get to Harold Meachum. There are also the challenges the Iron Fist faces with the magical mystical enemies of K’un L’un – like Master Khan and his minions. This is seventies kung fu comic stories at their best. It’s packed with ninjas, giant warrior robots, death cults, and mystic sorcerers. Think Big Trouble in Little China and you’ll be half way there.
MASTER OF KUNG FU: BATTLEWORLD (SECRET WARS)
Think about every really good fighter within the Marvel Universe. Now put them all on a mystical battle world to fight it out. This tale isn’t specifically an Iron Fist story, but he’s a big part of it. This is more about the fights between the best of the best in the MU and then seeing the Iron Fist face off against Shang Chi. In this, Shang Chi is the main protagonist, but the character with the main supporting role is Danny Rand as the current undefeated protector of the battle world. The last time I read this I thought of Jackie Chan in his role as The Drunken Master. It’s one of the newer tales and it’s told through a distorted mirror as only Marvel could tell it.
Why the Early Reviews are Probably Wrong
I’ve read a few advanced reviews of the Netflix show based on the first six episodes. They’re not stellar. However, they do have the benefit of being extraordinarily stupid.
The biggest complaint is that Danny Rand isn’t Asian.
The problem with that complaint is that Danny Rand ISN’T ASIAN. He’s a blond haired, blue eyed white man. That’s just a fact.
While I appreciate the argument of “whitewashing” movie roles, the same argument goes to characters who were caucasian and then portrayed as not. Danny Rand’s character is an outsider from several aspects. He was an outsider to K’un L’un. He was an outsider to the martial arts world. And he was an outsider to his father’s business legacy because of his time spent in Asia.
Everything about him is supposed to be a bad fit.
There just is too much moaning about this. Before critics complain about a man’s skin tone, read a few of the original issues.
This story is not unique.
A caucasian is taught an oriental fighting style. The oriental community objects to an outsider learning their ways. They are further angered when they find out he’s good.
Read any biography of Bruce Lee. Back in the seventies, it was a thing that Asians through Kung Fu was strictly to be taught only among its own people.
The objection to another race practicing martial arts and getting good at it is just childish.
We’ve moved on.
Marvel knows its audience and has billions reasons for not listening to people not in the know. Marvel went through their growing pains and decided to give the fans what they wanted – and they found it worked.
The second complaint is that “Iron Fist is boring”.
This was only the first six episodes. Daredevil got off to a slow start, too. I can practically guarantee that Iron Fist will get better.
Granted, the story of the Iron Fist is not Guardians of the Galaxy, or Thor, or any of the Captain America films, or Iron Man either. Critics confuse simplicity with boring. The story of Iron Fist needs to happen. Where there’s Luke Cage there’s Iron Fist for Heroes for Hire.
My pet peeve is that there are too many people who are completely unqualified to critique comic book movies and comic books. Here’s my argument. Comic book stories and history are serious study. When compared to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the Marvel Universe (as well as the DCU) is so vast and vibrant that a critic who writes about it is most likely woefully unqualified to make an assessment.
Remember, the same universe that Iron Fist lives in is the same one that Spider-man, Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hulk, Thor, and Conan the Barbarian live in as well. The history of these publications goes back decades. Considering that the literature of Robert E. Howard, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley are also part of this mix, casually saying that these elements are of equal importance is being ignorant of the tapestry that took so long to create by so many people which was then forged into being by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s legacies.
My experience with comics goes back forty years. I’m qualified to make the assessment. So are the people who work at this site. We are passionate about this mythology.
Sure, the story of the Iron Fist is not the same as Deadpool’s. The story is also not going to be as all-encompassing as the Kree-Skrull War or The Infinity Gauntlet. What this story is, is the story of a man thrown into a foreign world he doesn’t know, into a culture he had to assimilate into, take on challenges that would destroy an average man, and then after conquering all that, trying to find his way home to people who don’t want him there.
One reviewer, Dan Feinberg from The Hollywood Reporter, said that there is no villain.
There will be several. We already know “The Hand” is in New York. Madame Gao had already spoke of K’un L’un in Daredevil – plus there is… another.
Just watch the trailer. Anyone who’s read any of the Iron Fist stories or Heroes for Hire should know who the bad guy is from the marks on the heroin bags. The symbol on the bags looks like Iron Fist’s dragon scar without the wings – sort of like a serpent. It’s as if someone failed to get the entire tattoo scar.
Do I need to go on?
Feinberg also made a comment about there being a quota about billionaire vigilantes and mentioning Bruce Wayne. Once again, this is stupid. An intelligent reviewer, who understands Marvel, would compare Tony Stark to Iron Fist – not Batman. Secondly, the Marvel Universe has more than its share of rich and powerful vigilantes that no one speaks of. However, if we confine it to the MCU, billionaire heroes include Tony Stark, the Black Panther, Charles Xavier, and Reed Richards, just for starters. Iron Fist is merely the latest.
Variety compared Iron Fist to the CW’s superhero shows. I don’t even know where to begin with that one.
Comparing any Marvel production to a DC television show is like comparing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings saga to Ralph Bakshi’s cartoon version with the complaint that Jackson’s wasn’t animated enough.
Please bare this in mind: Daredevil’s first season had very slow pacing. Marvel likes to introduce things slowly and reveal things that are built into the second half of the series.
Remember, the reviews are only based on the first six episodes. What we’re seeing is Danny Rand’s mission to get his family fortune back.
The complaint about the fight choreography being substandard can be explained by the absence of the main antagonist. Trust me, if the antagonists are who I think they are, there will be plenty of good fights to come.
I suggest viewers to keep an open mind.
If you’re a fan of Marvel comics, you’ll enjoy it every bit as much as the last three introductory series.
Remember, these are the stories of Marvel’s street vigilantes. Evil challenges every level of the Marvel Universe. The Guardians of the Galaxy will fight for justice in other galaxies while the Avengers are here to keep us safe on a global level. Doctor Strange is our guardian against mystical menaces and people like your friendly neighborhood Spider-man works with all of them.
These are the stories of the guys who protect your block. They’re the guys who tackle the muggers, fight the drug lords, beat the purse snatchers, and take down the mobs.
They are the last layer of defense between the darkness and the victim.
In this series, we fight that darkness with a glowing iron fist.