Marvel’s partnership with Netflix has created a nice little block within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one where the heroes are a bit more tormented, the villains are far more complicated, and everyone’s developed a bit of an outsider complex in the face of urban decay. The final corner of this block is easily the strangest of them all, an outsider even among a group of outsiders like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. He is Danny Rand, the Iron Fist. Doctor Strange introduced us to a world of mystic arts within the MCU, and Iron Fist will take us even further as we witness Danny Rand channel mystical kung fu powers and earn his place as the final member of The Defenders. To make sure none of you go off trying to attempt a dragon stamp kick half-cocked, here’s everything you need to know about the immortal Iron Fist!

Marvel Premiere #15 (Gil Kane, Tony Mortellaro, Gaspar Saladino, Marvel Comics)

The Comic: Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, first appeared in Marvel Premiere in 1974 #15. Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Iron Fist was created to capitalize on the martial arts films of the 70s. Iron Fist became Marvel’s second martial arts-based character, after Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, to attempt to tap into the zeitgeist of Bruce Lee’s movies and the television show Kung Fu. In the issue of the comic creator-centric magazine, Alter Ego, writer Roy Thomas explained that that the Iron Fist came from a kung fu movie which included something called the ceremony of the Iron Fist. Despite having already having a kung fu title in Master of Kung Fu, Thomas was so smitten with the name that he took it to Stan Lee, who agreed it sounded like a worthy addition to Marvel’s growing cadre of heroes. The decision to make Iron Fist’s alter ego, Daniel Rand, a white American (a decision that has created an interesting debate today) likely stemmed from a desire to distinguish Iron Fist from Shang-Chi for young readers with limited funds and short attention-spans, and artist Gil Kane’s affinity for the 1940s Centaur Publication’s character Amazing Man. If we look back at Bill Everett’s Amazing Man character, it’s obvious of just how much that character played into Iron Fist and his mythos. The Amazing Man, John Aman, was an orphaned American chosen by a group of Tibeten monks (known as The Council of the Seven) for his physique to be raised for 25 years to become a champion who could transform his body into a green mist. Marvel later incorporated Aman and aspects of The Council of the Seven, into Iron Fist’s canon and also made a celebrated effort to showcase the long legacy of Asian Iron Fists, and make Danny Rand’s whiteness an element of systemic classicism within “rediscovered” aspects of his origin. But in 1974, taking something old, as in the case of both Amazing Man and Shang-Chi, and presenting it with tweaks and a fresh costume as something new, was what successful comic runs were built on. Or so it seemed.

Iron Fist #1 (Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Irv Watanabe, Marvel Comics)

Iron Fist’s introduction in Marvel Premiere ran for ten issues (#15-#25) and in it you’ll find a Danny Rand that’s almost unrecognizable compared to most modern iterations. This Danny Rand is angry, broody, and hell-bent on revenge. He’s about as standard action hero as an action hero could get, the exception being a killer origin story that truly did set him apart from Marvel’s other characters. The orphaned son of a billionaire industrialist, raised in a martial arts village that only appears on our plane of existence every ten years, and given the powers of this village’s greatest champion by defeating a dragon and shoving his fists into the beast’s molten heart, is by no means the imagination of a standard Marvel origin story. This compelling background, and the issues’ heavy use of dynamic action, led Marvel to give Iron Fist his own series in 1975. It was here under the craftsmanship of renowned Marvel team Chris Claremont and John Byrne that the character began to find his voice as a naïve, somewhat impetuous martial arts master with a strong sense of honor and commitment to his friends, and a lack of certainty about his place in the world as both man and superhero. Iron Fist ran for #15 issues, with the character fighting all sorts of mystical ninjas, corrupt businessmen, dictators, and radioactive monsters born of science-fiction, until it was canceled in 1977. Its unresolved plots were left to be finished in Marvel Team-Up. It’s worth noting that  Master of Kung Fu starring Shang-Chi ran until 1983 and ended with issue #125, perhaps a statement on authenticity, or perhaps only evidence that one series was telling better stories as the age of the kung fu movie came to an end.

But Iron Fist’s failure to gain traction was its salvation, as it provided a chance for one bastard of 70s pop culture to be paired with another. Enter Power Man and Iron Fist! As detailed in the Luke Cage Primer, the series became what both characters were most recognizable for. In the series, which continued from Luke Cage’s numbering at #50, focused on both characters as heroes for hire, taking on social causes as well as revisiting some of the threats and plot lines that had been integral to their individual series. From a comics history standpoint, the best part of Power Man and Iron Fist was seeing a black hero and a white hero not only work together but become one of the most enduring partnerships and friendships in the medium. Their adventures were some of the wildest and wackiest of the time, featuring every C-level threat imaginable, but their relationship and Marvel’s interest in Harlem and its people was one for the ages. Featuring a revolving door of creators who left their mark on the series, Power Man and Iron Fist came to an end with issue #125 in 1986, in a shocking finale that left Iron Fist dead.

The Immortal Iron Fist #1 (David Aja, Marvel Comics)

Iron Fist wouldn’t return until 1991 in the pages of Namor the Sub-Mariner (#21-#25) in an arc that revealed the Danny who died in 1986 was a doppelganger (say it with me, “Comics. Am I right?”). For most of the 90s Iron Fist bounced around through guest appearances, a couple of miniseries, and one of the leads in the 19 issues series, Heroes for Hire, which brought back many familiar faces from the 70s and 80s in the hopes of bringing them into the big-scale blockbuster action and absurd costuming of 90s comics. But just when it seemed Iron Fist was down for the count, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and later Duane Swierczynski clapped back with a run that didn’t just put Iron Fist back in the spotlight, it made him part of an Eisner-winning series. The Immortal Iron Fist ran 27 issues from 2006 to 2009 and not only completely reinvented the character for the modern era, but expanded the mythos in a series of one-shots featuring other bearers of the Iron Fist. This is where Iron Fist became an essential corner of the Marvel Universe in the 21st century. If the character could not deliver reparations for a stolen legacy both within and outside of the context of his story, he could be used to shed light on white, male privilege within the context of a centuries spanning saga. After the Immortal Iron Fist concluded, the character’s next big series didn’t come until Kaare Andrews kinetic and anime-influenced Iron Fist: The Living Weapon which ran from 2014 to 2015. The success of Marvel’s Netflix shows and the impending release of Iron Fist has ensured that character won’t again slip back into the shadows. He can currently be found in David Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist, and will star in the upcoming Iron Fist by Ed Brisson and Mike Perkins, Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez’s The Defenders, and Kaare Andrews Iron Fists. In other words, if you’re reading or looking to read Marvel comics, he’ll be hard to miss.

Iron Fist’s history and evolution is one of the most fascinating stories in comic book history. While a white martial arts master in a medium that’s lacking strong POC voices will never be without problems and that aspect shouldn’t be dismissed, decades worth of stories have transformed him from a slightly generic copycat, to a black ally, and finally into a means to explore undeserved and unearned inheritance and that’s not something to be dismissed either. Iron Fist exemplifies the eternal struggle of the comic character to exist as both a business venture and a creative comment on our changing society, and that’s something worth noticing throughout the medium.

Recommended Reading Material:

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1 (Kaare Andrews, Marvel Comics)

Iron Fist Epic Collection: The Fury of Iron Fist by Chris Claremont, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, John Byrne, Larry Hamma, Gil Kane, Arvell Jones, and Pat Broderick (collects the Marvel Premiere run and all of the original Iron Fist run)

Power Man & Iron Fist Epic Collection: Heroes for Hire by Mary Jo Duffy, Chris Claremont, Kerry Gammill, John Byrne, Trevor Von Eeden (collects Power Man #48-#49, Power Man & Iron Fist #50-#70)

Power Man & Iron Fist Epic Collection: Revenge! by Jo Duffy, Dennis O’Neil, Frank Miller, Kerry Gammill, Denys Cowan, Keith Pollard (collects issues Power Man & Iron Fist #71-#72, #74-#89, Daredevil #178)

Iron Fist: The Return of K’un Lun by by James Felder, Dan Jurgens, Jay Faerber, James Mullaney and various artists (collects Iron Fist’s mini-series and Wolverine crossover from the 90s)

Immortal Iron Fist: The Complete Collection Volume 1 by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja and various artists

Immortal Iron Fist: The Complete Collection Volume 2 by Duane Swierczynski and various writers and artists

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon – The Complete Collection by Kaare Andrews (also collected across two volumes: Rage and Redemption)

Netflix (Joe Quesada)

The TV Show: Before Marvel’s deal with Netflix, Iron Fist had been in development as a movie since 2000. In 2001, Variety announced that Ray Park (Darth Maul, Toad) was cast as Danny Rand and remained in talks for nearly half a decade until the project fell apart and disappeared. In 2015, Scott Buck, a former staff writer on Six Feet Under and showrunner on Dexter was announced as showrunner for Iron Fist. A year later, it was also announced that Marvel, impressed with Buck’s work on Iron Fist, would also serve as the showrunner for Marvel’s ABC series The Inhumans (we’ll have a Primer for that coming soon). The search for an actor to play Iron Fist was a long process. While conversation sparked over whether or not Danny Rand should or shouldn’t be cast as an Asian-American, while Marvel screen-tested a number of Asian-American actors, the English Finn Jones was ultimately cast. Jones, known for his role as Loras Tyrell on HBO’s Game of Thrones was described by Buck at NYCC as having a “youthful optimism” and “serious badass attitude” that he could call on together to create the Danny Rand the show was looking for. Like the Marvel’s other Netflix shows, the first season of Iron Fist will run 13-episodes and will immediately set up for the crossover series, The Defenders, premiering later this year. Iron Fist has an exciting collection of directors including Wu-Tang member RZA, and Game of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards director, Miguel Sapochnik.

The Tone: Of all Marvel’s Netflix shows, Iron Fist is probably the toughest tonally, because it’s the furthest from the grounded nature that these series have established, but that hasn’t stopped those involved from pointing towards its grounded elements. Despite the fact that its central character gained his power from a dragon, and hails from a mystical kung-fu city, Iron Fist won’t be backing away from exploring the adult themes these shows are known for. At NYCC, executive producer Jeph Loeb said that Iron Fist is “a very hard look at the One Percent” and how that population affects our world. On the personal side of things Danny Rand will have to come to terms with a world that’s not only unfamiliar to him, but a world that thought him dead and doubts his identity as the NYC’s prodigal son returned. The show has been described as a mystery, one that blends together mystic martial arts, corporate takeovers, and big pharma. According to Loeb, the question central to the show and Danny is “how do you go about proving who you are when no one knows, including yourself, what’s happened to you?’” While there’s no word about how much of Iron Fist’s mystical homeland K’un-Lun we’ll see, we better get at least a glimpse of a fucking dragon.

Confirmed Characters:

David Aja (Marvel Comics)/Netflix

Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones): Introspective, spiritual, and eternally optimistic, Danny Rand has the heart of a dragon, and one of the most expansive stories in comics for a character who’s never led an ongoing series that ran more than 75 issues. Even before tragedy took his parents away from him, life for young Danny Rand wasn’t filled with happiness. Born to an absent-father who always dreamt of the life he could have led, and a mother trapped in an unhappy marriage to a distant man, Danny grew up in the shadows of adult problems. Danny’s father, Wendell Rand, had led an adventurous life under the tutelage of his master, Orson Randall, the previous and exiled Iron Fist. Decades before, Wendell had traveled to K’un-Lun and won the right to fight the dragon Shou-Lao and become the Iron Fist. Unable to move past his master’s lack of faith in his ability, Wendell left K’un-Lun instead, and established Rand, Inc in New York with the fortune Orson Randall had willed him. It would be years before Danny discovered the truth behind his father and their fortune, but Wendell’s quest became his son’s victory. On a journey to find K’un-Lun in the Tibetan mountains, Wendell was killed by his business partner, and Danny’s mother, Heather, sacrificed herself to wolves in order to save him. Raised in K’un-Lun and trained by martial arts master The Thunderer for ten years, Danny rose to become a champion. Regarded as an undeserving outsider by his peers, Danny struggled to prove his place. In defeating the dragon Shou-Lao, and plunging his hands into the dragon’s molten heart, Danny Rand earned the power of the Iron Fists, through which he could channel all the energy in his body to his fists and deliver unstoppable blows. To further prove that he was indeed Ku’n-Lun’s champion, Danny was forced to face the Challenge of the Many, and the Challenge of the One, by Ku’n-Lun’s ruler, Yu-Ti, The August Personage in Jade. After beating these challenges, Danny was given the choice to eat from the tree of life and remain in the heavenly city as an immortal or return to New York to seek his revenge on his father’s killer. Danny chose revenge and left K’un-Lun. In New York, Danny didn’t follow through with his revenge and instead became acquainted with a world he’d never known, a world of powerful friends and strange villains. Rather than returning to a penthouse of wealth a luxury, Danny decided that his calling was on the streets and with Luke Cage, he fought crime as a Hero for Hire, while developing a romantic relationship with Misty Knight. The biggest change to Iron Fist’s life came when Orson Randall came into his life and revealed not only that he knew his father, but that Iron Fist was a legacy passed on through centuries. Through the Book of the Iron Fist, Danny came to learn about his heritage, and that his role as Iron Fist had been orchestrated by Yu-Ti, The August Personage in Jade, as a means to keep his ties to the Western world and the Rand fortune as a means to indulge his hedonism and secret oppression of his people. In the midst of a civil war for the Heavenly City, Danny Rand was forced to step-up and earn his place as Iron Fist. The ensuing battle and its aftermath left K’un Lun destroyed, but our hero stronger. Danny Rand returned to the streets of New York and a life of poverty, where he committed himself to training a young girl named Pei, who is destined to become the next Iron Fist. There’s no telling if the Netflix show will rely as heavily on the character’s deep, and intertwined mythology, but we’re sure to see at least some of this play out in some way. Finn Jones’ take on the character will be one of youthful exuberance and optimism, but also frustration over his lack of purpose in a world that isn’t mystical or meditative. We’ve only caught a glimpse of Danny Rand’s Iron Fist so far, but it’s depiction, with translucent skin and a yellow glow that shows the bones underneath is taken straight from the pages of Kaare Andrew’s Iron Fist run. The Netflix approach to character may be more grounded than the comics, but we’re at least hoping the series taps into a fifth of the weirdness from the comics.

Where we’ve seen him before: Iron Fist has appeared in the animated series, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Ultimate Spider-Man, The Super-Hero Squad Show, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload. He’s also appeared in just about every Marvel video game you can think of. Iron Fist will be his first live-action appearance.

Pat Broderick (Marvel Comics)/Netflix

Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick): Colleen Wing first appeared in Marvel Premiere #19 in 1974. One of the first allies and long-term additions to Iron Fist’s world, Colleen has remained a key player in this side of the Marvel Universe. The daughter of an Asian studies professor who lived in New York and a mother with secret ties to Daredevil baddies The Hand, who died young, Colleen was raised in Honshu Japan by her grandfather. Trained in the arts of the samurai, Colleen became a skilled warrior and owner of a 1,000 year old katana which has remained her weapon of choice. As an adult she moved to New York to live with her father. There her life was saved by police officer Misty Knight and the two quickly developed a close friendship. When Knight lost her arm in a bombing, Colleen encouraged her to still make good on her desire to be a hero and the two established the private investigators firm, Nightwing Restorations, Ltd. Together, Colleen Wing and Misty Knight became known as the Daughters of the Dragon. When Danny Rand returned to New York, Colleen and her father were the first to befriend him. Though their meeting was orchestrated by Jeryn Hogarth (Jeri Hogarth portrayed by Carrie-Anne Moss in Jessica Jones will reprise this role in Iron Fist), a lawyer and eventual friend of Danny looking for confirmation that Danny was indeed the boy who disappeared a decade ago. When Colleen is captured by dictator Master Khan in a plot to destroy Iron Fist, Danny and Misty spent nearly the entirety of the 70s series tracking her down. When Danny does find her, she is brainwashed and forced to fight him until he eventually frees her from Khan’s control. A near constant supporting character of Iron Fist and Luke Cage, Colleen had been a member of their Heroes for Hire and has led her own iteration alongside Misty Knight. Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) will portray Wing as an ally of Rand and the owner of a dojo. Given the rumored appearance of Misty Knight in the show and her confirmed role in The Defenders, there’s little doubt that Wing will stand-out as a hero herself. Daughters of the Dragon spin-off, anyone?

Where we’ve seen her before: Colleen Wing has appeared in various video games, but Iron Fist will be the character’s first cinematic appearance.

Gil Kane (Marvel Comics)/BBC Two/Sundance Channel

Harold Meachum (David Wenham): Harold Meachum first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15 in 1974. Business Partner and friend of Wendell Rand, Harold accompanied the Rand’s on Wendell’s crazed mission to find K’un-Lun. Doubting Wendell’s sanity, Harold went along to ensure the safety of Heather and Danny, but also to facilitate Wendell’s death so that he could marry Heather. Meachum allowed Wendell to fall to his death, and left an outraged and disgusted Heather to be eaten by wolves, leaving Danny orphaned and alone in snowy mountains. Meachum became lost in the Tibetan mountains, and while his life was saved by village locals, he lost both of his legs to frostbite. Learning from villagers that Danny had been saved by mysterious figures in the snow, Meachum began to believe that Wendell’s delusions of a mystical city were in fact a reality. Returning to NY to run Rand, Inc., Meachum became paranoid that Danny would one day return and kill him for what he did to his family. Secluding himself in a building of traps, he waited to the ten years for Danny’s return. When the two finally did meet, Danny took pity of the crippled and broken man before him and despite Harold’s urging, Danny did not kill him. Only moments later, Harold was killed by a ninja who would frame Iron Fist for his death.  David Wenham, of 300 and Lord of the Rings fame, will provide one of Iron Fist’s central threats on the show as Harold. Described as a ruthless businessman with a complicated relationship with his children, Wenham seems likely to give Danny more than a broken, old man to test himself against.

Where we’ve seen him before: Iron Fist will be the character’s first on-screen appearance.

Larry Hama (Marvel Comics)/Netflix

Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup): Joy Meachum first appeared in Marvel Premiere #18 in 1974. The daughter of Harold Meachum, Joy wrongly mistook Iron Fist as the man who killed her father. With the help of her uncle, she hired assassins to kill Iron Fist, despite Danny’s insistence on his innocence. After Iron Fist saved her life from a crime boss she returned the favor by asking said crime boss to kill Iron Fist. When he refused she attempted to kill Iron Fist herself, but ultimately couldn’t do it. Faced with what her anger and desire for revenge had done to her, she became an ally to Iron Fist and the Heroes for Hire and eventual friend to Danny. Jessica Stroup (The Following) will bring to life Joy’s complexities as a woman whose love for Danny brings her down to earth, but also complicates her relationship with her powerful family. While a love interest, we don’t expect Joy’s morals or goals to be all that clear from the on-set. She could easily end up being a formidable ally or villain in the show once she picks a side.

Where we’ve seen her before: Iron Fist will be the character’s first on-screen appearance.

John Byrne (Marvel Comics)/Netflix

Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey): Ward Meachum first appeared in Marvel Premiere #19 in 1974. The brother of Harold Meachum, Ward sought to kill Iron Fist after the martial arts hero was accused of killing his brother. Hiring a collection of assassins including Iron Fist’s eventual nemesis, The Steel Serpent, Ward was willing to kill Iron Fist through any illegal means necessary. Even after Iron Fist was found innocent of Harold’s death, Ward was hell-bent on destroying him and amassing mystical powers for himself, which drove a wedge between he and his niece, Joy. Ward was eventually killed by the alien Super-Skrull in an issue of Namor that’s too out there to even worry about here. In the show Tom Pelphrey (Banshee, Law & Order) will portray Ward as Harold Meacham’s son and Joy’s brother. A childhood tormenter of Danny, Ward’s life gets a bit more troublesome upon Danny’s return.

Where we’ve seen him before: Iron Fist will be the character’s first on-screen appearance.

David Aja (Marvel Comics)/Netflix

Bride of Nine Spiders (Jane Kim): Bride of Nine Spiders first appeared in Immortal Iron Fist #8 in 2007. The most mysterious of the Immortal Weapons, little is known about the Bride’s past. Like the other Immortal Weapons, she is the champion of her capital city (the Kingdom of Spiders), and can focus her chi to display extraordinary abilities. Besides being an expert in martial arts, she also controls a swarm of spiders that she houses inside her body. After meeting Danny Rand during a tournament known as the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, which saw the Immortal Weapons face each other in a gladiator styled arena battle, she became an ally of the Iron Fist. Little is known about Jane Kim’s (Tie a Yellow Ribbon)  role as the Bride of Nine Spiders will play in Iron Fist. Given her power-set and dark, mysterious nature, she could easily be utilized as a foe before becoming an ally.

Where we’ve seen her before: Iron Fist will be the character’s first on-screen appearance.

Travel Foreman (Marvel Comics)/CBS

Zhou Cheng (Lewis Tan): Zhou Cheng first appeared in Immortal Iron Fist #17 in 2008. Host to a mystical beast who seeks to devour the egg of the reborn dragon Shou-Lao, Zhou Cheng is known as The One Who Kills The Iron Fist. Not much is known about Cheng other than the fact that he has been hunting Iron Fists for 75 years and is kept youthful by the demon, Ch’i-Lin inside of him. His ancestors also held similar positions as servants of Ch’i-Lin. For 20 years Cheng secretly collected Rand, Inc shares in aim to destroy the legacy of both the Iron Fist and Danny Rand on the hero’s 33rd birthday. Danny defeated and killed Cheng, leaving Ch’i-Lin without a host. Cheng left behind an unborn child and only time will tell if he’ll continue the legacy of his forefathers. Nothing is known about Zhou Cheng’s role in the show. Stunt performer and actor Lewis Tan originally auditioned for Rand and was given the part of Cheng.  Cheng’s role in the comics came pretty late in the mythos and is deep stuff for season 1, so we may not see Cheng fully revealed until later seasons despite surely getting in on some action scenes. Given the shows focus on corporate takeovers and the one-percent, I wouldn’t be surprised if we at least get some hint at Cheng trying to seize control of Rand, Inc.

Where we’ve seen him before: Iron Fist will be the character’s first on-screen appearance.

Danny Rand’s fist will become like unto a thing of iron on March 17th, 2017.

Featured Image: Netflix