The fourth Marvel/Netflix superhero series Iron Fist is now available to stream, with many fans doubtlessly tuning in as we speak to watch Finn Jones as martial artist Danny Rand taking on corporate enemies, ninjas and shadowy supernatural forces in New York.
Still, Iron Fist didn’t just spring into life for an on-demand TV show, with decades of appearances in comic books featuring some striking differences to the finished series – all starting way back in the 1970s.
The first appearance of Iron Fist, aka Danny Rand, in Marvel comics
Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Iron Fist began his journey in the 15th issue of Marvel Premiere in May 1974 after a pop culture craze in martial arts had encouraged Marvel to create characters in that mould (see also Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, who probably won’t be getting his own Marvel series anytime soon). Co-creator Thomas even once admitted he named the character after a Bruce Lee movie, which contained something called “The Ceremony of the Iron Fist.”
Still, the character’s in-universe origin was a bit more glamorous. As in the series, the comic-book Danny was the son of powerful businessman Wendell Rand, and was taken in by monks from the mystical land of K’un L’un (which can be accessed only at certain times from the Himalyas) after his father died during a trip there.
Learning martial arts from master Lei Kung, The Thunderer, Danny is later given the chance to claim the power of the Iron Fist (K’un L’un’s traditional protector) by fighting a dragon called Shou-Lao, then plunging his fist into its molten heart once it is destroyed. You know, usual gap year stuff.
This gives him the power to focus his chi into a powerful force in his hand, the titular “Iron Fist” that basically lets him punch his way out of trouble as long as he doesn’t overdo it.
From then Iron Fist’s story is similar to the series, returning to New York ten years after leaving to fight ninjas, villains and other menaces while also reclaiming his company and working with fellow martial artist Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick in the Netflix series).
However, there are some major differences between the versions of the character. While the Netflix series sees Danny’s parents die in a plane crash, the comics saw them murdered by business partner Harold Meachum, meaning Danny’s return to civilisation is actually motivated by revenge against the former friend of his father (rather than a desire to reclaim his company, as is depicted in the series).
There are also some changes in the characters, with Ward Meachum depicted as Harold’s son (and brother to Joy) rather than his original status as Harold’s brother in the comics.
After a couple of years with a solo comic series, Iron Fist was summarily cancelled in 1977 and was only rescued by being paired up with another failing series – that of Luke Cage, then called Power Man and now played by Mike Colter in his own Netflix series.
The pair went on to work as partners for years as so-called “Heroes for Hire,” until Iron Fist was summarily killed off in a 1986 issue of Power Man and Iron Fist.
Death and return
About half a decade later Marvel would retcon the death as having occurred to a magic duplicate of Danny (this sort of thing happens a lot in comics). Since then the character has appeared sporadically in various comics, joining an iteration of the Avengers called The New Avengers for a while and more recently exploring the secrets of his Iron Fist predecessors.
He also has an on-again, off-again relationship with detective Misty Knight, who has previously appeared in Marvel’s Luke Cage series played by Simone Missick. So there’s a chance we could still see that romance play out on screen, assuming Marvel choose to go down a similar story route.
Marvel’s Iron Fist is streaming on Netflix now