Some comic book characters, like Superman and Spider-Man, seemed fully formed (and successful) the minute they hit the newsstands. Others, well, their overnight success takes a little longer.
That brings us to “Iron Fist,” the newest Marvel series on Netflix. The first season becomes available for streaming March 17, starring Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick — both of whom, coincidentally, worked on “Game of Thrones.” “Fist” is set in New York, much like the other Marvel Netflix shows (“Daredevil,” “Luke Cage,” “Jessica Jones”). By the time all these series dovetail into “The Defenders,” there won’t be much of Manhattan that viewers haven’t seen.
That’s the backdrop on TV for the sudden reappearance of Danny Rand (Finn), who shows up after being missing and thought dead for years. Finn’s story is that he was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Himalayas when he was 10, and adopted into a hidden mystical city named K’un Lun, where he was trained in the martial arts to be a human weapon called the Iron Fist. Oh, and he can focus his chi (spirit) to where his fist “glows and smolders,” as they say in the comics, “until it becomes like unto a thing of iron!”
When Danny Rand debuted in the comics in 1974, there wasn’t much original about a white protagonist who knew a lot of martial arts. The kung fu craze of the mid-’70s was in full swing, fueled by the TV show “Kung Fu” (1973) and movies “Enter the Dragon” (1973). So Iron Fist was a character with a used origin riding a fad — right into oblivion. By 1977 the first iteration of “Iron Fist” was heading for cancellation.
As was another book born of a fad. “Luke Cage, Hero for Hire” debuted in 1972, riding the blaxploitation wave that gave us classic movies like “Superfly.” But by late 1977, Luke Cage’s series was on the rocks, too. Which is when someone got the bright idea of seeing if these two great tastes would taste great together.
The last issue of “Luke Cage, Power Man” with a 1977 date guest-starred Danny Rand in an adventure titled “Fist of Iron – Heart of Stone!” Two issues later Danny had co-star credit as the book changed its logo to read “Power Man and Iron Fist.” And a star was born. Why is anybody’s guess. But the black, cynical hustler with the super-hard skin and the white, naive, optimistic boy raised by monks became a popular duo.
In short, both characters escaped their one-dimensional roots and became unique characters in their own right. Blaxploitation and Bruce Lee were dead, but Power Man and Iron Fist not only lived, but thrived.
Now both are on Netflix. We’ve seen that Luke Cage has had a mild makeover for TV, and the same will be true for Danny Rand. For one thing, Danny won’t wear the “classic” green and gold. And here’s another change: In the comics Danny’s parents didn’t die in a plane crash. They were eaten by wolves after surviving a plane crash. See? Different. That’s fine, though, as long as Danny, at some point, says he can turn his hand “like unto a thing of iron.” There are some things too sacred to change.