Riding on the back of the Kung Fu and the Hong Kong cinema of Bruce Lee craze of the 1970's Iron Fist first came from the pages of the try out comic, Marvel Premiere. Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane it'd be a stretch to suggest that the character was a hit from day one. As such the character was competing with a number of comics at the height of the kung-fu craze, including Marvel's own Master Of Kung Fu.
Roy Thomas remembers, "I decided to suggest to Stan that we do a character called Iron Fist the morning after seeing my first kung fun movie, which had an "iron fist" ceremony in it... I forget the name. Was it "Five Fingers of Death"? I know Bruce Lee wasn't in it, 'cause he was in the second I saw. With Stan's approval, I called in Gil Kane, having little idea more than that Iron Fist would be a Caucasian, and more of a super-hero than Shang-Chi, and I believe I wanted a symbol emblazoned on his chest a la Simon and Kirby's Bullseye (though I won't swear that wasn't Gil's idea). Gil and I worked together designing the costume... mostly his, with my kibitzing... and he wanted to use a lot of the Amazing-Man origin, so when I wrote up the plot (assuming I did), that became the basis of the character. We only did the first story, but then gave a number of ideas to Len Wein, who wrote the second. That was the extent of our connection with Iron Fist, except of course for Gil doing the cover and my being involved with that."
One of the more unique things that Roy Thomas brought to the table for future Iron Fist stories was the actual style of story telling itself, with the dialogue being told in the first person as opposed to the standard way of doing things. You got the feeling that you were Iron Fist with the way the thought balloons flowed. It was different then, is still different now and certainly made an impact. Down the track Chris Claremont would drop this style of storytelling though (although the Marvel Premiere and future issues of Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu retained it) once Iron Fist moved into his own title.
Iron Fist spent a total of eleven issues in Marvel Premiere being handled by the likes of Doug Monech, Len Wien, Al McWilliams and Larry Hama (his first comic book work) with his run being terminated in issue 25 - notable for the pencils of John Byrne (one of the first pairings of Claremont and Byrne - a superstar team in the making). Marvel Premiere was a showcase style title that existed to try out new characters to see if they had the support for a regular, on going series of their own.
DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU
Iron Fist had also appeared in the magazine Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu. This magazine featured early Iron Fist stories written by the likes of Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo, but with issue nineteen Chris Claremont teamed up with artist Rudy Nebres to create a six part story line. These story lines didn't really fit into the continuity of the comic that well, but they would easily be explained away as being 'missing' stories that occured at the same time as his adventures in Marvel Premiere and before the launch of his solo title.
The second appearance of Iron Fist in Deadly Hands, however, does fit into the continuity. Claremont, again teamed with Nebres, created a two part story which saw Iron Fist take on the other Marvel martial artist, Shang Chi, Master Of Kung Fu. Claremont followed this up with a two part Daughters Of The Dragon story (with some lovely Marshall Rogers art) that was referenced in the Power Man issues. Claremont did one final Daughters story, appearing Bizarre Adventures (again with Rogers art), but by the time it appeared Iron Fist and his supporting cast were firmly entrenched within the pages of Power Man/Iron Fist.
Enter John Byrne.
One Fist had been shifted over to his own title Claremont and Byrne really went to town. Previous stories had seen a varied amount of supporting characters introduced, most notably the Daughters Of The Dragon - aka private detective Misty Knight and woman martial artist Colleen Wing. They would then go onto create a detective agency called Nightwing. Knight was a former police office who'd had her arm blown off in a terrorist attack and seen the arm replaced with a bionic version, was black and eventually the girl friend of Iron Fist (in his civilian identity Danny Rand), which must surely make them one of the first interracial couples in comic books - a bold move indeed. With Claremont at the helm both women's roles were fleshed out and, in a neat move, the Iron Fist title crossed over with Claremont's X-Men by virtue of an apartment rented, and inhabited, by Knight and none other than Jean Grey (the X-Men's Phoenix). That the millionaire Danny Rand owned the entire building was revealed in the final issue of the run, a book that saw Fist hold his own against Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm.
The run had many highlights, with one of the best issues being issue 12. That issue saw Fist going up against Captain America, and in a stunning move, losing to the Avenger. That Captain America could beat one of the world's greatest martial artists - and almost criminally easily at that - showed why Claremont should have been writing the Captain America title, and John Byrne's full page image of Captain America first encountering Iron Fist remains one of the artists best ever splash pages. It didn't get much better than this issue. For the record the only way Iron Fist could come close to beating Captain America was by using his 'iron fist', but then that merely slowed Cap down - it took Iron Fist attempting suicide to get his point across. Byrne, aptly aided by his many inkers, including the highly under-rated Dan Green, has rarely done better than this.
Byrne had this to say about his run on the title. "I suppose the appeal of Iron Fist lay to a large extent in the degree to which he reminded me of me. You see, I'm actually a martial arts expert from a lost city deep in. . .
"Danny, at the time I came to work with him, was the new kid on the block -- more or less permanently in Shang-Chi's shadow as Marvel's "other" Kung Fu book, very much a stranger in a strange land, finding his way thru the landmines of life in a suddenly new and very different world. Much like the 25 year old John Byrne entering into what he hoped would be a long career in comics."
Claremont, aided by Byrne, wove a web of plot lines that ran through the comic which seemed to be unresolved when it was cancelled with issue 15 (the normal way of doing things to neatly tie up any ongoing sub plots - or as neatly as possible - so the last issue of the title can have everyone living happily ever after). Instead of quickly wrapping up the dangling sub-plots Claremont simply allowed them to carry on as normal and although issue 15 was the end of the run you'd never have known it by the way it was presented. Claremont and Byrne were also working on Marvel Team-Up at the same time (to put today's artists into perspective at one stage Byrne was penciling Team-Up, X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, assorted fill ins and covers and still managing to produce exceedingly high quality work) so it was logical that Iron Fist and his crew would eventually pop up in that title. Claremont had also written stories that had been featured in the magazine Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu that featured not only Iron Fist but also the Daughters Of The Dragon (they'd also appear in Bizzare Adventures). Claremont also managed to slip in references and appearances of the Iron Fist cast into pages of the X-Men thus ensuring that they'd not be out of sight for long.
Iron Fist and his cast walked into Spider-Man's team up book with a minimum of fuss and indeed it looked more as if Spider-Man had walked into issues 16 and 17 of Iron Fist. Two important plot lines were addressed, with the Davros plot being resolved and the Misty Knight/Bushmaster spy plot being expanded. But if anyone thought that Iron Fist would be taking over Team-Up they were mistaken - after the two guest shots Iron Fist was back out in the cold.
Misty Knight was appearing in the pages of X-Men in the meantime in her continuing role as Jean Grey's room-mate. Colleen Wing would eventually appear in the same title as Scott Summer's part time girlfriend after the latter mistakenly believed that Jean Grey was dead. This brief encounter began in Uncanny X-Men #114 but was discontinued once Phoenix returned.
POWER MAN & IRON FIST
Claremont (and to a lesser extent Byrne) wasn't finished with Iron Fist though. The problem was finding somewhere to place him. The solution came with the proposed cancellation of another Marvel book - Power Man. Luke Cage (Power Man), a black super hero, had been around for just as long as Iron Fist, but at that point his title was languishing under the threat of cancellation with recent issues being patchwork at best despite some heavy hitters contributing to the book in the shape of Barry Windsor-Smith, George Tuska and Jim Starlin. Rather than cancel the title all together, the proposal was put forward that Iron Fist would cross over into Power Man, and if all went well then the cross over would be permanent.
Claremont and Byrne set up the cross over simply by ignoring what had recently come before in the Power Man title, and combining an old Power Man adversary with the recent Misty Knight target in Bushmaster, they had the ingredients for a story. Claremont, Byrne, along with Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum providing covers, made the transition for Iron Fist to move into the Power Man title by wrapping up the various Claremont plots, clearing the former criminal Cage (and thus explaining how a wanted criminal could walk around openly as a super hero) and teaming the pair up as a business called Heroes For Hire. And they all lived happily ever after.
Or did they?
CANCELATION AND DEATH
In the relatively short time Claremont had written the title he had created a plethora of stories, a rich cast of characters and had set up a book for the future, but the problem remained of how to mesh two seemingly opposite characters together - a street wise, poor black man with a rich, sheltered white man. His work done Claremont left the title after issue 51 to concentrate more on the X-Men and was initially replaced by Mary Jo Duffy. John Byrne had left after issue 50 to be replaced by Mike Zeck. Jo Duffy, combined with artist Kerry Gammill (who'd replaced Zeck), set about expanding the mythos, melding the two into a partnership and taking the book from a bi-monthly title to a monthly title. Duffy neatly explained the culture shock by having Cage stay where he was (living wise) and playing up the sheltered life that Rand had led by making him more than slightly naive. Once Duffy and Gammill had left the book was handed about to writers such as Kurt Busiek (in one of his first professional writing jobs) and Tony Isabella and artists such as Greg LaRoque. Not to denigrate the efforts of Busiek, Isabella or anyone else for that matter, but the title suffered from disinterest - Marvel couldn't keep a creative team on the book for any extended period of time, thus creating a disjointed feel to the book. This was alleviated with the arrival of Christopher Priest (in his Jim Owsley days) and artist Mark Bright. Priest and Bright obviously cared about the book and soon brought it back to a level of interest not seen since the days of Duffy and Gammill by creating solid tales, introducing new characters in the form of the mystery man Tyrone King and bringing a sense of continued stories and realism not seen since the days of Claremont and Duffy. Sadly office politics then entered the scene.
With the introduction of Marvel's New Universe some of the mainstream titles were cut back and eventually canceled. Power Man/Iron Fist was first brought back to a bi-monthly title which cut into it's sales figures badly. Then, using the bad sales (of course) as a reason, the title was canceled all together. In a fit of pique the editors of the book ordered Priest not only to kill off the title, but to also kill off Iron Fist himself. Priest first declined to kill off Iron Fist, but after being told that if he continued with his stance then they (Marvel and the editors) would simply have someone else write it, made sure that the finale was a memorable one. However the death of Iron Fist wasn't a noble one, nor a hero's death in the slightest. After setting the issue up well Priest then had Iron Fist brutally beaten through a wall (and thus to death) whilst he (Iron Fist) slept - killed by the very person he had just saved, but as would be revealed later, neither person was who they appeared to be. Conveniently the killer then dissolved into dust, leaving the police to work out who could have done such an act - and where did they look? To an ex-convict who had argued with Iron Fist in recent times and also looked to inherit the fortune of Danny Rand. Luke Cage, not wanting to be the fall guy, broke out of the cells and thus ended his title in the same place he began it - a criminal on the run.
It shouldn't have ended there as the death of Iron Fist was a senseless one. Priest had left the door open for a resurrection of Iron Fist, but (as he later stated) he was quietly told not to bother asking to write either character again. It took John Byrne to re-introduce by inserting him into the pages of (the Byrne written and drawn) Namor in 1991. The Iron Fist that featured in issues 13 through to 18 eventually turned out to be the Super Skrull, but it did also bring back into the Marvel Universe some of the supporting cast of the old title and revived interest in the character. Not one to merely throw such a red herring to the public, Byrne then complicated issues by having the grave of Danny Rand dug up only to discover that there were no human remains and then set the scene for the proper re-introduction of Iron Fist, something he pulled off to great effect finally in issues 21 through to 24 which saw Dr Strange send Namor, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing to K'un L'un to find Fist and bring him back, if possible. The final explanation of Iron Fists 'death' came in issues 22 to 25 of Namor (and nope, I won't spoil it - go out and find those issues, they can usually be found for a buck or so and are damn good reading).
It may not have been the resurrection that Priest had in mind, but Byrne did do him the courtesy of calling to explain his intentions and to obtain Priest's blessing (no pun intended) and, considering that Priest would never have a chance to bring Iron Fist back, the Byrne solution was the next best thing. Byrne set about establishing Fist with a supporting role in the pages of Namor, but once he left the title Danny Rand quietly vanished as well. Priest did get one more chance to write the Power Man-Iron Fist team by putting them into his much heralded Black Panther run. The result was a brilliant story that showed that, with the proper writer, the team could easily sustain a regular book once more.