IRON FISTMedium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1974
Creators: Roy Thomas (writer) and Gil Kane (artist)
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Since its very beginning, Marvel Comics has been quick to hop aboard any fad that comes along, and milk it unmercifully until it runs out of steam. One of the big fads in 1970s entertainment was martial arts action, and in '73 Marvel established its first beachhead in that genre,
Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Iron Fist followed, debuting in Marvel Premiere (a try-out comic along the lines of DC's Showcase) #15, dated May, 1974.
Marvel Premiere was one of several such series Marvel published at the time. This particular one pioneered a cult classic called Warlock, a revival of the '60s Doctor Strange series, and quite a few less notable characters. Arguably, at least, Iron Fist, tho definitely a second-stringer among the company's superheroes, was that title's most significant contribution to the Marvel Universe.
Iron Fist was Daniel Rand, an American orphaned at age 9 in the Himalayas and raised in the fabled city of K'un-L'un, one of those lost civilizations that have littered the Tibetan landscape since Shangri-La was first seen in 1937. He was brought up in a martial arts tradition; and when he came of age, competed for and won the Power of the Iron Fist. This entailed three things: miraculous healing power, the ability to use his hands as deadly weapons, and a fancy, dragon-shaped scar on his chest (transferred by mystic means from an actual dragon he fought in gaining the power), which his later superhero costume displayed to excellent effect. He then returned to America to seek vengeance on the man who killed his parents. He had a change of heart at the last minute, but the murderer was done in anyway by a band of ninjas, leaving Iron Fist to take the blame. A major continuing storyline in the early issues concerned his ultimately successful attempt to establish his innocence.
The origin story was written by Roy Thomas (The Invaders, Infinity Inc.) and drawn by Gil Kane (Green Lantern, The Atom), but Thomas and Kane didn't stick with the character very long. After a succession of creative personnel, the series finally settled on writer Chris Claremont (Captain Britain, Ms. Marvel) and artist John Byrne (Alpha Flight, She-Hulk). They're the ones who were running the show by the time the character finally moved out into his own comic, with a cover date of November, 1975.
Claremont and Byrne (whose best-known collaboration was X-Men of the early 1980s) handled the character as long as he lasted in his own comic — that is, until #15 (September, 1977), by which time the martial arts fad had pretty much run its course. They continued to handle him as a few dangling plotlines were taken care of in team-ups with Spider-Man, and when he found a new gig as partner to Power Man. The Power Man/Iron Fist title, where the eponymous heroes ran an outfit called "Heroes for Hire", lasted longer than either had done as a solo star. It ended with Iron Fist's death (at the hands of a character whose name coincided with that of Archie's pal Jughead's superhero identity, Captain Hero) in #125, dated September, 1986.
But death is seldom permanent in the comic book world, and Iron Fist was back a few years later. He had mini-series in 1996 and '98, and shared one with Wolverine in 2000. He became active in a re-constituted Heroes for Hire, which had a series from 1997-99. And he's going to star in a feature-length movie, with Ray Park (Darth Maul in recent Star Wars episodes) in the title role, currently scheduled for release in 2012. Not bad, for a guy who died a couple of decades back.