Starting in April, the creator behind the dystopian series “Spider-Man: Reign” amongst other Marvel art gigs will be taking the company’s Kung Fu hero Danny Rand out for an All-New Marvel NOW! spin. The yellow-and-green clad hero created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane has been a fixture in the Marvel Universe for nearly 40 years with his most recent solo run being Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s “Immortal Iron Fist” which bowed in 2007. But as Andrews told CBR News, his new take on the character will be a much different take.
In a lengthy interview, the artist explains why he’s coming back to Marvel for his first long form series after continuing to grow his career as a film director, why “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” will be more focused on the solo vengeance sought by Rand, how the character’s original appearance informed this take and why comics making is like martial arts.
CBR News: Kaare, some may not know that you’ve been doing a lot of film directing over the past few years. How have you been balancing that work with your comics work, and how did that all lead to you picking up an Iron Fist series?
Kaare Andrews: Let’s see. I’ve been kind of doing both movies and comic books in equal measure for a while now. I broke into comics first and started doing the movie stuff after that, so it’s kind of a second career. And the movie stuff has been going good. I’ve been getting more and more projects. I just did a movie called “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero” with Sean Astin which should be coming out this Spring. I think it actually comes out in Germany on Friday in the theaters. I also did “The ABCs of Death” last year, and there’s a new feature I’m developing called “The Hunted” which I’ve been working on for a while. It’s an action movie I’m really excited about. So things are going good, but when I go to direct a movie, I have to take a year off from comic books.
When I did “Cabin Fever,” I took a year away from comics, but as soon as I came back, I really had the itch to work on comics again. I started talking to Axel [Alonso], and he had some ideas. We found this book together. Basically, he asked if I wanted to draw a bigger event story or something like that, but I really wanted to write and draw something again, which I hadn’t done in a while. I did a couple of short stories for “Avengers Vs. X-Men: Versus” and then “A+X.” And the cool thing about comic books is that you just do the work, and it gets done. [Laughs] Do you know what I mean? You do it, and it’s out there. Movies is like a marathon of people not doing things. I’ve been writing screenplays for a while now, and it’s a different industry. They’re in the business of not making things, and comic books is in the business of making things. Movies just take forever.
And that’s a big social or professional difference between the two, but do you find yourself making a big creative shift in how you work doing this project?
Yeah. The other thing about movies is that when you direct a movie, you have this machine of 100 people that you’re corralling. It’s like trying to get the cattle through the gate. You want to make this huge machine do the thing you want to happen and achieve your vision through the hands of 100 other people. In comic books, it’s just you in a room. It’s really the yin and yang of creativity, and I like both of them. I love collaborating with people — artists, writers, actors and producers — but I also love just being able to have a medium where you can do everything yourself. In movies, every day is about compromise and negotiations and kind of persuasion. In comics, it’s all you. You have to compromise with yourself and negotiate with yourself and persuade yourself. So it’s two very opposite ways of doing things. I like being alone sometimes and just doing the work, and sometimes I like being around 100 people and collaborating. They’re both cool.
So how did you get into Iron Fist as a character? He’s been around the Marvel Universe forever, and the series that Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker launched a few years back was well received by readers. But it seems like you’re reintroducing him in a sense.
It was Axel’s idea in a way. I wanted to find something I could write and draw, and he said, “What do you think about Iron Fist?” And I wasn’t sure. I did some of the covers back in the Brubaker/Fraction run, and I really enjoyed that series, but I didn’t feel like I knew the character well enough. I’m a comic book fan from back to before I could read words and I was still reading comic books, but I didn’t know Iron Fist as well as I knew some of the other characters. So I took the time and read everything. I mean, everything. [Laughs] I re-read all the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja “Immortal Iron Fist” stuff, and then I went back in time and read the first stuff. And it was when I was reading the very first appearance in “Marvel Premier” #15 that I felt, “Oh, now I know who this guy is.” I liked all the “Immortal Iron Fist” stuff, but I didn’t make that connection until I read the origin.
And once I read that first issue, I thought, “Yeah, I want to do this book.” I immediately had a way to do it, and I want to call back on that story because that original Iron Fist story is crazy. Roy Thomas was one of the most talented writers of his time, and that story is adult and violent and full of revenge and just crazy. That’s my inspiration. This is a book where if you’ve never read “Iron Fist” in your life, it’s a perfect in to the character, but if you’ve read every single issue, this goes back to his origins and that initial approach. I think it’ll be satisfying for both kinds of fans.
As I understand it, your take is really going to play up the bloodshed and violence inherent in the character. What’s the overarching draw to that human violence? Because I don’t get the impression that you’ll just be doing an homage to ridiculous kung fu movies here.
Yeah, I’m not big on homages. I don’t like to reference things ironically, and I don’t like to recreate things that have happened before. But I am hugely influenced by things. So when I approach this, my goal is not to make a goofy, chopsocky, “Oh look at this fun new way to do kung fu that’s crazy.” I’m passionate about these things, and I want to do them as seriously as I can.
With Iron Fist as a character, this is a guy who when he was a little boy watched his father plummet to his death and then watched his mother be torn apart by wolves. And this was all because of this business partner. Then he goes to this mystical shangri-la and trains for ten years to be a living weapon — and it’s not to become a better person or fight crime or save people, but just to return to earth and kill the man who killed his parents! And it’s not just that. He’s offered a chance at immortality. After those ten years, he’s offered the chance to live with the gods in K’un L’un as an immortal, but he turns his back on immortality in order to get vengeance for his parents. That’s awesome. That’s dark, bloody, real revenge. The revenge tale is the real martial arts tale to me.
The cool thing about the Fraction/Brubaker stuff was that it was this group of martial arts characters who were all in this community, and Danny had to rely on help from his friends to overcome adversity. That’s not my Iron Fist. My Iron Fist is one man up against two worlds and totally on his own. That’s my approach here. It’s a deadly serious look at what it would be like to watch your mother be torn apart by wolves because your dad’s business partner betrayed you all. To me, that’s what’s been lost.
With all the best characters, their great adventures betray their core concepts. With Spider-Man, it’s “With great power comes great responsibility.” With Batman, it’s him swearing a war against crime because crime took the lives of his parents. With Superman, it’s an immigrant child who shows people how to be the best humans they can be even though he’s not of this world. And with Iron Fist, the reason I never felt like I knew the character was because I never knew what his core concept was until I read that story. For me, this is a character who was offered immortality and instead chose mortal vengeance. And there are are consequences to that vengeance. There are repercussions. They say revenge is the weapon that cuts both ways. It cuts the person that holds it and cuts the person he directs it towards. I just don’t think that’s been explored enough with Iron Fist, and it’s so ripe for re-exploration. There are consequences for everything you do, and when you turn your back on life and choose death, there are huge things coming your way.
The other thing that really interests me in this is that both of my parents are counselors. And there’s this idea in counseling and therapy that if you have issues from your childhood and your life that you don’t deal with, they’re going to bubble up and deal with you. It’s the root of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and anxiety. These are things where you need to look inside yourself at these points of trauma and deal with them. Because if you don’t deal with them, some awful stuff is going to happen. And I don’t think I’ve seen Danny deal with this stuff in a long time. For me, this is the stuff he tried to deal with a very long time ago unsuccessfully, and he’s been ignoring it for so long that now it has to pull him back in. This will pull him back into the very origins of his birth — the bloody, revenge-filled, brutal martial arts action epic.
Since this is your first true solo show in comics in quite some time, have you changed anything about your approach to the work? For example, do you write a full script or break the story out as thumbnails?
Well, from the very first time when I started writing comic books, I started handing in fully lettered layouts to Axel. That’s just because it was a way for me to communicate to him exactly how I wanted to do it and I knew that if the script appeared light but I knew how to draw it, I could sell the final better that way. It’s like saying, “Here is a comic book. Let’s not talk about a part of the machine or just a draft. Here’s a complete thing.” So it takes more time and effort, but I think it’s the better way to do it because then I’m not writing a script, then drawing it and then coloring the art. Instead of being separate processes, it becomes “Here’s the whole.” Then we can talk about pages or panels or story or plot…all of it. And I still write that way to this day. I draw and letter the comic books completely — in rough form — and submit them to Jake Thomas who’s my editor and Axel who’s Editor-in-Chief and also my oldest, bestest editor at Marvel.
The weird thing about “Iron Fist” is that not only am I writing and penciling it, I’m writing, penciling, inking and coloring it. So that adds even more to my plate. For me, my approach was, “That’s a lot of work. How can I fit that much work into a monthly schedule?” So I’ve really streamlined my physical approach to manufacturing the comic book. In the past, I’d do these layouts and letter them, and then once they were approved I’d go back and draw the page from scratch again. Now I’m completely transferring to a digital workflow where I submit my layouts, and then I’m drawing and inking right over top of those. There’s no wasted effort. I don’t have to scan anything. It’s all about conserving energy and focusing on getting the work done. It’s fun. I like to reinvent how I approach things with every project, and this is kind of a cool way to do that.
And as you’ve gone through the layers of the art, have you found the tonal sensibility of this that fits Iron Fist in a way that’s different than past projects?
Yeah! My approach just in terms of style with this one was to kind of call back to “Spider-Man: Reign” a little bit but to ditch the computer-generated backgrounds and make it a little dirtier and grungier. And the interesting thing is that because I’m going completely digital, I think I’m overcompensating with the result. The result looks very hand drawn. I was showing some of the early pages to my buddy, and he said, “I love when the pen nib does that.” And I had to say, “No no. That’s the Cintiq. That’s just the setting I chose for my brushes.” [Laughter] Everything in this looks like ink, and it looks very hand-crafted even though I feel like I’ve become one with the machine.
Where “Spider-Man: Reign” was about taking ’80s inking styles and the future of digital backgrounds and modern coloring to push the past, present and future together, this book is all about the now. It’s about taking the technology of today and creating a look that feels very in the moment and immediate. It’s weird. It’s hard to talk about the art style because I spend a lot of time trying to find the way in. Once I find that, I try and stick with it for the life of the project, and then when a new project comes along, I find a new way into that one.
Let’s talk about the life of the project. Like you’ve said, you have other projects on the horizon, but this is an ongoing series, right? More of a long form project for you.
Yeah, this is my first real long form book at Marvel. Mostly I’ve just done miniseries or a small storyline, but here I’ve got at least a year committed to the project and maybe longer. All the movie stuff has been pushed to the background some. I’m still working on it and developing things and doing scripts, but I’ve just made sure the priority is the comic book. I’m putting all my energy into it. The thing I love about comic books is that you just make things, and it’s all on your shoulders. If you want to do something, you just man up and do it. I love that.
To me, that’s like martial arts. I’ve always loved martial arts, and I’ve always equated them to fine arts because it’s really an individual sport. Kung Fu is just one man. Maybe he learns with other people, but at the end of the day, it’s one man versus another man. He trains and absorbs things from centuries of teachers, and his journey is to find the knowledge that can better himself individually. That’s your journey as an artist too. Your goal is to educate yourself with the artists of hundreds or thousands of years and to seek out new knowledge and continually sharpen your blade. It’s a selfish process. How can I become a better artist and achieve things and put myself up against other people? I love that idea of combat.
That’s going to be the difference between this run of “Iron Fist” and the Brubaker/Fraction run. That stuff was a team and friendship fighting together in the eight cities. This is the story of one man. And it’s one man who is pulled back into hell by two worlds. He’s going to face another man. And then he’s going to face another man. And then he’s going to face a thousand men. It goes up and up and up. To me, that’s the classic martial arts tale — the one man who has a quest that’s often a blood-soaked quest of revenge.
And of course, this is a time when there’s a little more of a spotlight on Iron Fist because of his in-development Netflix series. Do you have any thoughts on the position that puts you in?
I’m not involved in that in any way. That happened after I’d already signed up for the book and spent weeks researching the character and plotting out a year’s worth of material. It wasn’t until after I was well into drawing the third issue when that got announced, and I went, “Whoa, that’s crazy!” My take on the Netflix deal is — and I don’t know anything they’re doing and don’t want to ask because I don’t want to be influenced by that situation — that the story I’m telling I don’t think could be contained in the budget of a Netflix series. I think that’ll be amazing, and it’ll be so cool because it’ll be Marvel unrestricted by studios like they are with “Avengers.” That’s when Marvel films are best — when they don’t have to collaborate with any other production entities. They’re at their best when they’re on their own. How I look at my relationship to that is that I think Netflix will be an amazing series for that version of the character, but my version is the feature film. It’s more of an epic. I’m starting small, but where I end up is going to be huge. Netflix doesn’t have the kind of money to make that happen. This is two different interpretations of the character, and they’ll both be their own thing. But it’s good to have that out there to bounce off of.
“Iron Fist” #1 arrives in April from Marvel Comics.