One of the more entertaining conventions of the action film genre is its tendency to partner mismatched individuals and watch them become friends as they fight crime, with movies like the “Lethal Weapon” series or “”Rush Hour” or “48 Hours” proving massively popular with the moviegoing audience. And this sort of mis-matched pairing is far from exclusive to the silver scree. Marvel Comics has also seen a number of these pairings throughout the years, but one of the most beloved is the longstanding partnership between Luke Cage and Danny Rand, the title characters of “Power Man and Iron Fist,” a series which debuted in 1978 and ran for 125 issues.
Since then, much has happened to Cage and Rand including a graduation of sorts into the ranks of one of the Marvel Universe’s premier super teams, The Avengers. Despite their team affiliations, they’re still best friends and continue to keep an eye on street crime in New York City. During the chaos of the recent “Shadowland” event, Cage and Rand discovered a new upstart teenage hero had taken up the mantle of Power Man. In “Shadowland: Power Man,” by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Mahmud Asrar, readers got to know Victor Alvarez, the new Power Man. In the series’ climax, Alzarez and Danny Rand became crime fighting partners. This winter, “Power Man and Iron Fist” will hit the streets once more for the very first time in a self titled five issue miniseries by Van Lente and artist Wellinton Alves (Shadowland: Blood on the Streets). CBR News spoke with Van Lente about his plans for the series which kicks off in February.
“Shadowland: Power Man” revealed that the new 15 year old Power Man was the son of Luke Cage’s old foe, Shades, who in recent years had given up his life of crime to become a community activist. During the lead up to “Shadowland,” Shades was in an apartment complex with his son and a piece of experimental technology when the villain Bullseye blew up the building. The explosion killed everyone in the complex, except Victor who was transformed by the technology into a living battery of Chi, the life force in all living things.
“I got offered ‘Shadowland: Power Man’ when I was on vacation in Hawaii and was told that the new Power Man was going to be one of Iron Fist’s students in the School of Thunder dojo that he had recently started. When I got back, I read Matt Fraction’s final issue of ‘The Immortal Iron Fist’ and saw that the students were all like eight years old! Luckily, I managed to talk Marvel out of having a little kid Power Man. I wrote ‘Power Pack’ long enough to know how many fans feel about little kid super heroes,” Van Lente said, joking. ” I thought, ‘Let’s make him 15,’ and we settled on that. I wanted a kid who was old enough that an adult could somewhat relate to him and what he was going through. I basically wanted someone old enough to like girls; someone who didn’t think they were icky.
“The Chi powers were my initial idea that came out of some discussions we had in the summits about to how to make magic seem more like a scientific force. So we had a basic description of the character, and I was interested in making him Hispanic because I thought it would be cool to have a character where, even though you reference his heritage, his powers aren’t directly related to his ethnicity. I thought that it was important,” Van Lente continued. “That description was given to Mahmud Asrar, who did an amazing job and took it upon himself to incorporate some of the classic Luke Cage elements into the new costume, like the color scheme and the chains. He really sold the goggles, too. I’m not a goggles guy, but I like the goggles on Vic. I just thought he blew it away. It was very exciting to see, and the folks at Marvel kept pushing me to make Vic an ‘in your face’ style character, which in this case I think worked really well.”
In “Shadowland: Power Man,” readers saw the title character use his ability to absorb and channel Chi to perform a variety of extraordinary feats. “Mostly crap blows up when he punches it, which is probably my favorite super power that I’ve ever come up with. It also gives him a certain degree of invulnerability. It’s almost like he has extra lives, in the video game sense of the words,” Van Lente remarked. “He takes a licking and keeps on ticking, which is of course somewhat problematic for Iron Fist. Because really, Power Man is more powerful than he is. That’s something Iron Fist has to put up with, but he does have the advantage of experience, discipline and training.”
A side effect of receiving his abilities, Power Man also instinctively knows the skills of many of the people that perished in the explosion that transformed him into a hero. “He instinctively absorbed part of the life energy of those people to protect himself from the explosion. Then he fully absorbed their energy as they died,” Van Lente explained. “He might be able to do something similar to that going about his daily business, but this was definitely a special occurrence. He was able to fully absorb one of Iron Fist’s students [abilities], and that’s where he got a lot of his K’un-Lun fighting skills from. It was sort of a unique situation.”
At a moment of crisis in the final issue of “Shadowland: Power Man,” the title character saw the shades of the people whose life forces he had absorbed and may possibly even communicated with them. It’s still unclear, though, if the new Power Man’s abilities allow him to converse with ghosts and specters. “Life force is just that. It’s a force. There’s not really a personality component to it. There may not be anything to interact with in the sense that you would interact with a person,” Van Lente stated. “Vic certainly addresses some of the life force shades in his body in the last issue of the ‘Shadowland’ series, though. They only sort of talked back, but it’s not clear if that was his father Jamal talking directly to him or Vic’s own subconscious speaking with him. It’s open to multiple interpretations. Whether or not Vic can talk with ghosts is an excellent question and one we should consider.”
The full extent and limits of Power Man’s abilities may still be unclear, but the things he has been able to do thus far have been impressive, especially from Iron Fist’s point of view. “It’s kind of humbling. Iron Fist spent years training himself to the point where he was allowed to face the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying and defeat him to become the Iron Fist. This kid basically rolls out of bed and becomes twenty times more powerful than [Iron Fist]. All Iron Fist can really do is channel his Chi through his fist and occasionally use it to heal people. Power Man can suck it from anywhere and basically use his body as this mystical battery,” Van Lente explained. “So Iron Fist is trying to put a positive spin on things and thinks, while he’s trying to teach Vic self discipline, Vic is teaching him about the mysteries of Chi.”
When the series begins, Danny Rand will have other things on his mind as well, inclusing his relationship with long time girlfriend Misty Knight, which recently became very rocky when they discovered that Danny’s Iron Fist powers caused Misty to experience a phantom pregnancy. “Danny’s relationship with Misty is affecting him greatly and it’s very important to the series. That’s because we give him a new love interest in issue #1,” Van Lente revealed. “It doesn’t come out of nowhere. Long time Iron Fist fans will immediately recognize her. She’s a major Iron Fist supporting character who we’ve not seen for a long time. Except in ‘Shadowland: Power Man’ #4, come to think of it. I forgot she was in there.”
At the end of “Shadowland: Power Man,” Victor Alvarez reluctantly agreed to work with Danny Rand, and by the time “Power Man and Iron Fist” #1 begins, that reluctance has turned into frustration. “He’s chafing at having a subservient role to Iron Fist, because Iron Fist sees their relationship as teacher/student. Vic sees himself as more of an equal partner. He also refuses to call Iron Fist ‘Master,’ which is the traditional way to do things in Kung Fu. He’s like, ‘I’m not going to do that!'” Van Lente remarked. “So it’s definitely a fun dynamic. We’re taking the classic buddy-cop dynamic of the original ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ series and we’re putting a twist on it. Danny and Luke came from divergent backgrounds. Vic and Danny come from divergent backgrounds, and you have the age difference on top of that, which puts another layer of wackiness onto it.
“I read the early ‘Power Man’ series and I really liked it. I liked it way more than I thought I was going to, particularly the origin issue by Archie Goodwin and George Tuska. I really wanted to use those characters, so all of those elements ended up in my ‘Shadowland’ book in one way or another,” Van Lente continued. “Comanche and Shades are introduced in the very first issue of ‘Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.’ That was a huge inspiration and I wanted to bring back all of the nutty Hero for Hire villains. So the ‘Shadowland: Power Man’ series was an homage to ‘Luke Cage, Hero for Hire’ and this new series ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ is much more an homage to the previous ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ series. Where you had mostly ‘Luke Cage, Hero for Hire’ characters in the first series, now you’re going to have mostly ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ ones.”
The plot of the new mini finds the title characters working for a charitable organization in order to help clear the name of one of Danny Rand’s old friends. “Jenny Royce was Luke and Danny’s secretary in the ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ series. She’s been wrongly convicted of killing her employer, Crime-Buster, who was another Hero for Hire that was created by Kurt Busiek and Richard Howell in their run on ‘Power Man and Iron Fist.’ He was the bargain basement equivalent of Heroes for Hire. He would take any job, no matter how crooked, and overcharge you for it. He made lots of enemies while doing so, but Jenny unfortunately is the one that’s been implicated in his murder,” Van Lente explained. “The title of the arc is ‘Men of Mystery.’ It brings back many of the old ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ favorites. They introduced a lot of pulp style heroes in that book, particularly when Jo Duffy was writing it. So El Aguilla , Professor Gamble, and the Black Tiger are all coming back. I’m having a really good time with all of these old characters.”
Their investigation into the case against Jenny Royce will also bring the titular duo face to face with some with new characters as well, including the villainous Don Pagliacci – the Commedia dell’Muerte – and the enigmatic Noir. “Noir is a woman of mystery. She’s a Darkforce-based character whose identity Power Man and Iron Fist are trying to figure out,” Van Lente said. “She’s also involved in the Crime-Buster case and may have been the person who killed him.”
Fans of Van Lente’s recent “Taskmaster” series will be happy to known Power Man and Iron Fist will also run afoul of the villain he created for issue #2 of that title, the Don of the Dead. “He wasn’t killed by Taskmaster! He’s back to be beaten up by Power Man and Iron Fist,” Van Lente said. “The Don comes to New York because he likes his drugs and someone has stolen them. He’s after the thief and the only thing standing between him and the drugs is the half-new, half-different team of Power Man and Iron Fist!”
Rounding out the large supporting cast are Victor Alvarez’s family and possibly even the original Power Man himself, Luke Cage. “We’re going to try and get him in there somewhere,” Van Lente remarked. “There’s a lot going on, but I have a scene that I really want to put him in. I think Luke and Danny fans will get a kick out of it.””
Van Lente collaborated with artist Wellinton Alves once before on an issue of “Marvel Zombies: The Return” and was thrilled to have the chance to work with him again. “His art is just amazingly detailed, as anyone who has seen his ‘Shadowland’ series will tell you,” the writer stated. “It’s a thrill to get back together with him. He’s doing a terrific job. He just turned in an amazing sequence with the Don of the Dead.”
“Power Man and Iron Fist” doesn’t debut till February, but both longtime fans and new readers will get a chance to catch up with Victor Alvarez this January when the new Power Man pops up in “Amazing Spider-Man” #652-653. “It’s a two part backup story to Dan Slott and Stefano Caselli’s main feature. The stories are written by me and drawn by Mr. Reilly Brown of ‘Prince of Power’ fame,” Van Lente told CBR. “In them, we see Vic going mano-y-mano with Spider-Man, who’s pretty powerful in his own right. So you can gauge how powerful the new Power Man is in a fight against the biggest Marvel hero of all.”
With “Shadowland: Power Man,” Van Lente laid the groundwork for the return of Marvel Comics’ most beloved buddy action title. When it returns this winter, Van Lente hopes readers give “Power Man and Iron Fist” a try, having gone out of his way to craft an accessible and exciting story that’s a combination of the superhero action and urban crime genres. “I hope people come on board, because it’s going to be a lot of fun. It will be a real, legitimate mystery with clues. You can try and solve the crime along with our heroes,” the writer remarked. “I think if you’re looking for a fun street level book, this is the one. What I want to do is show that a street level book does not have to be full of angst and Daredevil-like tragedy. It can be fun too. That, too me, is the spirit of ‘Power Man and Iron Fist’ in the heyday of it’s original series, and we’re trying to do it again.”