The heroes that populate the Marvel Universe have struck a chord with audiences partly because they stand up for something greater than themselves. Standing up for those larger ideals, though, makes heroes susceptible to being knocked down by both nefarious villains and personal demons. This hardship leads to another element people love about Marvel’s heroes — watching them deal with their problems and defiantly stand back up, enlightened and stronger than ever.
This classic Marvel story structure is unfolding right now in writer/artist Kaare Andrews’ “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” series. In “Rage,” the arc that comprised the first half of the series’ 12-issue storyline, readers saw title character Danny Rand forced to confront his traumatic childhood as well as an army of undead ninjas lead by his father. We spoke with Andrews about the fallout from “Rage,” a story that left the mystical city of K’un-Lun destroyed and Rand’s legendary fists shattered. In this interview, Andrews discusses some of the characters we met in the arc’s final issues and his plans for Iron Fist’s reforging in “Redemption,” the series’ second six-issue arc that kicks off in December.
CBR News: The “Rage” arc that started “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” consisted of both something new and something classic. You addressed some of the emotional damage Danny suffered as a child for the first time and explored the poor choices he made because of that damage. You also pulled off a “Daredevil: Born Again”-style stripping away of the character story to show what is left at Rand’s core. Is that what you were aiming for?
Kaare Andrews: Yeah, basically what I wanted to do was investigate the things that I found most interesting about the character. Those two things were his very unique, specific and dark origin, and how that informed the core of his character today. I wanted to look at how the past informed the present. It’s very clear how Spider-Man and Superman’s origins affect who they are today. One of the things about Danny Rand that I found a bit of disconnect with was that I didn’t understand how his origin affected him today. And that was something I wanted to wrestle with — to identify.
I think sometimes the best way to do that is to strip a character right down to their core, because therein lies the connection between the two. So, thematically, our first six issues are kind of taking everything away. Then these next six issues will be making him fight to reclaim himself and his identity.
Let’s talk a little bit about the emotional abuse Danny suffered as a kid. In the flashbacks to Danny’s origin in “Rage,” you show that the most traumatic events of Danny’s life were watching his parents die and then growing up in the harsh environment of K’un-Lun. In issue #6, you flashback to the days before his origin and show that perhaps the emotional abuse and neglect started before Wendell Rand took his family and business partner Harold Meachum on an insane journey to find K’un-Lun.
I think you said it yourself. It was an insane journey to K’un-Lun, so why would a father take his wife, his young child and his business partner [Laughs] on such a dangerous trip? It didn’t make sense to me. I thought that was so interesting, and as a storyteller I thought, what a great opportunity to have these weird contradictions be informed by character and choice. I was very excited to address that stuff because as a fan of comics, as a fan of the human condition, as a fan of Danny Rand, it matters. The specificity of origin matters.
In the issue #6 flashback, was that a young Danny catching his mom with Harold Meachum? Was that meant to suggest that in addition to Danny’s father being insane, his mother wasn’t really there for him either?
To me that wasn’t a literal flashback of a specific situation that young Danny had seen or repressed. That was sort of a flashback of repressed realization. He may not have literally seen those images, but people know and understand things — kids especially. They hear and see everything. It was the insane decision to have Harold come to K’un Lun that justified this revelation. There must have been some kind of romantic tension between Harold and Danny’s mom, Heather, because why else would he follow her into a dangerous situation and then basically propose to her after murdering her husband? There’s no other explanation other than maybe he’s insane, but there’s no evidence to support that he’s crazy. So what would make sense?
What we had was an emotionally detached husband on an obsessive journey, a wife who’s desperately looking for connection, a business partner who offers it to her and the consequences of those choices on the isolated mountains of the Himalayas. Now that is juicy stuff. It feels real and is completely in character within the context of this story.
In “Rage,” Danny’s father seemingly returned from the grave to deal out more emotional and physical damage. It looked like he was able to dish out an impressive amount of physical punishment because he had joined with a monstrous being from K’un-Lun’s history known as “The One.”
Yes, the One, Shu-Hu the Lightning. In Danny’s origin, he was the final test. To become Iron Fist, Danny trained for ten years, grabbed the crown off of the serpent, literally plunged his fists into the molten heart of a dragon and then fought a hundred men in gladiatorial style combat. It’s interesting that even after he was branded with the tattoo and given access to his Iron Fist powers, that his final test would be one opponent — a robotic opponent.
It was more interesting because K’un-Lun had outlawed technology. They address that in Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s “Immortal Iron Fist,” and I thought that if K’un-Lun outlawed technology it could make a lot of sense that the new Iron Fist’s final opponent would be one of technology. And again, that contradiction could have meaning, because contradictions are what’s interesting about life.
Right, and drama.
Yes. When I watch “True Detective,” I love Woody Harrelson’s character, who is a devoted family man who can not stop the infidelity. I love that contradiction of character and I think we do a lot of that stuff in “Iron Fist.” Real people have a disconnect between intention and action — [they] are more than one note, than a single statement. I think Danny’s father did love and care for Danny and he was a family man, but he grew obsessed with this magical place. And not in a selfish way — he really thought he was going to take his family to better place [and] reveal a real Shangri-La, a place where he could finally be at peace and reconnect as a husband and father. But he basically dragged his family to their deaths.
Can you talk any more about the sort of undead nature of Iron Fist’s father Wendell and his joining with the One? Or is that one of the mysteries you’ll explore in this upcoming arc?
That will be revealed in this upcoming arc. Again, it involves making sense of these contradictions from Danny’s past that I love, so there is a connection between Wendell, the One, Danny and K’un-Lun that will be revealed.
Danny was saved from his father’s wrath in “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #5” by an elderly man named, is it Fooh?
[Laughs] Yes, I call him the Fooh.
Is he another character from Danny’s past or is he a new creation?
He’s one of the few new creations that I brought to the series. The legacy of Iron Fist is so rich, there is very little world building I had to shoulder. My task became to thoroughly investigate the stew that had been simmering for the past 40 years. I thought that if technology was outlawed in K’un-Lun, yet they still used technology like the One, they needed someone to operate, engineer and invent that technology. Spoiler alert: I created the Fooh to be that character. He is kind of an impish, crazy guy who is very interested in the brutal sciences as they’re referred to in K’un-Lun — the forbidden and hidden away technology that fuels much of the city.
Also assisting Danny is Lei Kung’s daughter, Sparrow, who is not dead! Why did you do the fake out with her in issue #2?
I never intended that to be written as much of a fake out, but once it was taken that way I embraced it. I was just looking for a dramatic way for her to be incapacitated and defeated by Davos and I didn’t want to graphically show her eyes being ripped out of her skull, so I kept it in shadow. So I left it to the imagination and I think every other imagination but mine jumped straight to death. There are a few steps before death, though. If you want to incapacitate an opponent, maybe you blind them — just ask Jean Claude Van Damme in “Bloodsport.” [Laughs]
Davos is a brother character to Sparrow and I don’t think he actually wanted to kill her. He wants her respect and probably her submission. He wants to be loved and, like any good narcissist, adored. So he took away that which prohibited him from having power over her. He intended to take away all of her fighting ability by blinding her, but you know, there is a rich history of blind swordsmen in martial arts culture. And Sparrow has become my Zatoichi.
The internet chatter in response to that scene was, “How could you kill her already! It’s only issue #2.” I just chuckled because I knew she was going to show up again very soon — and in a way that I thought was much more interesting.
There are several flashbacks in “Rage” involving young Danny and young Sparrow that show she may have given Danny an important emotional attachment while he was growing up in K’un-Lun. Their friendship was one of the reasons he wasn’t completely murderous when he first left the mystical city.
She is also an outsider. She’s only half of K’un-Lun origin. The other half is of American descent. K’un-Lun is a world of warriors and fighters like Ancient Sparta, and Spartans lived a very hard life. It takes a forge to create a sword. You need to hammer the blade to imbue it with strength, fold the metal over and hammer it out again. So you can imagine his upbringing living in a world like that would be hard, especially as an outsider — someone who’s unwanted and maybe resented by the locals. I could write a whole book just about that childhood. I think it’s so cool and I haven’t seen it before, not like this.
So again, I thought it was a real opportunity to do something new and original with this concept. And it was a way to show that even though the land was very harsh, characters like Lei Kung, the Thunderer and his adopted daughter, Sparrow, made the hardness tolerable and revealed that there can be a soft heart behind the impenetrable armor.
The heart is an interesting metaphor that reverberates through your run and the character of Iron Fist. Danny’s power comes from the heart of the dragon Shao-Lao, and in issue #3 Lei Kung talks about armoring your heart.
Yes, he says the secret to forever is to protect the heart, that death comes from the heart. I love that stuff. I love chasing metaphors to their completion. I love exploring ideas and philosophies. It’s all very deliberate. Not in a “here’s how I’m going to blow your mind, or here’s how you should live life” kind of way. It’s more that I like to explore theme as a fuel for creative choices. A creative choice that supports theme will always win over a choice that does not.
One fun fact: that speech from Lei Kung was me riffing from a book I once read about assassination. In the chapter, it was talking about how — physically — all death comes from the heart because every method of killing eventually stopped the heart from beating. And then it went on to describe everything from asphyxiation to poisoning, but I took it as an interesting metaphor for life because when you talk about heart as love or innocence or something pure, you can carry over the assassination text and it still works. And if you put that into a world that trains you to harden and become a warrior, it can work on a more spiritual level.
It’s also an interesting metaphor in that K’un-Lun’s last remaining champions are all outcasts: Fooh, Iron Fist and Sparrow.
Yeah, I love that. I think I gravitate towards the outsider and the outlier. Those have always been my favorite characters — characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Punisher. I think there’s a lot of strength in being an outsider. That’s how I view my own life I guess. [Laughs] I’m a bit of an outsider myself. I hope I have some strength in my decisions. I work alone in my studio and write and draw a comic book, and I feel a lot of power because I’m a man of my own destiny. That probably drives a lot of my storytelling and narcissism. [Laughs]
Let’s move to some of the characters that were in New York City at the end of the “Rage” arc, like reporter Brenda Swanson and Detective Li. How did their experiences in the hospital battling Davos’ army transform them?
I wanted to bring them together and I was really interested in revealing more of who Brenda was. She’s a character I love and there’s more to be seen. When Brenda has a target or goal in front of her, she will not stop no matter the price. She has tools that she keeps hidden, weapons that remained sheathed until she needs them.
Brenda seemed to exhibit an utter sense of fearlessness when she attacked the spider monster in issue #5.
[Laughs] Yeah, when it comes down to it and she has to unsheathe those weapons, they’re very sharp and she’s very capable. She’s driven by things that are not fear based, so I think she’s a counterpoint to Danny whose journey started as one of fear — fear of his father, fear of his father’s business partner, fear of dying in the Himalayas, fear of his mother, fear of his mother’s death. There was a lot of fear.
Danny was created through fear when he turned himself into a weapon to face Harold Meachum. I mean, this little boy turned himself into a super human Kung Fu weapon! He really had to build himself up to face this one old man. I don’t think that’s weakness, but those are definitely choices driven by fear. He became a nuclear bomb to swat a fly.
I think Brenda’s motivations are the opposite of fear-based. She’s very target-based. She will not stop until she does the thing she sets her mind on doing. Not because of fear, but because of grit and determination.
Then with Detective Li, I wanted a more ordinary character, a civilian in a world of mystical Kung Fu super humans. So he’s meant to represent the average guy on the street. He’s my Danny Glover from the “Lethal Weapon” franchise of sorts. He’s a good counterpoint to the almost super human drive to finish things that Brenda has. He’s trying to do his job and do good things, but also wants to come home to his family at the end of the day.
Li is another new creation right?
He is. I wanted to create more Asian characters. I thought for a Kung Fu book we need more of Asia, and not just magical, fictional K’un-Lun, which doesn’t exist in the real world. I wanted to add an American-born Asian detective. The physicality of Li’s character was very much influenced by my love of Choi Min-sik, who was in the original “Oldboy.” There’s a little bit of him in the character design and visuals. Min-sik is a Korean actor who is amazing. He was also recently in the Luc Besson movie “Lucy” where he played a bad guy.
To go back to what you said about Danny and fear, did Danny also suffer from fear of letting his mother down? After his father dies, his mother doubles his horror by making him vow to get vengeance for his father.
Totally. He’s disappointed everyone. He let his father die. He let his mother die. He let K’un-Lun burn and its inhabitants perish. He has a lot of guilt and fear. He’s got to redeem himself, so these next six issues are about that personal redemption. His first response was rage and that did not get him far. There’s a better way to address life’s problems — a more spiritual way, and that’s one of self enlightenment. It’s very Buddha, and I even get into the parallels between Danny and Buddha. Both started as children of enormous privilege who were protected from pain by their fathers. Well, maybe Danny’s didn’t do as good a job…
Let’s talk about the “Redemption” arc. This is the second and final act of your 12-issue epic.
Yeah, it’s really the second half of one story that needs to be read as 12 issues. So if you’ve read the first six issues, please do not stop. You’ve only reached the end of the first act. The second act is about to begin and you’ll see a changed man in Iron Fist by the end of those 12 issues. He was somebody who responded emotionally to situations and now he’s going to finally confront those fears and the guilt that he’s had, especially in issue #8. He has some tasks that he needs to make right in order to become the warrior he needs to be and save the people he needs to save.
It felt like the first arc had almost a horror vibe to it in some spots as Danny and his friends endured the onslaught of Wendell Rand and his followers. Will “Redemption” have a different tone as he dusts himself off and tries to process the horrors he’s faced?
Yes, I would call it redemptive. He has a redemptive journey in front of him. To get there, he’s going to have to make peace with his past in a way that I haven’t seen him do before. He can’t just push it down. It’s already bubbled up and over.
That’s when things start paying off for me as a storyteller. I’m finally doing the things I wanted to do from the beginning. So it’s very exciting for me to write and draw these last few issues because I feel a lot of momentum going into them. The arc is action packed. There is more fighting, but it’s very story-driven and character-based. It’s not action for action’s sake. We really needed to earn it and those first six issues are what we had to get through to get to the next six. By the time we hit issue #9, things are just balls out Kung Fu fury like I’ve never drawn before.
With Wendell Rand making Rand Tower his base of operations in “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” #6, will “Redemption” be more urban in terms of setting?
Mostly. There are some surprises along the way, but Wendell announced his intention in #6 to turn New York City into New K’un Lun and dissolve the barriers between life and the afterlife — to rule them all. Those are his modest goals. [Laughs] We’ll see how he does. He’s got quite a plan though. It’s really going to test Danny and what he can do as one man.
How do the visuals and colors of “Redemption” compare to “Rage?”
The overall look continues from the “Rage” arc, but there are some differences. The panel-to-panel starts to shift as the story becomes more action-based. There’s sequences of hundreds of Kung Fu warriors flying at each other. There are definitely more double page spreads and it gets pretty epic. I just finished pencilling issue #10 and issue #11 is going to be insane. I’m very excited to draw that one because it will be on a scale I’ve never drawn.
Also, one thing that’s fun for me is we’ve already seen Danny Rand get his fists smashed and lose all of his Chi, but Kung Fu is not just a fist-based system of combat. It involves weapons and weapons training, so Danny’s going to have to gear up with some traditional kung fu weaponry to accomplish his tasks. That’s fun. I haven’t really seen Iron Fist use the tools I’m giving him. It’s fun to me as a martial arts fan to put some Kung Fu weapons into his fists.
I’m imagining the the three section staff from the classic Kung Fu film “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.”
That’s one of my favorites! I love the three section staff. That makes an appearance as well as a couple of other things.
As you start to work on issue #11, you’re almost at the end of your long form story. I imagine the ultimate goal is to leave Danny a changed man but still keep the stuff that’s cool about Iron Fist?
My ultimate goal is to leave him in a place that’s more interesting than where I found him. I’d love it if some of my fingerprints stayed on the character for a while, but every author has his own take on the character and who knows what will happen next. Mine has been pretty aggressive. I think we can all agree on that. But I really worked hard to unearth and support the core of this character and to honor the specificity of his origin and context.
It’s a big ending too! I haven’t seen very many 12-issue stories in a while. In the ’80s they had 12 issue maxiseries. Those were always so interesting and I think you can view “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” as a modern day take on those. It’s a self contained 12-issue story that builds only upwards towards an ending on an epic scale that has to be seen to be believed. I’m going to show Iron Fist doing things you’ve never seen him do before.
Will you miss Danny when you’re done?
[Laughs] I love Danny Rand. He’s a cool guy. And this has been an amazing creative journey for me. Again, this next arc is one of resolution and redemption. It becomes very action-based as we finally put Danny into motion. I think the first six issues were Danny reacting and these next six are him finally acting. He’s not only going to be confronting Wendell and the One, but his own past and demons in order to find what he needs to defeat his father and the army he commands. I hope the readers have enjoyed this mid-season breather because it’s going to get pretty crazy. I think it will be a lot of fun for fans of epic storytelling, as well as Kung Fu fans and superhero fans. It will be very cool.
“Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” #7 hits stores this Wednesday. “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon volume 1: Rage” is in stores now.
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