Walker Explores Luke Cage's Evolution, Ties that Bind in "Power Man & Iron Fist"

The seemingly disparate worlds of a streetwise hero for hire and a super-powered billionaire kung fu master came together in 1978 with the release of "Power Man & Iron Fist" #50 by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, and the result was one of Marvel Comics' most enduring and popular friendships. The unlikely duo quickly became the best of buds, building a friendship that survived the cancellation of their series in 1986. Over the years Power Man (now known as Luke Cage) and Iron Fist (AKA Danny Rand) have made appearances in other titles and fought side-by-side as members of larger teams like the Avengers, but there has not been another ongoing series that focused on their fascinating and fun bond.

Until now.

Early 2016 will see the release of an All-New, All-Different ongoing "Power Man & Iron Fist" series by writer David Walker and artist Sanford Greene. Walker spoke with CBR News about the book for a wide ranging discussion that included his love for the titular characters, the fateful phone call that landed him the series and why Luke Cage and Danny Rand have one of the premier friendships in the Marvel Universe. He also dives into his collaboration with Sanford Greene and the duo's initial plans for the series and its leads.

CBR News: Considering what a storied pairing this is, what is it you find most interesting about Luke and Danny's friendship and how it's evolved over the years?

David Walker: One of the things I find most interesting about their friendship, and I've talked about this in the past, is that we saw that friendship begin and evolve in comics. There's all these relationships that exist in the Marvel Universe, but all of them existed before the book started. We saw Luke and Danny come together though and we watched their relationship grow and become more and more complex over the years.

I think that's part of what makes them so interesting end enduring to people. It's like that couple where you knew them individually and then you watched them get together, and you watched them date. Then you watched them get married. So you were there for the entire course of their relationship, and it gives you a more vested feeling in that relationship. It gives you this feeling like you're really part of it as opposed to being let in on something that already existed like with the friendship between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm in Fantastic Four.
So I think that's a huge part of it, but I also think that just from a visual stand point these guys look so different, and even in terms of the background of who their characters are they're very different. I think that speaks to the power of what a friendship can be. Because there are so many of us that have these friends where you sort of sit back and look at them and you go, "How are we friends? How did this happen?" [Laughs] And Luke and Danny are that way.

My best friend and I are like that. We've been friends since fifth grade. So we've been friends creeping up on 40 years, and if you look at us you'd think, "What do these two idiots have in common?" The thing was we both loved "The Incredible Hulk" and we were the only two kids in our school that read comic books. So we bonded and we had nothing else in common. That bond brought us together though and it's now lasted for more than half of our lives.

That's what it is with Luke and Danny. The greatest challenges they've faced as both heroes and regular human beings they've faced so much of that together. That's part of the attraction for so many people. Then Luke Cage has evolved more than almost any other character in the Marvel Universe. We've seen him move from that sort of street thug hero of the '70s to now where he's a father and a husband. He's led the Avengers. If you had looked at those first issues of "Luke Cage: Hero for Hire" in the '70s and said, "Someday this guy is going to lead the Avengers" no one would have believed you. They wouldn't have believed that he's getting his own TV series either.

So he really has evolved and I think that even if a lot of people don't articulate why they like him so much or why they like Luke and Danny so much it really is the fact that this is a relationship we have watched now coming up on almost 40 years. We've seen them grow and evolve together. I believe they first teamed up in '78. So it's been 37 years.

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David, I know you're an old school Marvel fan and you expressed to Marvel editors your desire to write a buddy book starring Luke Cage and Danny Rand. How did it feel when they actually offered you "Power Man & Iron Fist?" And when did you know you'd be collaborating with artist Sanford Greene?

It's all absolutely surreal. We had been developing "Nighthawk" for awhile and there was a lot of energy going into the book, and then I got a call one day from Marvel and I was grocery shopping at the time. It was editor Jake Thomas calling and he said, "I want to talk to you about something." So my first instinct was, "Oh man they're firing me off 'Nighthawk!'" Jake then said, "There's a book we want to talk to you about and we want to know if you're interested in writing it."

The interesting thing there was that he asked me if I was interested in writing it, not if I was interested in pitching for it. In the world of comics there's a difference. When they ask you if you're interested in pitching it's a completely different thing. The book is not yours yet.

So I said, "Writing? I'm not pitching for this book?" And he said, "No." Then I asked, "Okay what is it?" And you have to remember I was at a grocery store and I had my phone when Jake said, "Power Man & Iron Fist." So I was like, "Um... yeah. Hold on a second. I need to go sit down." [Laughs] So I left my grocery cart and they had a little coffee shop at this grocery store. I went over there and sat down.

I thought for sure I was getting punked in some capacity. I was like, "Okay, when you say Power Man do you mean Luke Cage?" And he was like, "Yeah." So I agreed, and it was weird. The whole time it was like, "I'm not really having this conversation." Then Jake went on and asked, "And what do you think about Sanford Greene drawing it?"

So all of this was dropped on me at the grocery store and the whole time I honestly thought this was Brian Bendis playing some sort of practical joke. He had hired somebody with a 212 area code to call me. Then the whole thing reverted me to about 10 years-old. That was the age I was when Power Man and Iron Fist first teamed up. If I remember correctly that happened in issue #50 of what had been Luke Cage's [solo] book. That's when the series became "Power Man & Iron Fist."

Seeing that book for the first time at about 10 years-old led to me thinking, "This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I want to do this." A lot of other writers will talk about how they'd love to work on Spider-Man, X-Men or all these other things, but I was always the kid who was like, "These are the characters I want to work with." So I had a relationship with these two characters. Then suddenly I get a phone call at the grocery store.

For me it was like Santa Claus calling you up and going, "Okay, I'm going to bring you everything you want. You're just going to have to tell me everything right now. There's not going to be a second chance." So it's like, "Um... okay, I want Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And I want Sanford Greene to draw it." [Laughs] It was just weird, and there are days when it still doesn't seem real to me. It probably won't seem real until the first issue is on the stands, but it's getting more and more real, especially as the deadlines get closer.

I'm not sure how much you want or are able to talk about story plans, but the last time we saw Luke and Danny was in two separate books where they had some pretty impactful adventures, Danny especially. What was your sense of how "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" and "Mighty Avengers" affected Luke and Danny? It seems like both books have left you with some interesting toys to play with.

They did leave a lot of interesting toys and there was a lot of impact, but there's also been so much other stuff over the last 10-15 years. Luke showed up in "Alias," hooked up with Jessica Jones, and got her pregnant, then they got married and he joined the New Avengers. Danny has had his adventures too. So there's so much to draw from that it's almost difficult to decide what do we keep? What do we jettison? And what do we focus on?

For the beginning what we're really focusing on right now is the friendship of these two guys, and what drives them to team up again. Because they haven't been Heroes for Hire, or Power Man & Iron Fist, or whatever you want to call them since the early '80s. Obviously time passes in comics very differently, but they haven't been that dynamic for a long time. Even when they were part of the "Heroes for Hire" series in the '90s there were other members. They also fought side-by-side in other teams, but for this series it's, "We're going to do this again. We're going to do something that a lot of people might view as taking a step backward in terms of our careers as super heroes."

So the questions are why are they going to do that? Why would they do that? That's part of what we're exploring in this first story arc; how they work as a team and how they are as friends. Quite often we are better when we're working in tandem with somebody else, and it's them coming to realize that Power Man is great in his own right and so is Iron Fist, but when it's Power Man and Iron Fist there's something special there that you'll never be able to duplicate. You wouldn't be able to duplicate it with Power Man and Daredevil. And you wouldn't be able to duplicate it with Spider-Man and Iron Fist. There's no other team up that those two guys could have that will have that same level of magic, and part of it is that level of friendship that they've developed.

What can you tell us about the significance of the title "Power Man" for Luke Cage in this series? Because now it's become sort of a legacy title since Victor Alvarez, currently of the New Avengers, also uses the name. Will Luke be using the Power Man moniker in this series?

People have been asking me about that, and as far as I know right now there's more than one Hawkeye in the Marvel Universe. There's also more than one Spider-Man. So in that regard, for me it's not a big deal that there's more than one Power Man. For Luke, though, there's an issue there. [Laughs]

The title of the book is "Power Man & Iron Fist" but there are going to be aspects of it and times where Luke is like, "Why do people keep calling me Power Man?" I haven't been Power Man in a long time." He doesn't wear a costume or a mask. He's just Luke Cage. A lot of it though is about his past, his reputation, and the perception that other people have of him. So to certain people he's always going to be Power Man.

It's like the people who refused to call Muhammad Ali Muhammad Ali after he changed his name. Howard Cosell kept calling him Cassius Clay, and Muhammad Ali was like, "My name is Muhammad Ali." So there's going to be some moments of that where Luke is like, "I'm Luke Cage." And others are like, "Yeah, yeah whatever. You're Power Man."

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Part of the fun of this book is writing your two title characters, but I imagine another enjoyable aspect is the rich supporting cast that surrounded them.

Yeah, there's so many characters and you want to use all of them right away. And then you realize, "Wait a sec. I can't use all of them right away because then there's no room for Power Man and Iron Fist.

Our first and foremost supporting character is Jessica Jones because she's Luke's wife, but then you've got characters like Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. Plus there's so many great villains that people forget about. Sabretooth started out as an Iron Fist villain. Then you've got even more peripheral characters like Dave Griffith who owned the movie theater that Heroes for Hire operated out of and who actually appeared in "The Mighty Avengers."

There's also the crazy villains. They had the most insane rogues gallery of villains. So when I was working on things initially it then became, "Okay, don't use all of these characters. You've got like 50 supporting characters in your first story arc." It's definitely been interesting to explore some of them though and figure out what their relationships are with Luke and Danny now, and how they factor into this new incarnation of Heroes for Hire; not that we're necessarily going to call them Heroes for Hire. I keep referring to them as that.

So it's figuring how those two are going to operate with some of these people and, again, figuring out what the perception of them together is. Because it's one thing for say Spider-Man to look at these two and go, "Oh wow these two guys are back together. That's kind of cool." Versus somebody like Moses Magnum who's like, "Oh crap! These guys are back together!"

It sounds like the stories you're going to tell in "Power Man & Iron Fist" will very much have the classic super hero, buddy action feel of the original series.

Yes, I'm trying to give the book a very playful tone because that original series was very playful. It's an interesting juxtaposition between this and, say, the "Nighthawk" book that I'm writing because "Nighthawk" is a very dark book. At the end of the day what I want "Power Man & Iron Fist" to be about more than anything else is relationships and friendship. It's about the relationship and friendship between not only these two guys, but sort of the relationships and friendships, and sometimes antagonisms that they have with these other characters that they encounter throughout their various stories.

So a lot of it is really about the continued evolution of their relationship and this exploration of how they relate to the world around them. Because a lot of times we'll see villains hanging out but we don't necessarily understand the relationships between the villains. That's one of the things that I'm playing with in this series, too; how some of the villains form their friendships.

That was the thing I loved about Nick Spencer's "Superior Foes of Spider-Man." You got to see these incredible stories and you almost forget that these bad guys have stories too.

So we might see a day in the life of Discus and Stiletto? [Laughs]

[Laughs] We might see something like that. I wouldn't say with Discus and Stiletto, but you never know who's going to show up.

Marvel just released the "Power Man & Iron Fist Epic Collection" and a lot of the back issues are available on comiXology. You go through that stuff and you see they have the nuttiest rogues gallery. I've actually been making a physical list of all their villains and which issues they've appeared in. I'm using that to play with ideas like, "What would the return of Montenegro look like?"

Oh yeah! The mountain climbing villain!

[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. It's like, "Why did they fight a villain named Montenegro?" And to be honest I haven't found a way to bring him back yet. He's on my list though.

It blows my mind how nutty some of their villains were. Daredevil also had some really nutty villains back in the '70s, but these guys? Forget about it.

What's it like revamping some of those villains with Sanford Greene? I've seen some of his awesome designs for Luke and Danny. You've got Luke in his business suit and Danny in the Bruce Lee-inspired costume that Kaare Andrews gave him.

Without giving away who some of the villains are that we're going to see Sanford just sent me some designs and we were sort of talking about that asking, "How do we make these villains our own? Not just my own in terms of a writer, but your own in terms of an artist? What are some of your ideas?"

So we send each other examples of stuff, and he sent me designs for three characters a couple days ago and I was like, "If I drew this this is how I would draw them!" I love his style. I've been a fan of his for years and years, and him and I are on the same page with a lot of things. The great thing about working with him and what we've been talking about is how to layer the book so that every issue and every story exists on multiple layers.

So you really have to pay attention to what's going on in each individual panel because there's something going on that isn't being talked about that's actually there. It's that show, don't tell school of storytelling. Plus him and I have a lot of the same interests and influences. We got together a couple times in New York and we had conversations where went back and forth on Skype.

We want to make sure this book is not only the best possible book that we can do, not only that it's the best possible "Power Man & Iron Fist" book out there, but that it really delivers on the promise of what so many people have been waiting for. So when we walk away from our run, however long that may be and hopefully it will be a good long run, we can say that we gave these characters life in ways that hadn't been explored before.That's what you're trying to do as a comic book creator. You're trying to think of not just new ways to tell stories, but new ways to give life to a character.

In terms of a guy like Luke Cage, how do you top having him become a father and a husband? He's a guy you never thought that would happen to. In terms of Danny Rand, how do you top all of the things that have happened to K'un-Lun and all of the major losses that he's experienced? Where are the new places we can take these characters that aren't just fantastic and over the top, but are also really grounded in humanity and the things that make a reader laugh and cry? Because it's not just enough to make them go, "Oh that was cool!" You get five or six of those moments and it's great, but then it starts to get boring. It's like, where's the humanity in these characters?

Bringing out the humanity in characters is something I think Sanford does really well. I got turned on to his work via the recent "Secret Wars" series "Runaways," and in that book he could make you laugh, excite you, and break your heart all in different panels.

Yes, he's a master of that. We were discussing that because he's had a good deal of success and he's got a fan base, but there's also some people who look at his stuff and go, "Oh, it's too cartoony." I don't know what that means because that's what I love. I think his work is incredibly expressive and it has this fluidity to it and sense of motion.

I don't want to get too ahead of myself and say that this is going to be his best work, but I think this is going to be his best work. I think it's going to be some of my best work, too. I think this is the least that we can do for these characters who really enriched our lives when we were both younger.

Looking at his work and listening to you to talk it seems like you guys are having the time of your life and that usually translates into some fun and fantastic books.

That's what I'm hoping for. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but it's all looking good thus far.

I was just reading some stuff about the book recently, about Sanford and myself, about diversity and Marvel, about diversity in the comics industry, and about what our positions on this book means. I'm eternally grateful that I'm writing this book. I'm eternally grateful that Sanford's drawing it, and the one thing that I want to be clear about without sounding like a total ego maniac is that Sanford and I are on this book because we're good at what we do. And for some people it's a bonus that we're both African Americans, people of color, whatever you want to call us. For me, though, that's just who I am.

I think that there are some people out there who think that the only reason we got this book was because Marvel, [Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso, and everyone was trying to make some sort of statement. There's nothing that I can say that's going to change those people's minds, but there's other people I want to assure that that's not why I got this book. I got this book because, again, I'm not trying to sound like an ego maniac, I'm a pretty good writer and I have good story ideas. When the book comes out people are going to see that. I'm just grateful for this opportunity that Marvel has given me as a writer.

"Power Man & Iron Fist" debuts in early 2016 from Marvel Comics.

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