Walker Reforges the Bonds Between "Power Man & Iron Fist"

Identity and sense of self grows and change over time, shaped by relationships and experiences. For many residents of the Marvel Universe, extraordinary abilities also come into play. For years, Luke Cage and Danny Rand used their superpowers and friendship to become the Marvel U's premier crime fighting duo, Power Man and Iron Fist. While Luke and Danny have remained close, they've travelled different paths in recent years: Luke became a family man with a wife and daughter while Danny dealt with tragedies that left him longing for the days of yore.

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In last month's "Power Man and Iron Fist" #1, writer David Walker and artist Sanford Greene embroiled Luke and Danny became in a situation that revived their partnership -- but will the original Heroes for Hire actually be happy fighting crime together again? One thing is certain, this new adventure will affect their lives in a major way and the obstacles and adversaries they face will test both their mettle and their friendship. To find out what's ahead for the fan-favorite duo, CBR News spoke with Walker the ongoing series' debut issues, the challenges of launching launching a new book with a large fan-favorite supporting cast, and how the looming "Civil War II" might affect Luke and Danny's relationship.

CBR News: Launching a new series with a longtime fan base like "Power Man and Iron Fist" might be tough because of the desire to make it accessible to new readers while speaking to the established fan base. "Power Man and Iron Fist" #1 did that by bringing in Jennie Royce and touching on the events of the Fred Van Lente "Power Man and Iron Fist" series from a few years back starring Danny Rand and Vic Alvarez. What made you want to use the fallout from that series as a launching point for this one?

David Walker: Fred used Jennie as part of the hook for that series he did a few years back, but longtime fans from back in the '70s and '80s would recognize her, and when I was first developing this idea I knew I wanted to use a character that had something of a rich history with Power Man and Iron Fist, but didn't have a ton of their own moments, if you will.

I was going back and forth between is there a villain that we could use in this, or is there an old ally? Then I remembered what Fred had done in the previous storyline. I was like, "I think Jennie is still in prison." So all the pieces just sort of fell together.

One of the things I noticed about Luke and Danny's dynamic in issue #1 was that Luke seemed incredibly reluctant to be adventuring with Danny again, but Danny was incredibly enthusiastic. What else can you tell us about that dynamic?

I always felt like in the best "buddy pictures," or whatever you want to call them, the dynamic that always worked best when there's some sort of internal conflict between the two characters; some sort of ideological split that has them at odds. So I was just sort of looking at who they were historically as characters and where they are in the current state of the Marvel Universe.

We've seen Luke grow so much as a character. He's now a father and a husband. I wanted to play with that a little bit, and when you go back and a read a lot of the early "Power Man and Iron Fist" stuff from the '70s and '80s in some of their earlier adventures Luke is always calling Danny "kid." Back in that initial run Danny is supposed to be like 19 or 20 years-old. It's never really clearly stated how old Luke is, but there's this underlying implication that Luke is the older and slightly more mature of the two.

So I wanted to build on that a little bit more and really get into this notion of these two characters who really do care about each other, but don't always get along. It's always funnier when one person doesn't realize that they're not getting along and the other one is sort of always at their wits end.

The sense I got from the characters in issue #1 was that Luke felt like he was moving backward by teaming with Danny and didn't want to do that, whereas Danny is looking back to a time in his life where he was probably the happiest.

That's exactly it. The thing is part of where I'm taking these two characters is Luke is going to start to realize in fact how happy he was. There are some people who are sort of always grumpy. [Laughs] That's kind of how I am. You can point out what a beautiful day it is and they'll respond that it's a little too cold or a little too hot. The porridge is never just right for certain people, and that's the thing. Where they're both going as characters how you do get them to grow and evolve?

Part of what's going to happen with Luke is this realization of how much of a better super hero he is with Danny at his side. It's the same thing for Danny as well.

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In the debut issue we saw both Luke with his family and Luke and Danny together, but we didn't get to see much of their status quos. Have things changed greatly for them when the book begins in the eight months since "Secret Wars?"

Slowly but surely we're going to start to see what their lives are like outside of their team dynamic. I'm hesitant to say anything more than that.

It's an interesting thing because both of these characters have these really interesting lives outside of their super heroics; so much so that it could be easy to focus on those things and not focus on them as a team. So the first step of the journey is getting them together as a team. Then we'll see how their teaming up impacts their individual lives, and find that balance. That's what we're working toward. We're going to see it, and we will see it sooner rather than later, but I don't want to get into specifics because that's kind of the fun of it. Isn't it?

Yeah. So we'll get answers to things like is Luke still associated with the Avengers hotline he set up in the "Mighty Avengers" series?

Yeah, we're coordinating things with editorial right now so we can answer some questions like that. This book is launching just a couple months before the next big summer event. Some of this stuff is going to get revealed in that summer event.

Luke's wife Jessica Jones had a few scenes in "Power Man & Iron Fist" #1, and as fans of the character know she's a very capable private eye. Luke actually admitted once that she's a better detective than he ever was. How big a role is Jess going to play in this initial arc and the series moving forward?

In this initial arc we just see little glimpses of her, and we're still figuring out what she's going to do. When you're working with these big publishers it almost feels like you're working for MI6, or the CIA. Sometimes you're on a need to know sort of basis.

I'll call my editors or shoot them an email asking, "What's going on with Jessica?" The other two characters that get asked about a lot are Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. The response is always this perfect, "Oh, we'll let you know when the time is right." And it's like, "I'm trying to outline an issue right now! So come on. Let me know." [Laughs]

There's so much focus on Jessica right now because of the TV show, but the TV show and the comics are two completely different things, and we're getting there. I wrote an issue and I kind of scrapped it for later on in the run. It was primarily a Jessica Jones issue, and it felt like it was too soon to do that in a series called "Power Man & Iron Fist." It's too soon to have an issue where they're completely on the back burner and it's about Jessica.

One of the things that happens when you go to a company like Marvel is you want to do everything all at once. It's like you're at a big catered affair and there's a buffet line where there's all this food and you try to pile it all up onto your plate. It then falls onto the floor, but you don't have to eat everything all at once. [Laughs] You pace yourself.

I'm certainly guilty of trying to put way too much on the plate in the beginning. My initial outlines were like, "And this character shows up! Then that character shows up!" There's only 20 pages to a single issue of a comic though. You can't have 75 guest stars. [Laughs] I do want to do some stuff with Jessica Jones though. So it's on the plate. It's just not on the first plate going through the food line.

Yeah, I've talked with a number of writer about that feeling of wanting to do everything at once and how fans are often hoping a writer will address all these supporting characters right off the bat, but when you're launching a new book you really want to make it's all about your title character or characters.

Exactly! And it's funny, one of the first questions people will ask you about, and it doesn't matter what title it is, is who are the guest stars we're going to see? There's a great long list, but everybody has their favorite supporting character. It doesn't matter what title it is or what character you're talking about there's always this list of supporting characters, and I don't think people necessarily consider the fact that that if I go see a James Bond movie I want to see Q, Moneypenny, M, and all the other supporting characters, but I don't want to see nothing but them and nothing of Bond.

So it's really interesting, and I've seen other writers try to cram too many guest appearances too soon, and it's like, "What are your plans for issues #7 and #8? Or #14 and #15?" Not to get too ahead of myself, but I want to be writing this book for a while. So there will be plenty of time to bring Big Ben Donovan in and some of these other quirky characters we've seen over the years.

In issue #1 you had Luke and Danny go up against a foe I don't believe they've fought together, but feels perfectly at home in their world, Tombstone. Then at the end of the issue you brought back a classic villain in the form of Mariah Dillard. What made you want to start with these two characters?

I always knew that I wanted to have Mariah be, if not the main villain, one of the main villains of the first story arc because it was an opportunity to take a character that is somewhat iconic and that the longtime fans remember, but to really sort of reinvent her for a new audience. I don't see there being that many interesting black female villains in the Marvel Universe. So that was a huge part of it. I wanted the opportunity to turn her into something a little bit more than what she was when she first appeared in the '70s.

Then Tombstone sort of came out of conversations between myself and editorial and it was like, "Who's a good street level crime boss, but is menacing and imposing?" All at once everybody was like, "Tombstone!" We knew the basic gist of the scene that was going to appear in issue #1 and the rest of the story that was going to unfold. There were a handful of characters you could place in that part, but Tombstone just seemed the most interesting. Also, when Luke had his own series briefly in the '90s the two of them tangled. So there's a brief history of them together.

What I liked about bringing them together in this particular story was that Luke especially has his own pedigree and the way he's sort of viewed in what we would call "Uptown," which we'll say is anything north of 42nd Street in New York City; starting at Times Square and moving all the way up into Harlem and maybe even moving across the river into the South Bronx. So Luke has this reputation that precedes him, and in that part of town Tombstone also has a reputation that precedes him.

I wanted to establish this rivalry between the two of them. It's like, "Who are the two most feared men on 125th and Lennox Avenue?" Luke Cage would be feared by one cross section of that population; those that are in the world of crime and doing dirt. Then Tombstone is the one that everybody else is afraid of. That's something I want to play with as we move the series forward; sort of the power struggles that are going on in this particular part of town.

When you talk organized crime and power struggles I imagine that opens the door to eventually playing with some other interesting characters like the Black Cat who's becoming a Kingpin style character over in books like "Silk" and other titles.

Yeah, there's so many Kingpins it's tough to keep track of them after a while. [Laughs] If they don't have a flowsheet at Marvel they really need to send one out almost on a monthly basis. It's like, "Okay, where's the Owl right now? Where's the Hood right now? Where's Hammerhead?" There's all these different crime bosses.

Going back to Mariah Dillard, did you know Alfre Woodard had been cast as the character in the "Luke Cage" Netflix series before you brought her into the book?

She was announced after we had already started putting everything together. My first reaction was, "Great! I love this actress." Part of me was a little bummed though. Then I thought the show is never going to go as over the top and nutty as we're going to go in this book. We're going in a completely different direction. It's just like the way Killgrave is portrayed in the "Jessica Jones" show.

So I was happy that they're pulling from something of the original cannon. I know that Shades is part of the show, and I think Cornell Cottonmouth is as well.

Don't get me wrong. I know the "Luke Cage" show is going to be awesome. I'm so looking forward to it, but it's never going to be awesome in the way that the comics were awesome. We've got Tombstone, Cottonmouth and Piranha Jones with their teeth all filed down to fangs. And Black Mariah is what she is.

Right. There will be no Gideon Mace or Mister Fish, at least not in the way they appear in comics.

Exactly! I love me some Mister Fish. [Laughs]

In issue #1 we saw that Mariah and Jennie Royce's scheme was to get a hold of the Supersoul Stone. Is this an established Marvel artifact or something you created for the story?

This is something I ended up creating for the story. I kept changing it and I'm sure editorial had grown tired of that. The first, I swear it feels like 500, versions of what became the Supersoul Stone were things that already existed in the Marvel Universe. It was me going through my back catalog of crazy '70s artifacts. Then at some point I was like, "Why don't I just create my own?"

I talked to editorial and Sanford about it, and the fear on my part as a writer was the moment that you create your own sort of weird talisman or mystical artifact then you've got to create the mythology around it. That can be kind of intimidating to do because it also means you're bringing something new into this existing universe.

So, like I said, I realistically had like three or four different things that it was originally going to be. Then I stopped and had this sort of conversation with myself, and was like, "Everybody who gets an opportunity to write for Marvel wants to leave some sort of mark on the Marvel Universe. You're not going to be writing there the rest or your life, most likely." So what could I bring? And the Supersoul Stone kind of came out of the idea of stuff that I always wished I could see when I was a little kid growing up reading these books. I can't say more about it without revealing things, but starting in issue #2 and definitely by issue #3 we'll get to see what this thing really is all about.

I think it's going to be really fun. I've seen what Sanford has drawn in relation to what I've written, and it's so much better than what I possibly could have imagined. I think people are really going to enjoy this little bit of mythology that we're bringing in.

When we first chatted about "Power Man & Iron Fist" we talked about the fun tone and vibe that Sanford's art gives the characters and the book, but one of the things I also loved about issue #1 is the fantastic job he did bringing to life some of the urban areas of New York we don't often see in Marvel Comics. Does he live in New York?

Nope! I believe he's in North Carolina. I'm a little bit older than him, but we both share a love of hip-hop, urban art and graffiti. I think that's part of what we're trying to bring to the book. We're part of this cross section of fans that also have interests in other areas and we're trying to infuse some of those interests into the storyline and into some of the visuals.

Yeah, it feels like so much of Marvel is Manhattan and in "Power Man & Iron Fist" #1 you guys took us to some of the more run down and perhaps less shiny locales that we don't always see.

I think that's pretty crucial, and this isn't to knock anything that other creators do, but I know that a lot of times we tend to see these representations of New York that are very iconic and that everybody recognizes; whether it's Times Square now or back in the past or something along those lines. There's entire huge cross sections of New York City in the Boroughs though that look a lot like parts of Philly, or Chicago, or Boston. It's a city where people live.

There's a sort of everyday aspect to it, and if there's anything that I want this book to sort of convey it's how the fantastic and outlandish fits into sort of everyday life. That's why we have that scene in the Excelsior Diner. Because super heroes have to eat, right? So where would they eat? Those are some of the things I think about.

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In my opinion that's in the tradition of the best Marvel stories; showing that spot where the mundane and fantastic collide and the exciting results that happen because of that collision.

Exactly, I feel that way 100 percent. That was always a thing that I loved. I remember this issue of "Marvel Team-Up" with Spider-Man and the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players." I haven't read that issue in a long time, but it was from when I was kid and I just started watching "Saturday Night Live." It seemed so cool to me that these two things that I loved the most could come together. It was this sort of not every day, but every Saturday night, thing of watching Belushi and Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, and then Spider-Man, who was my favorite super hero as a kid. So I love that sort of thing. I love those sort of everyday moments that keep things tethered to our otherwise mundane existence.

Let's wrap up with some teases about the immediate future of the book and what's coming up in the next few months. How big are things going to get before this initial arc is over?

Things are going to escalate completely out of control. [Laughs] Part of what this first arc is about is Power Man and Iron Fist actually coming back together and reforming for all intents and purposes Heroes for Hire, the original incarnation where it's just the two of them, and then from there it's really going to be an exploration of how this partnership and friendship impacts not just the lives of Luke and Danny, but how it impacts the entire Marvel Universe. I was going to say the city of New York, but it's going to be much bigger than that.

I'm going to play with this notion that as a duo they're one of the most respected and feared crime fighting duos of all time. Then at the same time I'm going to play with the notion that when you see them sort of behind the scenes that how could anybody be afraid of these guys? All they seem to do is argue all the time about some of the dumbest things you could possibly imagine. [Laughs]
We're going to see them really come into their own not just as a team, but how do you grow in a relationship? Because that's what they're in. It's not romantic or sexual, but it's a relationship nonetheless. And when you're in a very close relationship like they're in it affects you. It changes you, it helps you grow into another person, and you don't always do that willingly. A lot of times you fight those changes, and that's another part of what we're going to be exploring. So there's going to be some pretty cool stuff coming up.

Finally, the original "Civil War" had a huge impact on Luke and Danny's lives, and "Civil War II" is now looming. Will that conflict impact your book? Will we see Luke and Danny being forced to deal with some of the difficult questions of "Civil War II" in "Power Man and Iron Fist?"

As far as I know, it's impacting everybody's books. [Laughs] Again, it's like working for the CIA Or MI6. It's "need to know." So I'm planning out some stuff based on what we already talked about, myself and editorial. It's definitely going to impact the book.

This is such an interesting conundrum because the original "Civil War" was such a great storyline, and this other one is a story that deals with so many shades of gray between which side you're on. So it's been really interesting trying to get into the heads of these two characters and figure out which side they would be on, and if they'd both be on the same side. Are they getting together as a team just in time to have a huge wedge driven in between them? That's something you'll start to find out around issue #7 of our book.

I'm looking forward to that arc, and I've already mapped out certain beats and scenes. So what we really need to do now is I need to sit down with editorial and ask if anyone else is planning on having them appear in their books? Because this is all new to me. I've never been involved in an event like this. So again it's this weird, "We'll call you. Let the phone ring twice. Then we'll hang up and call you back. Then we'll tell you what's happening with Captain America." [Laughs]

I'm having a great time working on this book, and I'm really happy that it's been well received thus far. I think the book gets stronger as we go along. Issue #1 was a lot of fun, and I really like it, but I've already seen all of issue #2 and a huge chunk of issue #3. I do feel like the issues are getting better. So I really want people to stick around. Because I'd obviously like to see the book be a success, but also, it's the kind of book that I wanted to read for a long time. I think that it also meets the needs of many of our readers.

"Power Man and Iron Fist" #2 goes on sale March 16 from Marvel Comics.

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