With Netflix’s ‘Luke Cage’ season one in the books and ‘Iron Fist’ on the horizon, get to know these two superheroes according to the comics.
Long before Luke Cage and Iron Fist had their own original shows on Netflix, they each had gone through periods of turmoil within the Marvel Universe. There was a time when both heroes were almost cancelled from the comics, likely to be expunged entirely, due to dwindling readership. It was during that struggle that the worlds of Iron Fist and Luke Cage collided to save one another from extinction.
But before we discuss their intersection, we should examine their respective beginnings as solo comics.
Luke Cage — commonly known as Power Man — was created in 1972 by Archie Goodwin (Iron Man) and John Romita Sr. (The Amazing Spider-Man). Arriving four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Power Man was a particularly timely and important creation. The surge of blaxploitation media in the early 1970s was a primary factor in developing the character. (The show paid homage to its blaxploitation roots but also modernized its themes.) A major Black superhero was a first not only for Marvel but for the comic book medium, period. Luke Cage became the first Black comic book superhero to be featured as the title character of a series when he entered print as the leading man in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.
The premise: an ex-convict, having been imprisoned unjustly, undergoes scientific experiments without his consent and becomes a man with immense strength and iron-clad skin. Upon his escape, he becomes a people’s champion, helping those in Harlem and throughout greater New York who have no one to stick up for them.
Luke Cage, Hero for Hire was quickly rebranded as Luke Cage, Power Man after 16 issues and ran until issue #49, with its sole protagonist helping the less fortunate and excising his own demons along the way.
Iron Fist was created shortly after Luke Cage by Roy Thomas (X-Men, The Avengers) in 1974. The new character, sticking with Marvel’s mixed martial arts trend of the time, was a master of the discipline and a harborer of a mystical power that granted him access to the consummate force of his chi. His given name was Danny Rand, but he made his first appearance as Iron Fist in Marvel Premiere #15, a special series dedicated to introducing new characters and reinvigorating fledgling heroes. Iron Fist remained in the series for 11 issues before getting his own run, aptly titled Iron Fist. The series ran sparingly throughout 1975 to 1977. After the 15th issue, it was discontinued and the fate of Iron Fist was uncertain.
Around the same time, Luke Cage, Power Man was losing steam and on the verge of its own cancellation. In an attempt to save the two Marvel heroes from purgatory, writers had the two heroes join forces. The series was restructured to fit both heroes, and the title changed to Power Man and Iron Fist in issue #50. The reformatted series ran over eight years, 76 issues in all, ending with Power Man and Iron Fist #125.
The crime-fighting duo met at a party held in Cage’s honor. Cage was recently attacked by Thomas Stuart, known as the villain Stiletto, and his brother Tim Stuart, the villain dubbed Discus. The Stuarts have connections to Cage. Their father, Tyler Stuart, was the prison ward when Cage was incarcerated but was fired after Cage’s escape. At first Iron Fist and Power Man don’t get along and even get into a scuffle before learning they’re on the same side. They initially team up to take down Nightshade’s efforts to make organized crime a way of life in Harlem. Afterward they go on to work for Misty Knight’s detective agency but soon decide to officially band together and set up shop as a two-man team called Heroes for Hire.
Their maiden voyage as Heroes for Hire is against Incinerator, a nefarious villain with a grand scheme to rob the Manhattan National Bank. After victory they’re low on clients and decide to advertise the new venture at a car show that happens to be displaying the Fantasti-Car — the one owned by Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four. Bull, an enemy of the Avengers — specifically, Captain American — plans to steal the vehicle, but Iron Fist and Power Man stop the plan in its tracks.
Over the course of their run as Heroes for Hire, Power Man and Iron Fist don’t collide with other Marvel superheroes as much as they do with other heroes’ enemies, but when Ahmet Abdol orders them to protect Egyptian artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum, they find themselves in close proximity with the X-Men. Ahmet Abdol has deceived the duo, and after realizing the artifacts are fakes, they discover that Abdol has used the real artifacts to turn himself into a supervillain known as the Living Monolith. With the help of the X-Men, the pair return the artifact to its resting form and imprison Abdol and his accomplices.
The duo continue making friends and enemies alike throughout their crime-fighting adventures, but their past solo missions catch up to them. When intervening in a bank robbery, Power Man is kidnapped by an old nemesis, Bushmaster. Iron Fist is able to save him, but while in captivity Power Man has lost his superpowers. Although an electrified fence restores his abilities, these events lead to something far worse.
Unbeknownst to Heroes for Hire, Master Khan — one of Iron Fist’s archenemies — beckons his apprentice Ninja to steal the Amulets of Power, an object that gives dangerous levels of martial arts strength to its wearer. The pair track down Master Khan and follow him through a portal to K’un-Lun, the mythical land where Iron Fist was trained as a boy. After a close call with Khan, the Heroes for Hire head back through a portal to Earth and continue taking clients.
Unfortunately, the government agency S.M.I.L.E. tricks the pair to take on a mission doomed from the start. Iron Fist contracts radiation poisoning, and the only way to save him is to treat him in K’un-Lun, where Khan is waiting for revenge. Khan replaces Iron Fist with a doppelgänger. But in his ill state, Power Man thinks nothing of it. Soon the pair is forced out of the mystic world and back to Earth. The doppelgänger is destroyed by an alien called Super-Skrull, and Power Man is accused of Iron Fist’s alleged death, causing him to go into exile.
The bizarre ending to the initial Power Man and Iron Fist run can perhaps be attributed to its cancellation in 1986. It wouldn’t be until 2010 that Power Man and Iron Fist would work together again in an official capacity in Shadowland — a series focused on Daredevil and other urban crime stoppers. In this run the duo join up with Spider-Man before Heroes for Hire is disbanded again when Power Man (now known solely as Luke Cage) joins the Mighty Avengers alongside Spider-Man and Spectrum.
In early 2016, in anticipation of their Netflix shows, the Power Man and Iron Fist comic book series was revived. Issue #14 is set to release March 8, just ahead of Iron Fist’s Netflix debut March 17.