Woman With The Iron Fist: Revisiting Jo Duffy’s Classic ‘Power Man & Iron Fist’ Run
There's no getting around it; Danny Rand, the Immortal Iron Fist. the champion of K'un Lun, is an insensitively conceived character; a white guy who stumbles on an immortal race of Asian people and turns out to be better at their whole existence than them. That's the bedrock any creator has to deal with when crafting his stories.
A similar challenge faces the blaxploitation-themed Luke Cage, who became Danny's partner in 1972 in Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, which became Power Man & Iron Fist, in order to save both characters from cancellation. Originally written by Chris Claremont, the book passed to Jo Duffy in 1979 when he left to focus on the increasingly popular X-Men franchise. Duffy's solution to Iron Fist's problematic backstory? Make him an idiot.
This being editor-in-chief Jim Shooter's era of Marvel, where every issue had to be written to appeal to new readers, there's a lot of recapping of Danny and Luke's origins and powers in Duffy's run, be it through flashback panels or narrative captions. What's continually hit home in those is just how out of place Danny is in the modern world, having literally been raised in another dimension.
Duffy shows this throughout her run, which lasted from 1979-1982, in issues #56-84, by painting Danny as bemusedly clueless. He throws his money around like it's nothing, he doesn't understand subtle body language, and he has a frequent tendency to attack without thinking.
But the main reason to read Duffy's run is not her appealing characterization of Danny as a doofus, but her gift for fun and breezy storytelling with occasional moments of poignancy. It's also incredibly well drawn throughout, with regular and fill-in artists that understand the Saturday afternoon movie feel that Duffy was bringing to the book.
Issues #56-59 have artist Trevor Von Eeden paired with colorist George Roussos, and they blend really well together; Van Eeden does remarkably detailed faces, and offers a good balance of humor and action, with Roussos selling every bit of it by adding shading to get the nuance within the pencils across.
Duffy's Power Man & Iron Fist goes from good to great with a fill-in by Marie Severin (coloring her own pencils), and then Kerry Gammill taking over full-time with issue #61.
Gammill --- who also worked with Duffy on Fallen Angels and some Star Wars issues --- is remarkably skilled with faces, though they actually get a little too detailed at times, and his grasp of action and pacing made him a perfect fit for Duffy's scripts.
There's not a bad issue throughout their time together, with gags and action blending cohesively for a fun, fast read. Whether it's the Heroes for Hire defeating the extremely lucky supervillain Senor Suerte with the help of an actual black cat, or Luke and Bruce Banner having the same tailor making them clothes in bulk, or a fight in a cowboy bar where a dude gets thrown onto a mechanical bull and Iron Fist then steals his hat, the book is a whimsical joy.
Duffy also gives equal time to the book's co-leads, the Daughters of the Dragon. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are every bit as skilled in a fight as their headlining male peers, and considerably more skilled as private detectives, and their storylines are some of the most compelling and affecting in the book.
Issue #60 sees Misty struggle with PTSD from the explosion that cost her her arm, in a case involving a friend of Danny's who's a reformed IRA bomber being framed, and it's tough stuff. For her part, Colleen gets resolution to a story from Iron Fist, in which her dad is recovering from his own trauma, and the beats are played out with some stunning wordless art. Blending that kind of emotional subtext with the free-wheeling fun of Danny and Luke's adventures only adds to the richness of Duffy and Gammill's run.
Alas, despite such a winning formula, by the early '80s the comic industry was already moving towards a more violent and "mature" approach to superheroes, and the sales weren't there to support Duffy and Gammill's more light-hearted vision. Their run came to an end with issue #84 in August 1982.
It's a shame, because it's a great run, and I would place it up there with Stan Lee and John Romita's Amazing Spider-Man in terms of striking the perfect balance between melodrama and pulpy fun.
After their time together at Marvel, Gammill pursued a career in Hollywood as a special effects/concept artist, while Duffy's subsequent credits included runs on Catwoman and Glory, and adapting Naruto for Viz. Their work together on Power Man & Iron Fist is all available on Comixology and Marvel Unlimited --- minus an issue that guest-starred ROM --- and it's well worth your time. Check it out to see how a great writer and artist took some B-list heroes and made them shine.