Iron Fist: Kaare Kyle Andrews plans martial arts epic in Marvel series

Jan. 08, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
marvel ironfist 1 Iron Fist: Kaare Kyle Andrews plans martial arts epic in Marvel series

"Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" No. 1, by Kaare Kyle Andrews, is due out in April. Cover by Andrews. "I love the way that Iron Fist blends kung fu and martial arts mayhem with mysticism," Marvel editor in chief Axel Alonso says. He adds that the story will be accessible to new readers. (Marvel)

ironfistlivingweaponheadshot Iron Fist: Kaare Kyle Andrews plans martial arts epic in Marvel series

An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" recalls the expedition from Danny Rand's youth when his parents died. "I think any time you relaunch a character, you have to ask yourself what is the core concept of this character," Andrews says. (Marvel)

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An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon." "The thing I've always appreciated about Marvel Comics is they take chances," Andrews says. "They give someone like me a chance to draw a crazy story -- it's not a normal Iron Fist story. It's out there." (Marvel)

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An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" recalls Danny's mother's sacrifice. "What's it like to watch your parents die in front of you as a young boy?" Andrews asks. "To watch your mother be torn apart by wolves? People kind of forget that's how this character was born. He was born in an immense amount of pain and death and trauma." (Marvel)

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An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" shows Danny Rand, who Andrews says starts the story "as kind of Bruce Wayne without a plan." (Marvel)

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An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon" shows Shou-Lao the Undying, the dragon Danny Rand had to defeat before becoming Iron Fist. It was during that fight that the image of the dragon was seared on the hero's chest. (Marvel)

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An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon." Andrews says handling all the writing and art duties on the series is inspired by Jim Steranko on "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." and that most of his favorite creators, such as Frank Miller and John Byrne, are writer-artists. (Marvel)

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An image from "Iron Fist: The Living Weapon." An early inspiration for Andrews was comic book artist Tom Grummett ("The Adventures of Superman," "Robin"), who lived in Saskatoon, Canada, where Andrews grew up. He met the artist at 13 and later shared a studio space with him. "It was very inspiring to have a guy like that in your city when your city is so far removed from any movies or anything else," Andrews says. (Marvel)

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Iron Fist debuted in 1974 in "Marvel Premiere" No. 15, by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, and his story unfolded in several subsequent issues of that title by writers including Len Wein, Doug Moench and Chris Claremont and artists including Larry Hama and John Byrne. The character has since appeared in a couple solo series and miniseries, "Power Man and Iron Fist," and the recent "New Avengers." (Marvel)

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Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for "Immortal Iron Fist" No. 13," released in 2008. The issue was written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, with art by David Aja and others. (Marvel)

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Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for the first issue of "Spider-Man: Reign," a 2006-2007 miniseries that he also wrote and drew. Axel Alonso was the editor. (Marvel)

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In Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for "Incredible Hulk" No. 38, published in 2002, Hulk and Doc Samson sit down at a diner counter. Andrews did covers for Issues 34-54 during writer Bruce Jones' run on the title. The work earned him an Eisner nomination. (Marvel)

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Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for "Incredible Hulk" No. 41. "If I never met [editor] Axel [Alonso] doing those Hulk covers, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now," Andrews says. "I don’t think it would be this." (Marvel)

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Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for "Incredible Hulk" No. 46 is a play on an "Apocalypse Now" poster. (Marvel)

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A gray Hulk, a green Hulk and Bruce Banner walk along in "Where the Wild Things Are" style on Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for "Incredible Hulk" No. 49. (Marvel)

Iron Fist is back, and this time he’s going it alone.

Kaare Kyle Andrews is taking the superpowered Marvel hero on what he says is “a bloody, revenge-fueled martial arts epic” in a new comic book series that will help set the stage for a Netflix show centered on the character set to debut next year.

But where Marvel TV’s upcoming series with the streaming service – part of a deal that also will include live-action programs centered on Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Danny Rand’s frequent partner in the comics since the late ‘70s “Power Man and Iron Fist” – are building toward a team-up miniseries, Andrews’ “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” is a “one man against impossible odds” story that he says is “out there.”

“I think the Netflix show is going to be an amazing serialized television experience,” the writer-artist said in a phone interview. “But if anything, I’m creating the feature experience of Iron Fist. There is just no way the scale of my story would fit into those budgets.”

Cover | HikeBlam | Sacrifice | Shou-Lao | Helicopters | Danny | Pursuit

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An image from “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” shows Shou-Lao the Undying, the dragon Danny Rand had to defeat in K’un-Lun to become Iron Fist. (Marvel)

In the new comics series, which debuts in April, Danny Rand will be compelled to return from the Western world to the mystical Eastern city where he was raised and trained to fight after seeing his parents die. The story begins with the billionaire hero “as kind of Bruce Wayne without a plan,” Andrews said. “He’s despondent. He is not connecting with life, and he doesn’t know why.”

Then the past comes calling. The circumstances of his origin come into play, and the man with the dragon tattoo and glowing fist will have to face the consequences of his choices.

“When you become a living weapon, that’s a weapon that cuts both ways,” Andrews said.

For him, working on “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon,” which debuts in April, is largely a solo mission too: He’s writing, penciling, inking, coloring and doing the covers in his return to the comics medium after taking time away to direct the upcoming Sean Astin-starring horror film “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.”

His approach was inspired in part by Jim Steranko’s 1960s run on “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

“Comics and film are the yin and yang of my art-making career,” the Eisner-nominated creator said.

It’s also a chance to indulge in a lifetime passion for martial arts films — an interest he shares with Marvel editor in chief Axel Alonso.

In considering Iron Fist, the pair, whose work together includes Andrews’ 2006 limited series “Spider-Man: Reign,” a “Dark Knight Returns”-style tale of the wallcrawler in a dystopian future, discussed what’s at the core of the best martial arts movies, adventures like “Enter the Dragon” and “Duel to the Death.” They wanted that cinematic feel for the new series.

“The way I looked at Iron Fist, I thought … I’d love to have someone come in and tell a movie, just treat the reader like they’ve stepped into a cinema, they’re sitting down in a seat, the lights go down, the curtain comes up,” Alonso said in a separate telephone interview from the Marvel offices in New York.

Kaare Kyle Andrews' cover for "Immortal Iron Fist" No. 13," released in 2008. The issue was written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, with art by David Aja and others. (Marvel)

Kaare Kyle Andrews’ cover for “Immortal Iron Fist” No. 13 released in 2008. The issue was written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, with art by David Aja and others. (Marvel)

Andrews  has some history with the character, having created several covers for Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja’s acclaimed run on “Immortal Iron Fist,” a series that ended in 2009. But he was used to seeing Danny Rand in ensemble situations. He says he initially didn’t feel a strong connection to the character, but then he read something that changed that.

For both Andrews and Alonso, the key to Iron Fist lies in his traumatic origin story in 1974’s “Marvel Premiere” No. 15, by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, an issue that arrived during a kung fu craze in entertainment and which the editor recalls buying off the rack at a five and dime as a Bruce Lee-obsessed 9-year-old.

In the tale that begins there, young Danny Rand is hiking in the Himalayas as part of a small expedition searching for the hidden, mystical home of the immortals, K’un-Lun, when his wealthy father is killed by a business partner. As Danny and his mother flee, they are pursued by wolves, and she sacrifices herself to save her son. The child is taken into the secret city, where he trains in martial arts for a decade with monks, and, after defeating a dragon and gaining the super-strength, speed and fighting ability of the Iron Fist, earns the right to choose between immortality in K’un-Lun and eventual death in the outside world.

His choice is what sealed the character’s identity for Andrews.

“I finally understood who this guy was,” he said. “And it’s the guy who traded life for death. It’s the guy who watched his parents die as a boy and trained 10 years to hunt down the one man that killed them.”

“Danny has always resided uneasily in both worlds,” Alonso said, “both in the Eastern world of K’un-Lun and in the Western world as a successful industrialist. So this story is a chance for him — when he’s not kicking and punching — to come to terms with who he is and where he stands in the universe, spiritually and physically.

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An image from “Iron Fist: The Living Weapon.” (Marvel)

“His work is particularly inspired when he does that, when he takes full ownership of the book, and that’s what he’s done,” Alonso continued, noting that he’s especially impressed by Andrews’ color work and “cinematography” in the book.

As an artist, Andrews has brought a different look to every project, showing impressive range with “Incredible Hulk” covers (for which he earned a 2003 Eisner nomination), “Spider-Man: Reign,” “Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis” and album covers for acts including Tegan & Sara.

He is adjusting his process to keep a monthly schedule, with the main change being that he’s doing all the interior art digitally: “It’s black, it’s line-focused, and it’s completely digitally generated, but in a very hand-crafted way,” he said.

The covers, however, are done on paper.

“That’s for me, personal, like I can draw on paper again and feel like I’m a real artist and not just a computer program,” he added.

Being in control and working solo – feeling like a ninja – is a change of pace from the frenzied life of a filmmaker. In addition to the new “Cabin Fever” installment, he also directed the 2010 air-travel-sci-fi-horror film “Altitude” and a wild futuristic segment in the 2012 anthology “ABCs of Death.”

“In film, if I’m directing, I’ve got a hundred guys working under me, I’m trying to get the machine to do the thing I want to do, and every day is a negotiation and a compromise and I don’t have the money and something didn’t show up and maybe we can’t get the location and I’ve got to deal with producers and there’s a thousand opinions,” Andrews said. “But it’s cool, it’s madness, it’s fun.

“And comic books – it’s just you in a room…. You don’t have the noise of a studio and producers and the crew. You don’t have budget problems. Because – what can you draw today?”

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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