For the next chapter in the story of Marvel’s Iron Fist, cartoonist/director Kaare Andrews is going back to his beginnings.
This April, the Young Dragon, Danny Rand, begins a new solo journey in the ongoing series Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. The first arc of Iron Fist: The Living Weapon will see the champion of K’un L’un revisiting the murder of his parents and the events which lead to him being adopted by the city and trained for vengeance. Iron Fist: The Living Weapon will also serve as Andrews’ full-time return to comics after spending the past year directing a sequel to Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever franchise titled Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.
Newsarama spoke with Andrews at-length about the series and his plans to revisit Rand’s overlooked origin story, as well as his plans to create the entire comic – minus lettering – on his own. Andrews compares cartooning to martial arts, and also talks about his second career as a feature film director and the possibilities of that and comics intersecting.
Newsarama: Kaare, what can you tell us about this new Iron Fistseries?
Kaare Andrews: Iron Fist: The Living Weapon is an investigation into a character that has a lot of potential. This new series taking this character with so much raw potential and giving him a new story that calls back to his first story – his origin – in a tale of bloody revenge. It’s a classic martial arts-style story that is about a man who has to right things that have been wronged. It’s a bloody tale of vengeance and action set in the martial arts genre.
Nrama: A lot of people fondly remember the earlier Immortal Iron Fist series in the mid-2000s. Are you picking up on any of those story threads, or starting from scratch?
Andrews: Here’s what’s interesting… I was a little bit involved in that run. I did covers for several issues of Immortal Iron Fist. When David Aja was starting to fall behind on the interior work, they asked me to do covers so he could focus on pages. My buddy Warren Simons was editing the book, and it was really cool stuff.
But getting to your question, that story has already been done – no one needs me to do it again. That was their version – of the multi-generational Iron Fist mantle with an epic, sprawling story with secondary characters and stuff. When I took on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, my goal is to rejuvenate him and reinvent the character itself. It would be a big mistake to simply take the last iteration and pick up from there.
My aim in Iron Fist: The Living Weapon was to do research on the character and find out his core. How do you sum up Iron Fist? It’s easy for someone like Spider-Man … “with great power comes great responsibility.” It’s easy with Superman – an alien son coming up in America. But with Iron Fist, it’s tricky; I wasn’t really aware of his original stories at first, but after I agreed to do the book I researched everything from the recent Immortal Iron Fist series back to the beginnings with Marvel Premiere #15. That early stuff is amazing, and after discovering it I found the core.
His origin from the 1970s is a pretty adult story. It’s about a little kid named Danny whose parents were murdered – ripped apart, actually – by wolves after a bad business betrayal in the Himalayas. Danny gets taken in by monks who train him to become a living weapon so one day he can go back and kill the people who murdered his parents. Years pass and after his training to be a living weapon is complete, they send him out into the world but at the last minute offer an alternative; stay in K’un Lun – Shangri-La, basically – and become an immortal god and live in peace and harmony. But Danny gave all that away – turned down immortality --- to return to Earth and kill the men responsible for his parents’ death.
That’s the coolest thing I ever read about Iron Fist – and I didn’t see that in Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker’s run. So that’s what I decided would be my way in; to re-investigate that choice Danny made, and show the consequences of that choice. Basically a kid being fueled by hatred, revenge, and bloody samurai vengeance for 10 years from childhood to adulthood, so he can avenge his parents’ death; I just found that so interesting. I can’t think of another Marvel hero fueled by that great a sense of revenge. By turning down godhood and immortality to avenge his parents, Danny chose death over life and that’s the key to Iron Fist: The Living Weapon: to re-investigate that story in a new way, and make it more accessible. For people who haven’t read his origin it’ll be a new way to enjoy it and understand the character, and for Iron Fist fans it offers new layers and insight to Rand.
Nrama: That brings me to my next question – how do you view Danny Rand himself, Iron Fist?
Andrews: I’ve always known about Iron Fist, and John Byrne’s work on him was memorable. But I didn’t know much about him on the inside. And that was a question I sought out an answer to for Iron Fist: The Living Weapon.
Danny Rand is this rich guy who comes back from K’un Lun as a living weapon, but what’s his deal? That’s why I was so drawn to his origin story. At first blush Danny Rand is a rich billionaire who has all these charities, trains kids in kung fu, and seems content and happy… but who is he? I didn’t know any guy like this in real life.
Only in re-investigating his origins did I find the key; he’s this guy whose first encounter with death was at such a young age – and with his parents no less – that he’s forced to find replacement parental figures, who train him to become a god, and he gives that up to come back to Earth for revenge and to be a man. So he comes back to this fortune and gets revenge, but there’s this layer that hasn’t been investigated since… and I found that interesting. What is it like for a ten year old boy to watch his mother torn apart by wolves? That’s crazy stuff, and it must stick with you – even after you get revenge. After seeing that Danny spent 10 years training to kill the person who did that to you, you realize that vengeance isn’t going to bring Danny back to normal. But from the outside, Danny hasn’t really dealt with those unresolved issues in a long time. He pushes it away by doing charity stuff, but it can still bubble up.
I’m the son of two therapists; if you don’t deal with things from your past, they come back for you. That’s what happens to Danny here in Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. He’s going to be dragged back into the circumstances of his first storyline; K’un Lun, death, his parents, and the choices he made including turning down immortality.
Nrama: You’re writing and drawing this, so I have to ask about Iron Fist’s look – and specifically the costume. What’s Iron Fist going to look like here?
Andrews: I think every time you reinvent a character, you also want to reinvent this visuals. For me, I try to key into the core elements of the costume. For Spider-Man, it’s the eyes, webbing, his emblem and the color of his suit – you can mix them up and come up with variations while still tying back to the classic version. That’s why Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man is so identifiable – it’s the classic costume, but he chooses what elements to do a little different and which ones to leave alone.
For Iron Fist, it’s important for me to be loyal to what his core is in my mind. For me, it’s his mask and his tattoo. So I don’t think you’re going to see him in his green tights per se, but the key elements I found viable were the mask and the tattoo. That’s his character.
I love martial arts and action movies, whether it’s Eastern of Western; I grew up with them, and I still love them to this day. And so visually you’ll see something a little more cinematic than the tights. The version you see on my pages for Iron Fist: The Living Weapon will make you think “Oh, that’s how you’d see him on the screen.” It’s a grounded, reality-based version that tries to stay true to the key visual components of who he is.
Nrama: Who will Iron Fist be up against here in his new solo series?
Andrews: Well, let me say this first – in many of his previous stories Danny’s come to have this host of partners, companions, team-mates and friends, but for Iron Fist: The Living Weapon that’s not how it’s going to go. I’m more interested in the idea of a lonely man – a man on his own against everything; one man overwhelmed by events around him. This new series isn’t about him and his friends coming together; it’s about one man stuck in a corner with blood on his hands, and he’s got to find out who he is on his own… on his own terms.
It’s a more traditional approach to a martial arts story. And as a visual artist, I find many parallels between the art of martial arts and doing art and illustration. You take an incredible history of technique and artists searching for their own techniques, and you imbue yourself with history and your own ideas. And it’s a very singular sport, and both art and martial art comes through your body. It’s not a team sport – you don’t play team kung fu. Its one man in a tournament, trying to find enlightenment by becoming the best there is. Sure you can collaborate in groups, but in the end it’s just one person drawing, one person typing, or one person fighting.
In terms of villains, my favorite kind of martial arts story is the idea of the lonely man put up against not just one character but hundreds, in overwhelming odds. There comes a point where he’s overwhelmed by his adversaries; you have to break him down to see how he rises up. It’s going to be classic – hordes of people are after Danny, and he has no escape. It’s a mix of his history, along with his future and his present. Everyone’s coming after Danny.
Nrama: With Iron Fist there has to be the near-mythical world in which he became a man: K’un Lun. Will it play a role here in Iron Fist: The Living Weapon?
Andrews: It’s going to be a major part of the story. Basically I’m taking man of the touchstones from his origin and applying it in new ways and showing new things; introducing parts of the early story maybe you didn’t know. What does K’un Lun mean to Danny? And then change that, and change what it did to him.
K’un Lun is a big part of who he is. Iron Fist was created by the death of his parents and the ten year quest to avenge that act by training and ultimately killing the man who did it. That’s crazy, but that’s who he is. But there’s another part – the K’un Lun part – that Danny was an orphan taken in by monks to K’un Lun. He was the ultimate outsider, but he got a point where he became Iron Fist and returned to Earth. But he returned to find himself an outsider again. So he’s an outsider at K’un Lun and an outsider on Earth. He’s caught between two worlds, and that’s worth investigating.
Nrama: You’re writing and drawing this, which can be grueling for a monthly schedule – how long to you plan to be on the series, and could you see yourself bringing in other artists to write for to give your drawing board a break?
Andrews: Possibly, but here’s the crazy thing; I’m not just writing and drawing it. I’m penciling, inking and coloring it. I’m doing the work of four artists, which is totally grueling. But I had an early start, and have three issues totally finished and the fourth should be done in a couple weeks. For Iron Fist I worked to find a way to not waste energy; very much like martial arts. So I changed my workflow, and now I draw completely digitally on a Cintiq so I don’t have to slow down to erase pages. The look I’m using is one I can do more quickly, and is designed to fit into a monthly schedule.
Nrama: That’s some real martial arts-style art technique you’re doing.
Andrews: Yes. I’ve never actually done a monthly comic series before; I’ve done miniseries, and self-contained little arcs. But Iron Fist: The Living Weapon isn’t just a five-issue story. I have a solid year of storytelling laid out, and I’m committed at least for the first year and then afterwards we’ll see how it goes. If I start slowing down, I might bring in some of the amazing colorists I like to work with. There are ways to catch up if I start to slip, but I enjoy doing it all myself if at all possible.
Doing everything from the writing on through to the coloring allows me to approach it more holistically. I draw while I write, and I rewrite while I’m drawing the pages – the entire time I’m pushing the story towards one ultimate goal. If you bring in other people, there can be a lot of surprises; good surprises and bad ones. “Oh, I wonder what John’s going to give me back today in inks?” “What’s Pete going to do in colors?” It’s surprising, and that can be cool and fun, but when you do every step yourself I think has the potential for being even more rewarding for the artist and the reader.
Nrama: Sounds like you’re all in, living and breathing comics. I haven’t seen your name around comics lately, but that’s because you’ve been busy directing films. You’re doing a sequel to Cabin Fever called Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, as well as a project with Gale Ann Hurd called The Hunted. What brought you back to write and draw an ongoing comic series of this scope?
Andrews: Well, I have a love of comics that goes back to my childhood. I grew up reading comics, but I also grew up making movies. In some ways it might be a split personality or lifestyle at least, but that’s me. I broke into comics first and that was my first real career, but soon after I broke into comics the film stuff started to become more serious. These days I find it about half and half.
When a film happens, I go off to direct it and I have to take a leave from comics. Directing a film is time-consuming; it takes about a year from beginning to end. So I have to leave, and it screws up my comic book plans I might’ve had. But that’s what I do.
Directing is amazing. I love it. It’s creatively satisfying to be one guy in charge of a team of hundred people below you pushing this machine to try to do something amazing. Every day you’re collaborating, talking to dozens of people to make your “vision” realized. For comic books it’s the complete opposite; you’re alone, isolated, and only talking to one or two people a day. It’s just about you and the work.
I love both; the yin and the yang of directing and doing comics. When I go off to do a movie, I really find myself missing the solitude and responsibility of doing comics; just to be able to do whatever you want. In comics if you want to do something extra, you can. If you want to draw a page with 1000 people with explosions and a lot of detail, you just do it. With movies, everything has a price tag. You have to deal with the machine, other people, the studios, the producers and the actors. Every day as a director you have to negotiate, to battle, to compromise. In comics, it’s mostly internal.
When my last movie Cabin Fever: Patient Zero was wrapping up, I was so excited and spoke with Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso about coming back. We talked about me possibly drawing someone else’s book at first. I loved working with Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and Zeb Wells in the past; I love working with great writers. But the film world is where I've been doing most my writing the past few years and screenplays take a long time to get made. I came back to Marvel after Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, I was really focused on writing something – writing a comic. Since my last major comics project I’ve done smaller things like AvX and A+X, and those kinds of projects reminded me how pure the comics medium is and how quick things can happen – and I wanted more of that.
So after I brought up the idea of writing something to Axel, he suggested I look into the Iron Fist character and see if I had any ideas. As I said earlier I was already aware of him, but after Axel’s nudge I began re-investigating him seriously. I spent two weeks reading and re-reading various Iron Fist stories to see how the character works, who he was, and then gave Axel a simple pitch – one paragraph. Axel was like, “This sounds great! Let me run it by the guys and see how they respond.” Axel came back pretty quick saying everyone was on board, so I then spent a full month just writing this giant document full of sketches, notes, and thoughts on the character. So I was ready to go.
Nrama: A lot of thought – how deep are you into planning the series long-term?
Andrews: I have a year of story already mapped out, with every issue kind of sketched in. It’s just so much fun to create: writing, drawing, inking, coloring. That’s why I love doing comics.
Nrama: In your film work you’re best known for horror – would you say this Iron Fist series has horror elements in it?
Andrews: Not purposely, but there’s definitely things I’m drawing – especially issue #4 – that are totally horrific.
To be honest, in films there’s more opportunities in the horror genre, so that’s where most of the work shows up. But I have an action movie I’ve been working on called The Hunted; it’s not horror, but has horror elements.
My favorite films aren’t horror themselves, but have elements of it. Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop and Total Recall, for example; they didn’t not shy away from blood or violence. James Cameron as well; his first film was Piranha II: The Spawning, and Terminator was essentially a slasher film but with a robot. David Fincher’s movies also have a horror sensibility, from Seven to The Game and on. Darren Aronofsky and Sam Raimi as well. I love visual filmmakers, and horror is a great way to get into film; it’s creative, its visual, and it’s visceral.
For Iron Fist there’s some horror to come, but it’s not intentional. When you handle a character with this amount of tragedy and death in their life, compounded with the mysticism, violence and revenge motifs, it’s a natural outgrowth. Things will definitely feel horrific for Danny, because we’re really going to put him through the ringer. By issue 4 he’ll be in bad shape and only getting worse. My goal is to beat him farther down than anyone has beaten him before, and see if he has the strength to come back up.
Nrama: Given your film background, and doing it so actively, could you see yourself merging your interest in movies and in comics by perhaps doing a feature or a short film for Marvel or another superhero studio? Maybe even direct an episode of the Iron Fist live-action series at Netflix?
Andrews: In the past I’ve always been scared about combining the two worlds I work in, film and comics. As I got into directed, I wanted to find a way to do it on my own terms – the way I did comics. Keep them separate. That kind of thinking makes you a little schizophrenic, but if you lean too much on one to do the other you get treated differently.
But now I’m at a point in my comics and directing careers. I’m a working director now, having just finished by second feature as a writer and director. I did a short for the ABCs of Death, and I’ve done TV work. I’m a working director and a working comic book artist, and The Hunted will be the first film I’ve done attempting to combine those sensibilities; to be me and not worry what people think.
The reasons Avengers did so well is because Joss Whedon is such a huge comic fan. But with something like Green Lantern, the lack of that hurt it immensely. You have people who don’t understand the comic book medium and don’t understand why people wouldn’t like it. For the right project, I’d do it. In the meantime I’m happy to write and direct movies, write and direct comics, and see what happens next.
Nrama: Any parting thoughts before I let you get back to the drawing board?
Andrews: Let me just say this: if you like stories about Danny Rand only when he has Power Man and his crazy friends, that’s not what I plan to do. My Iron Fist: The Living Weapon series is about one man who grew up in extraordinary circumstances who, fueled by rage, blood, death and vengeance, traded off immortality for vengeance but ultimately finding that hollow. Vengeance is a weapon that cuts both ways. That’s the story I’m telling: if you don’t deal with your past, your past is going to hunt you down.