Marvel's Iron Fist has a television series in his future, but before that the publisher wanted to redefine who Danny Rand was -- and Kaare Andrews did just that.
In the recently concluded Iron Fist: The Living Weapon 12-issue series, the writer/artist revisited Rand's origin and found new life -- and new characters -- in the tale of an orphan kid who grew up in K'un L'un.
With the second collected edition on shelves now, Andrews spoke at length with Newsarama about his objections going into the series and his observations now that it's done. In the conversation, the Canadian artist talks about his original plans for the ending, and even shows off the layouts for those pages, along with the reason why he changed it to the unconventional finale that it was.
Newsarama: Iron Fist: The Living Weapon is over, and the final trade is on shelves now. How do you feel about it all now that it's done, Kaare?
Kaare Andrews: It feels great! For me it was a big accomplishment. It’s about twice as much content as I’ve ever produced for a single story. It came out on a regular schedule and it really proved to myself that I could do a creator owned book and not fall behind. I feel like I found the paradigm to doing it all.
And I may be the only creator at Marvel to ever write/pencil/ink/color/covers a twelve issue run on a book. Many of my favorite creators have written and drawn substantial runs but I can’t think of any others that did the whole thing, you know? History, baby!
Nrama: You mentioned to me earlier that the ending of Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #12 wasn't your original plan. What was the original ending, and why did you change it?
Andrews: I originally intended a more downbeat ending. I had a tone and a feeling, an emotional result I was going for from the start. I knew how that ending should feel and present itself, the point I was trying to make—and every page I created was building towards that feeling. But I found that by the time I got to the ending, I had already attained that thing I was looking for. And realized that the actual ending was a sort of enlightenment or reflection, a change, a response to coming out of that target ending. True creative growth.
And it was a real creative lesson to embrace what the story was telling me, what it needed. You know, I just finished Mad Men, and not to put my work in that category, but I recognized a similar thing in how they ended that series. That final moment with Don Draper wasn’t quite what you expected but it was also entirely justified and felt like sort of a new beginning—not an ending. I wonder if something similar happened to them? It felt strangely familiar.
There is a real creative balance between protecting your initial vision and challenging it. I try to adhere to the tenant, “To work hard enough that it becomes effortless”. Because to challenge half formed ideas is to never finish anything. You have to allow yourself to create with abandon, without intent. And then you have to look at what you’ve done and ask, “does this feel right?”
Conversely, I remember re-reading that last issue and seeing five pages I wanted to redraw but it was simply time to move on, to allow a few edges to remain rough. To admit it was over and turn the lights out.
Nrama: Speaking about #12, it was kind of an atypical finale in terms of comic books. Some armchair critics might say, "not enough fight scenes," but how did you come to the idea of doing a downbeat ending?
Andrews: Creatively speaking, part of Iron Fist was exploring story structure. I’ve never been a fan of the 70’s style movie ending, like in The Mechanic, where the movie just sort of abruptly stops because the antagonist is defeated. I think it was a shocking and courageous device in its time, but ultimately it feels unfulfilling. I’ve also grown a little bored with the traditional film "Three Act" structure. I feel like I’ve been down that road before.
If you look at Shakespeare, he employed a five-act structure, placing the climax in Act 4. He would give an entire act afterwards to wrap up the story and deliver the morality of the play. Iron Fist wasn’t my attempt to do Shakespeare but in a way, it was.
The external climax happened by Danny fighting a literal god in #11 and the internal climax resolved itself by confronting Brenda in #12. I enjoyed how that paced itself out and was surprised by how well the issue itself was received. I really try to push the medium of comics at all times. Sometimes I succeed more than other times but it’s not enough to just figure out how to do something one way again and again. That is creative suicide. There’s a reason why we use the word "rest" in reference to the dead. You need to keep growing or whither away and die.
Nrama: You spent 12 issues with the series -- do you see more of yourself in Danny Rand now than when you started, or less?
Kaare Andrews: Ha, good question. I guess any author must imbue their characters with themselves or there is no underlying truth to the work. I see parts of myself in every character in Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, from Brenda to Wendell to Fooh. But I try to keep it a creative process and not a process of narcissism— at least not entirely. I mean, I have theories that every artist is in some way a narcissist. That there is a core drive to share your efforts and have people respond to them. That it might mean something to people.
Nrama: The idea of changing Iron Fist into being a father figure of sorts is interesting. How did you come to that idea?
Andrews: It was many things but also simply the next step. There is a thing that every martial artist goes through, the journey from student to master. And masters need students. It was a cycle that you can also seen in Sparrow’s transition from slave girl—to Thunderer—to Yu-Ti. Danny had avoided any real growth by running back to the world of man for mortal vengeance and just staying there. He never returned to K’un L'un in any real way after that. And giving him a student of his own to train on Earth was a reflection of growth, change and accepted responsibility.
The most interesting part of the Ed Brubaker/ Matt Fraction/ David Aja run was this mythology of Iron Fist. From one to the next. I think it’s a big part of what made that series work for me and this was another way to investigate it.
I also became really interested in having a character that was a dramatic foil to young Danny. A young monk, Pei, who was sent to train in the world of the West, in opposition to the journey that Danny took. I wanted to end this story in a way that wasn’t just a return to status quote.
Nrama: The reveal about Brenda acts to draw a line between what Danny Rand was at the beginning of this series and at the end. Was changing him one of the big goals for you in this series?
Andrews: Every story needs conflict and every conflict leads to resolution. That conflict is at its best when it is a physical manifestation of the character’s inner turmoil. By slaying the dragon, you put some personal demons to rest. And the whole Brenda character sort of burped itself up as I researched Danny and started to identify what that inner conflict might be.
Brenda was a way to look at the events that created Danny and give them another perspective. See what happens and two opposing reactions crash into one another. My favorite moment in the series is probably the final page with Danny and Brenda. Creatively, it felt like an earned pay-off. And I tried to let that image speak for itself. To sum up the whole point of 12 issues of story in a single panel.
Nrama: Do you think the advancements you've made will stick in Iron Fist's next appearances?
Andrews: The great thing about comics is you never know what’s coming next! You know? Every new creator has his own take. But I tried to leave Danny with enough potential that the reader could continue his story in their daydreams, that the book felt like it was still going on in the background even if new issues weren’t on the stands. I think there is a lot of potential there for whoever is next at bat. We’ll only see what he/she swings at…
Nrama: Speaking of next, could you see yourself returning to the Iron Fist character at some point down the road?
Andrews: I would love to. I really would. I have grown to know this character more intimately than I considered possible. I’m not sure when the time would be right. When I’d have another story idea or another slot available in my workload. But it’s something I’d be open to.