Marvel's Power Man & Iron Fist has re-fashioned the two sometimes-throwback heroes for a modern age, and now writer David F. Walker and artist Sanford Greene are looking to double down and develop a villain who will grow to shake the foundations of the Marvel Universe above and beyond their one title together.
It all starts with November's Power Man & Iron Fist #10, the kick-off to a new arc titled "Harlem Burns" that aims to blend the history and mythology of real Harlem gangsters like Bumpy Johnson and Stephanie "Queenie" St. Claire with the burgeoning rogues gallery being developed for these two Marvel heroes.
So just who is involved in this impending Harlem turf war? Tombstone, Black Cat, Piranha Jones, Cornell Cottonmouth, Mr. Fish, Black Mariah, Cockroach Hamilton, and the aforementioned mystery villain they're intending to become one of Marvel's "most crucial villains."
Newsarama talked to the duo about this upcoming arc, as well as the current goings-on in the Civil War II tie-in arc that runs through October.
Newsarama: David, we're still a couple issues away but in November's #10 you and Sanford are starting a new "Harlem Burns" arc, delving deep into the aftermath of Civil War II. What can you say about this arc?
Sanford Greene: I’m drawing a lot of characters from the Marvel Universe that will be making an appearance in issue #10. It’s a lot of characters, a lot of action, and a lot of me cursing shaking my fist at David. Seriously though, there is a lot going on in this story, and it is all fun. For me, as an artist, I love the opportunity to tell a story; sometimes that story is through action, and sometimes it is through the emotion on a character's face. This has all of that.
David F. Walker: If you’re an old school fan of Luke Cage, or the original Power Man and Iron Fist series, this is for you. This is an homage to everything that made both of those series great. At the same time, if you’re new to this dynamic duo of Power Man and Iron Fist, you will find all kinds of interesting characters that have been around forever, but haven’t been used much in the last few decades. This was a story I was planning out before Civil War II came along, but that event served as a perfect lead-in to what we’re doing here, which is showing a gang war to control Harlem.
I’m a history buff, when I wrote the novel Shaft’s Revenge, I did a lot of research about the gang wars to control the streets of Harlem. All of that stuff ignited my imagination, and I wanted to get into something that could really draw from the tales of Bumpy Johnson, Stephanie “Queenie” St. Claire, and the Forty Thieves Gang. I also went back to the old Harlem detective novels by Chester Himes, which are pure literary gold.
At the time, I never imagined I’d be able to direct that creative energy into a Power Man and Iron Fist story, because I never imagined I’d be writing this series.
Nrama: "Harlem Burns" is a powerful phrase, full of history and fear. What are hoping to do with this story?
Walker: The first goal is always to give the reader something they can enjoy. This series has a very eclectic mix of fans – some are readers who’ve been around for a long time, like myself, and then there’s the folks that are new to the very specific duo of Power Man and Iron Fist. And I may be going out on a limb here, but I suspect there will be even more new readers once the Luke Cage series drops on Netflix.
Keeping all of that in mind, I felt like this particular story needed to really swing for the fences, and find ways to resonate with a lot of different readers. That’s not to say that this is going to be “all things for all readers,” because those tend to fail.
But at the end of the day, “Harlem Burns” is a complex story, filled with lots of old, familiar characters, in ways they’ve never been see before. This is about a gang war to control Harlem and part of the Bronx, but it is also about the unseen history of some characters that have never had much time in the spotlight.
Greene: From the very start of this series, David and I talked about one thing: creating the best comic book we could possibly do. It is what I hoped to do when we started, and it is what I hope to do now. I want readers to be entertained, to feel the excitement and the humor, and the drama this story has to offer. For me, it is always difficult to finish an issue, because I always see little things I want to make better, or that I want to tweak. But with some issues more than others, recently I feel like I can walk away knowing I did a solid a job of storytelling.
Nrama: Who are Danny and Luke going to be up against in this new arc starting in November?
Walker: Okay, are you ready for this? We’ve got Tombstone, Piranha Jones, Cornell Cottonmouth, Mr. Fish, Black Mariah, Cockroach Hamilton, Black Cat, and someone that will blow everyone’s mind – a character you’d never expect to see in Power Man and Iron Fist, who is going to become one of the most crucial villains in the Marvel Universe. And everyone is vying to control Harlem.
Years ago, I noticed that there were a bunch of black criminals in Marvel, who all have their teeth filed into fangs – Tombstone, Piranha Jones, Cornell Cottonmouth, and some others. Part of this story is about how they all came to have fangs, and the history between them.
For instance – do you know who’s been carrying a torch for Black Mariah for years?
Does anyone know how Piranha Jones and Cornell Cottonmouth are related?
And what about Cletus Evans, formerly known as Disco Devil, who was introduced during the Civil War II tie-in?
This is an epic tale of villainy, redemption, and the lack of honor among thieves. And in the middle of it all, we’ve got Luke and Danny kicking a lot of ass.
Nrama: Sanford, I've noticed how you've tweaked previous costumes for your work on the book - do you have any ideas or intentions for any of these David has brought up?
Greene: I have ideas for all of them, and those ideas all involve making them look as new and as exciting as possible.
Have you ever seen Mr. Fish? The guy is so freaky-looking, and I couldn’t help myself but to add a bit more shine to the freak.
So many of these older villains from the original Power Man and Iron Fist series look completely unflattering. From the very beginning, we talked about how to update them, and in some cases, move them away from the more negative stereotypes. I’m really happy with the changes that were made to Black Mariah, and I feel the same way about Mr. Fish and Cottonmouth Cornell, and all the others you’ll see in this issue.
So cool exciting stuff is coming!
Nrama: David, you mentioned a new version of a previous Marvel character. Can either of you elaborate on him?
Greene: He’s different than he was in other comics, but not so much in how he looks, as in how he acts. This is where the collaborative nature of comics really comes into play. David is writing this character in a way he’s never been written. My designs will be familiar to a lot of fans, but not the characters behavior. So, even though we’re seeing him look familiar, he’s acting different – the body language is different, the emotions are different. When I think we’re done introducing this person, the Marvel Universe will never be the same.
Nrama: And this arc will bring you to the end of your first year on Power Man & Iron Fist. What have you learned about the characters so far?
Walker: Luke and Danny are just incredibly fun to work with. I think of them as real people, and as I plot out the stories, it’s as if I’m talking to them, asking them how they feel about what is unfolding.
People talk about how Luke and Danny are like brothers, but the more I work on the series, the more complexity I see between them. Danny is a little brother to Luke, but Luke is more of a stepfather to Danny. In fact, I see Luke Cage as the stepfather everyone always wanted. Luke is a leader, even though he doesn’t always see it.
And Danny is loyal beyond question. Some readers were having trouble figuring out my take on Danny – they thought he was too goofy. But that goofiness was a mask to protect the darker side we see emerging in Civil War II. My biggest inspiration in crafting Danny was Lloyd Dobler, the character John Cusack played in Say Anything. Lloyd is happy-go-lucky, but there’s a dark side to him, a cynical side, and you see that he is really living a life of forced optimism – being optimistic is his shield against the world. That’s how I wanted to portray Danny. As for Luke, he’s inspired by three people in particular – Brian Michael Bendis, who is like a brother to me, my cousin Sean, who’s my best friend, and my grandfather, who helped raise me, and was the strongest black man I have ever known.
Nrama: Some recent issues have teased a divide between Luke and Danny with Civil War II going on. I know you don't want to spoil anything, but how would you describe their friendship right now, and where they differ?
Greene: I think their relationship is stronger than it has ever been. I read the script to #10, and I remember thinking that this is Luke and Danny at their closest. There was more reluctance in their teaming up, at least on Luke’s part, but that’s all gone now. They are a team.
Walker: Civil War II is going to make their bond stronger than ever, and set them on a course as heroes that will define for quite some time. When this is all said and done, they will be redefining what it means for them personally to be heroes. We’ll still see them bicker like they’ve done, because that dynamic is fun, but when it comes to the goals of Heroes For Hire, they’re on the same page.
Nrama: This is the first time Newsarama has talked with you since the Iron Fists and Jessica Jones series have been announced. How are you talking with the editors and other creators in 'sharing' these characters in your ensemble?
Greene: It’s a pretty collaborative effort with me, David, and editor Jake Thomas. I’ll talk to David about a character that I think would be cool, and he’ll try to add them to the script. Sometimes, like with #10, he adds them all, and I’m supposed to draw fifty characters in one panel.
Walker: Those conversations have begun, but for me, this is all about other creators crafting compelling stories that aren’t suited for a Power Man and Iron Fist story. There’s only so much real estate in any given issue of a comic, so there’s only so much story you can tell, and so many characters you can have appear in a panel or on a page or in an issue.
There are things I’ve wanted to do with Jessica Jones, but it didn’t fit within the framework of Power Man and Iron Fist. I don’t think some readers fully understand that. The reason Misty Knight hasn’t been in this series that much is because she’s doing her thing in Captain America: Sam Wilson. Same with Jessica Jones – Bendis has got some amazing stuff lined up for her.
Of course I want her in my book, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I guarantee, whatever Bendis does in the new Jessica Jones title is going to be far more interesting than the few pages I’m able to carve out for her.
Nrama: And by the time this new arc comes out, the Luke Cage Netflix series will be out. What's your position on that series - any inside knowledge, or outside impression of what's to come?
Greene: First off, if you’ve seen all the main trailers that should set you up for how incredible this series will be. They even paid homage to one of my all-time favorite hip hop groups, GANG STARR, by naming each episode after one of their songs! I cannot tell you how much that brought out every form of my inner geek when that was announced! We hope to announce some other cool tidbits the weeks ahead. David and I were doing a signing in San Diego, and we were acting like a couple of kids when we talked about the trailer. Actually, he acted like a kid. I’m an adult.
Walker: All I’ve seen is what the rest of the world has seen. I’m just excited to set aside an entire day, where all I do is watch the show, eat, and take breaks to go to the bathroom. I’ve been so entertained by all the Netflix shows, and I’m a fan of Cheo Coker, so this is like the countdown to my birthday.
I will say that I saw a scene of Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stokes – just one scene – and I immediately rewrote Cornell Cottonmouth’s part in the upcoming “Harlem Burns” storyline. I don’t know what the show has in store for Cornell, but that one scene was so cold-blooded, I knew I had to do something special with my version of Cornell. And that speaks to the what I suspect might be a similarity between the comic and the show, which is that we are both mining the original comics for hidden treasure.
There’s been no contact between any of us, but we all read the same material, and I think we all saw that there was some really great stuff that had never been explored. I loved Luke Cage growing up, but let’s be honest: his rogues gallery, while being flamboyant, was pretty underdeveloped, and in some cases, steeped in problematic tropes. No character says that more than Black Mariah.
Now, I don’t know what the show has in store for their version of Mariah, but I suspect Cheo and his team recognized the opportunity to reinvent her as much as Sanford Greene and I did.