Marvel’s New Iron Fist is One of Their Best Updates in Years
Since Miles Morales debuted in the Ultimate Universe back in 2011 and slowly became a household name, Marvel’s had no shortage of new, younger characters take on the names of established legacy heroes like Iron Man and Thor. Each new hero has had attention grabbing headlines, and for many of them—like Sam Wilson’s Captain America or Jane Foster’s Thor—the diversity is very much The Point of their existence, implicitly or otherwise. And over time, fans of these newer characters have been rewarded, as many have or will soon grace the MCU with their presence in the coming years.
The next hero to receive a modern update is Iron Fist, a character who could probably use it more than most. Once he was announced to be receiving his own Netflix series, many fans were hoping the character of Danny Rand would be played by an Asian actor, if only because the idea of a white boy being great at kung fu raises some eyebrows. While Finn Jones’ casting was certainly far from the only problem with Iron Fist, it didn’t exactly help the Netflix-Marvel enterprise, which would later become known for its inability to really do anything with its limited supply of Asian characters. Still, that Iron Fist’s second season ended with Jessica Henwick’s scene-stealing Colleen Wing becoming the new Fist indicated that the show was listening to its critics and wanted to embrace the idea of a legacy mantle. But the show was canceled before we could see that play out, and it doesn’t seem like Henwick’s due back for a return like Netflix co-stars Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio anytime soon.
Danny has been the Iron Fist of the primary Marvel Universe since Roy Thomas and Gil Kane first introduced him in 1974, but the mantle has a long in-universe legacy behind it, and more Fists have been revealed throughout the character’s near 50-year comics history. Most of those Fists have been his predecessors, including one who was part of the prehistoric Avengers. And his successors have been short term, like Pei—a teenage girl who was the co-lead of Comixology’s Immortal Iron Fists back in 2017—and very briefly Okoye, towards the end of the recent Heart of the Dragon miniseries. In it, Danny and Pei transferred their powers to her so she could save the world, after which she relinquished the power so the Iron Fist cycle could begin anew.
With the MCU now having managed to secure a big name Asian hero in the form of Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi, you can practically see how Iron Fist’s new solo comic—by writer Alyssa Wong, artists Michael Yg and Sean Chen, inker Victor Olazaba, and colorist Jay David Ramos—is trying to right the ship even further. Picking up the title of the Living Weapon is Shanghai teen Lin Lie, who breaks the mold of recent teen heroes like Miles, Robbie Reyes, and Kamala Khan by starting out as an original character before transitioning to a legacy hero. Introduced as the superhero Sword Master in 2019 as part of a collaboration between Marvel and NetEase, Lin Lie was previously relegated to event tie-ins, the Agents of Atlas series by Greg Pak, Nico Leon, and Gang Hyuk Lim; and a solo comic by Pak, Shuizhu, and artist Gunji.
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Those who are already fans of the character are no doubt pleased to see him boosted to a new codename, but newcomers won’t be confused if Iron Fist is their first time with the kid. In the aftermath of a tie-in comic during the recent Death of Doctor Strange event, Lin Lie was saved from death by being granted the powers of the Iron Fist by its source, the dragon Shou-Lao. Now living in K’un L’un, he and his friend Mei Min work together to reacquire the shards of Lin Lie’s Fuxi Sword, a family heirloom previously used to halt the return of Chinese war god Chiyou.
All of that would be a solid setup for an Iron Fist miniseries, but what helps Lin Lie stand out is how Wong, Yg, and Chen have smartly managed to make him feel like a natural extension of the Iron Fist legacy instead of a younger carbon copy of the established hero. Being an outsider has always been a part of the hero’s legacy, and the new angle here is that since he didn’t acquire Shou-Lao’s powers through a tournament like other Iron Fists, some of K’un Lun’s people consider Lin Lie a thief who stole a power they consider rightfully theirs. Being a formidable hero doesn’t help his case; if anything, learning how to fight from various Asian Marvel heroes like Shang-Chi and White Fox make him even more unworthy in their eyes. (Yg and Chen’s art do a great job of showcasing his tutelage while also giving him a more agile, furious move set compared to other martial artists.)
And unlike other teen heroes in the Marvel Universe, his support system is incredibly slim, largely by his own choice. Whenever he’s in the normal world to grab sword shards and fight demons, he avoids trying to reconnect with any of the friends he’s made over the years. He also actively pushes away a potential mentor in the form of Danny, who refreshingly isn’t at all upset that someone’s borrowing his old codename and just wants to provide help to a kid who clearly needs it. Despite all that, Lin Lie is actually fairly well adjusted for his circumstances, Wong writes him as such a determined, well-meaning kid that it’s easy to root for him.
The unorthodox way that Lin Lie became an Iron Fist is also the book’s most interesting conceit. Shards of Lin Lie’s sword are embedded in his hands, meaning that he can’t simply call upon the power of Shou-Lao anytime he wants. In the two issues released thus far, his Fist glitches out while fighting demons, and outside of battle, he openly admits that using his hands gives him “constant, unbearable agony.” Big Two superheroes are no stranger to their powers coming with drawbacks, but it’s a more raw form of vulnerability than we typically get, and it goes a long way in making Lin Lie compelling and sympathetic. In the moments where he’s able to push through the pain and summon the Fist, or is being trained by Mei Min and K’un L’un’s Thunderer Yu-Ti, you can see that he’s got the makings of a great Iron Fist.
Like other teen heroes brought onto legacy mantles, it may take time for Lin Lie to take off and headline either his own solo MCU project or turn up in someone else’s story. But Wong, Yg, and Chen have built a strong foundation for the character—one that’ll hopefully lead to bigger, greater adventures in the future to come.
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