When I was eleven, twelve, and thirteen-going-on-fourteen, one comic book I had to get every month was Power Man and Iron Fist. I still have an unbagged stack of PM&IF books, all ratty and worn from reading and re-reading. In fact, I took them out the other day and read them. I found that they were clunky—very 1970s Marvel. And with the recent takes on these same characters by titans like Bendis, Brubaker, and Fraction, it’s hard to admire the work from the past. Yet at the same time, the title will always hold a place in my heart as one of the most fun superhero books of the late 1970s/early 1980s. During that period, Luke Cage went from being a black power cipher to a character with depth, and Iron Fist went from being a lame attempt to capitalize on the Bruce Lee craze to a person with an actual philosophy of life. Oh, and Luke Cage always got his fine yellow silk shirt ripped.
Every issue. Humor, action, and colorful villains — although the book never tried to break new ground, it was always a great example of what comic books should be: A place to escape into. It ran for 75 issues, from Power Man and Iron Fist #50 (when the old “Power Man” title got renamed for the duo) to #125, one of only three double-size issue in the entire series.
Recently, Marvel announced that Fred Van Lente will write a “Shadowland: Power Man” miniseries that will reteam the duo, followed by a 2011 series that will launch a new Power Man who will team up with the “old” Iron Fist.
All of the above is just to say that this week’s top 10 is . . .
THE TOP 10 “CLASSIC” POWER MAN AND IRON FIST STORIES
This is stories of them together as a team, not in their individual capacities, and it’s stories with Power Man, not “Luke Cage.”
10. Riding Shotgun (PM&IF 92) (1983). Busiek and Cowan team up, and the duo fights Hammerhead, Man Mountain Marko and the Eel. Great villains, and a guest spot by Human Torch.
9. Stanley’s War/1985 (PM&IF 115-116) (1985). As sales began to slump, John Byrne came aboard as cover artist and did a terrific job with this, a rare two-parter from a series that was famous for being done in one. This story, written by the dependable Jim Owsley and drawn by the underrated Mark Bright, was a little heavier than most: The team get trapped in a base in the Arctic circle with a crazed gatekeeper and a nuke, Luke Cage goes crazy for food, and Danny meditates his way safe from frostbite. Snowy fun!
8. Death Scream of the Warhawk/ The Vampire Strikes Back (PM&IF 76). This one was fun because it was two separate stories, with a split cover by Larry Hama and Jack Abel. The stories, created by Mike Barr, Chris Claremont, and Frank Miller, are pretty simple. Iron Fist fights a hitman and Luke frustrates a vampire who breaks his fangs on his skin. Luke beats the dude with garlic bread. No joke. Which is an illustration of what made this book so damn fun.
7. El Aguila Has Landed (PM&IF 58) (1979). Mostly I dig this because it’s got a dude with an electric sword. How cool is that? El Aguila is the Spanish version of Power Man, an antihero who tries to keep the streets clear of drug dealers and other miscreants. The boys meet him and fight him (because that’s what everyone did in the 70s-80s), then team up with him and fight someone else, then go see a movie together. All in a day’s work.
6. The Fury Below (PM&IF 85) (1982). Denny O’Neil was probably the best writer of the series, and in this one he and the terrific Keith Pollard take on The Mole Man. I’m a sucker for MM stories.
5. Soul Games (PM&IF 99-100) (1983). Power Man and Iron Fist was never “deep,” and it rarely exposed readers to much K’un-Lun mythology—which is why Brubaker and Fraction could reinvent Iron Fist so completely in their Immortal Iron Fist title. But in this two-issue (#100 was also giant sized) we learn more about the origins of both Luke and Danny and get glimpses of Wendell Rand, Lei King, Bushmaster, and other characters who would reappear later in that Immortal series. Written by Kurt Busiek, penciled by Ernie Chan, and inked by Mike Mignola.
4. Revenge! (PM&IF 84) (1982). Written by Mary Jo Duffy and illustrated by Denys Cowan–I forgot how many great creators worked on this series!—this one featured Sabertooth and Constrictor, who stalk Misty Knight but instead attack Luke’s vapid model girlfriend Harmony. Yes, it’s a little inexplicable that Sabertooth, who has the same super-senses as Wolverine, is susceptible to the “all blacks look alike” cliché, but remember—this was back in the ‘80s, before Sabes was really well thought out. It ends, as many of their issues did, with the boys eating pizza.
3. Paper Chase (Daredevil 178) (1982). Part of Frank Miller’s classic Daredevil run, this represents the first time DD and the boys met up. These three characters would share many adventures in the future, including during Bendis’ run on Daredevil and in the current Shadowlands series, but this was one of the few instances where they met while Luke was still using his Power Man handle. In this story, the boys are hired (by Foggy, who steals their last slice of pizza) to bodyguard Matt, who keeps ditching them so he can pursue evidence against the Kingpin. One of Miller’s funnier issues, and a great done in one.
2. The Untouchable (PM&IF 90) (1983). With a cover inked by Bill Sienkiewicz and interior art by Denys Cowan, this story (one of the first assignments of future legend Kurt Busiek), is, hands down, the best fight story of 1983. The guys go up against Unus the Untouchable, and have to figure out how to beat a guy whose personal forcefield can’t be breached by Luke’s brute force or even Iron Fist’s “iron fist.” Fantastic teamwork, excellent character writing—a truly great done in one.
1. Freedom! (PM&IF 50) (1978). The first issue under the new title, and the third part of the trilogy in which Luke and Danny met and fell in love. Created by Claremont and Byrne, the tale told is of Power Man’s party (celebrating being cleared of all charges that had led to his prior stint in prison) with his lawyer, Jeryn Hogarth (one of my all-time favorite side characters), and other assorted guests. The fiesta is interrupted by Stiletto and Discus, and all kinds of fun ensue, involving Misty Knight, Coleen Wing, and, of course, Iron Fist. Luke also meets future lady-in-distress Harmony Young.