Marvel’s premiere best friends are getting a new series as part of Marvel’s All-New All-Different line-up after years working with other teams. Luke Cage, aka Power Man, and Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, are back together and taking to the streets to bust up some crime. Comicosity had the chance to hash it out with creative team David Walker and Sandford Greene, discussing the cultural significance of Power Man and Iron Fist and also their creative process and plans for the series.
Allen Thomas: What was your reaction when you found out you’d be working on Power Man and Iron Fist?
David Walker: I thought it was a practical joke, orchestrated by Brian Bendis. We’ve been friends for about 15 years, and he knows how much I wanted to do this book. For about three days, he kept asking me, “Has anyone from Marvel called you?” – so I knew something was up. When the call came from editor Jake Thomas, I really thought it was a joke. I was grocery shopping at the time, and I just kind of wandered away from my cart, like I was in a daze. To be honest, I’m still in a daze.
Sanford Greene: I’d been talking about working with these two characters forever. Several years ago, I did some drawings of them, there were really well received on the Internet, but it seemed like that might be the extent of all I ever got to do. Whenever I would talk to Axel Alonso, I’d drop little subtle hints by saying things like, “YOU know, I really want to draw a Power Man and Iron Fist book.” To his credit, he took me seriously, and when the time came to launch the book, he reached out to me. It was like getting a call saying you’d won the lottery.
AT: What do you feel this series bring to the table in terms of diversity and representation?
DW: Well, the two most obvious answers are that it is a book with a co-lead that is African American, and it is being done by a creative team that is also African American. You’d think that this wouldn’t be so uncommon, but in terms of mainstream books, I don’t think there’s been a team on a book like this since Felipe Smith and Damion Scott were on Ghost Rider, which seemed to fly under some people’s radar. Before that, I can’t recall any recent teams like this. You had Priest and Bright on Quantum and Woody, and the cats at Milestone, and there are some great indie creators. But in the mainstream? Not a lot of us on the frontlines. As for what it means for this series, I want to be clear on one thing: Sanford and I are on this book because we are good at what we do. This isn’t tokenism, or some affirmative action thing—me and Mr. Greene can hold it down with the best of them. We just also happen to be black. And what that means is we bring a little extra flavor to the recipe, because we’re aware of the spice that’s been missing. I can say, without hesitation, and with all humility, Sanford and I are creating a book that is for all comic fans. At the same time, there are little moments, here and there, that are for “us.” And by “us,” I mean those black fans that have spent their lives reading comics starring predominantly white heroes, created by predominantly white creators, and have felt a bit left out—a bit like this world isn’t completely for us, and that we can be outside observers, but we aren’t really meant to play. Sanford and I are here to make sure everyone has a good time.
SG: David and I have talked about this, because we want to make sure that this isn’t one of those books that looks like black characters or characters of color are an afterthought. We see these comics all the time—set in places like New York City, and there’s never a single black person in the background. Or maybe there’s one, but that’s it. When was the last time you were in New York City, and didn’t see any black people, or Asian people, or Latino people? If nothing else, this series is going to make people say, “Hey, this looks kind of like the real world, only with superheroes.”
AT: What is it like being Black men at the helm of one of the few headlining Black men (and his White bff) in comics?
DW: For me, it is an honor and a responsibility that I take seriously. The heart and soul of this series is about friendship. At our core, we are all human beings. If we can get past all the superficial identifiers that are used to make us appear different, we are all very much the same. Race, religion, politics—these are all dividers that work to subvert our basic humanity. For me, writing this book is a reminder of the universal humanity of friendship, and how it defies basic identifiers and ideologies that keep us apart. The significance of Sanford and I doing a book about friendship is that friendship is driven by humanity, and humanity is something often deprived of black people. Our dehumanization is a holdover from the days of slavery, and when we demonstrate that we understand the true nature of friendship, we are both asserting and demonstrating our humanity. This series is us showing the world that true friendship transcends race.
SG: For me, it is all about drawing the best comic I can draw. I come at that as an artist, first and foremost. When I’m home drawing, I’m not necessarily thinking, “How can I draw this as a black man?” I’m thinking, “How can I draw this as an artist?” Does that make sense? Yes, I’m a black man, but I’m also an artist, and those two co-exist, but Marvel didn’t hire me to be a black man, they hired me to be an artist. Do I take my role as an artist and as a black man seriously? Of course I do. I know that there may be some people who consider me to be a role model, but if I’m going to be a role model that’s worth anything, my work has to stand on its own.
AT: Luke and Danny have a bevy of awesome supporting characters so I have to ask: Will the amazing and asskicking Misty Knight be making an appearance?
DW: Short answer: Yes. Slightly more complicated answer: I don’t know when just yet. Misty has been playing a supporting role in Nick Spencer’s Captain America (which I love by the way), and there’s always details that need to be worked out. But honestly, you can’t do a Power Man and Iron Fist book and not have Misty Knight and Colleen Wing show up. So, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
SG: Every few days I send David a list of characters I want to draw. Misty is at the top of a very long list. I’d love to draw her, and I’m sure I will. But I’ve got to be honest, I really want to draw Doc Samson. I love that guy. And David loves Wyatt Wingfoot. The question is can he come up with a story, co-starring Doc Samson and Wyatt Wingfoot, that Marvel will approve, and we’ll both be really happy.
AT: It’s been a trying couple (hundred) of years for Black people and other marginalized people in America. Will current events show up in some way and what themes do you want to explore through the series?
DW: If you look at the history of America since the end of the Civil War (the real one, not the Marvel one), I think you’ll find that the current events that plague the black community have been around for a very long time. By nature of who I am, there will be themes that make it into this series, but I’m not here to preach, and the vast majority of fans buying comics don’t want to be preached to. They want to be entertained. My job, as a writer, is to find a balance of entertainment and poignancy that resonates with readers. The first step in that is making sure Luke Cage is afforded a level of humanity that many other black characters are denied. Luke has been fortunate in that there have been many writers in recent years that wanted to see more from him than had been seen in the past. He was loved for a certain set of reasons when he first appeared, but as a character he has grown and evolved in ways that can be considered unique in the world of comics. I hope to help him and Danny grow just a little bit more.
DW: How do I answer that without spoilers? I know there are things I would love to do with these characters that Marvel will never greenlight. But what I know I can do, and what I will do, is explore the greater meaning of friendship. We can jokingly call it “bromance,” but I think that belittles what it is really about. Men have trouble expressing love for each other without it becoming either something we joke about, or become afraid of because we’re worried it says something about our sexuality. It’s as if saying, “I love you” to another man has to be followed by a punch in the arm to assert our heterosexuality, or we need to say, “I love you…but not in the gay way.” One of my best friends died five years ago. It was one of the most devastating things I’ve ever experienced, and I realized that part of what has made it so difficult was that I never told him I loved him. That’s not what heterosexual men say to each other—even though he was one of my closest friends. I want to take Danny and Luke to a place where they can say to each other, “I love you,” and have it be nothing more than two friends being honest with each other, where it has nothing to do with sexuality, but everything to do with loyalty, empathy, and the purity of caring about another human being.
AT: I’m a fan of the subtle differences in your art for Power Man and Iron Fist. How would you describe the aesthetic you’re using for this series?
SG: I’m a big fan of animation, which I think shows in my work. I try to bring a sense of motion to the action, and facial expressions, that you see it animation. I don’t ever want my art to seem static or posed, I want it to seem like it is moving, even though it actually is static. I’m bringing an aesthetic of distinctive difference to the characters, which is influenced by animation. A lot of times in comics, characters have similar physical shapes – similar body language – to the extent you can’t really tell them apart if there were just silhouettes. I want to see a true sense of character and distinctive looks. You should be able to tell Luke and Danny apart, even if they are just silhouettes. This is almost as important as being able to understand how their bodies move, or to read the emotion on their faces, or in the body language. My job is to tell as much of a story as I can visually.
AT: What artistic influences did you draw from for this series?
SG: There are a lot of artists who have inspired me over the years. I’m a big fan of Billy Graham, who only did a few issues of Power Man back in the day, but those really left an impression on me. Plus Michael Golden, Milton Caniff and Larry Stroman to name a few. Larry was something of a mentor to me. But to be honest, there are so many artists out there that really speak to me, that it feels weird just mentioning a few, and it goes beyond comics. Toshihiro Kawamoto, the character designer for the anime series Cowboy Bebop, is someone who comes to mind as a significant influence outside of American comics.
Power Man and Iron Fist by David Walker and Sanford Greene will hit shelves and digital stores on February 17th.