Friday, September 07, 2018

Night of the Dragon (Marvel)
Marvel Team-Up #63 When: November 1977
Why: Chris Claremont How: John Byrne

The Story So Far...
A mysterious malcontent has come to plague Iron Fist's existence -- attacking when he least expects it in a style reminiscent of his old teacher's!

The most recent ambush left Iron Fist with his lifeforce partially drained! The lethal technique is enough to push him to disappear into weeks of hard martial arts training -- readying himself for an opponent deadlier than any he's faced!

When a written challenge finally arrives on his luxurious doorstep - Danny Rand is forced to postpone a homestead photo-spread with Daily Bugle photographer Peter Parker. He takes a cab ride toward destiny, unaware that the unassuming camera man is in fact a former ally - the friendly neighborhood Spider-man!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Spider-man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Steel Serpent 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-Like)
Fighting: Iron Fist 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Iron Fist 3 (Explosives)
Total: Spider-man 29 (Metahuman)

It was supposed to be the ultimate martial arts showdown! Instead -- our hero walks toward the challenge with an interloper following in his shadow...

Steel Serpent is Davos - son of Lei Kung the Thunderer of the hidden city of K'un-Lun. Davos was destined to challenge the great dragon Shou-Lao until he lost the right in fair combat to an adopted outsider: Wendell Rand-Kai.

Davos faced the dragon anyway in an attempt to steal the gift of its power, but was defeated, and exiled from the mystic realm in disgrace. Wendell Rand left K'un-Lun shortly thereafter as well, never partaking in the rites of Shou-Lao.

Rand instead returned to America to forge a new life as a wealthy entrepreneur and family man. He attempted to return decades later with his family in tow, but was murdered during the mountain expedition, leaving his orphaned son Danny to be taken in by K'un-Lun's new ruler, Lord Yu-Ti, much as Wendell was.

Danny studied martial arts under Lei Kung's tutelage, successfully completing the challenge of Shou-Lao to claim the power of the living weapon: Iron Fist!

We've seen Danny rely on martial arts mastery to overcome several powerful foes, including: Sabretooth [Iron Fist #14, Power Man & Iron Fist #66], Unus The Untouchable [Power Man & Iron Fist #90], Man Mountain Marko [Power Man & Iron Fist #93], and even his possessed pal Luke Cage [New Avengers #2]!

Steel Serpent may share some of their physical dominance, but it's his fighting skill that makes him twice the threat of any other opponent! When he returned to K'un-Lun for a tournament, he demonstrated his aptitude for out-fighting a nimble opponent: Tiger's Beautiful Daughter [Immortal Iron Fist #11]!

Daredevil pushed Danny's skill with his own martial arts prowess, but nearly succumbed to the Iron Fist technique during a case of mistaken identity in Daredevil #87. In today's fight - it's Steel Serpent who has the element of surprise, leaving Iron Fist to assume he is in fact his mentor Lei Kung!

The wildcard then becomes Spider-man, who has pursued Iron Fist without the martial artist knowing it! Steel Serpent may have organized himself advantages in his campaign against Iron Fist, but Spider-man presumably evens them out!

We haven't seen Spidey face a truly skilled fighter yet, but he did fight Hand ninjas with Iron Fist some years later, in New Avengers #27. Of course, he's more of an instinctive fighter, and we saw how superior command of power hurt him in a confrontation with Mister Negative [Amazing Spider-man #621].

Iron Fist & Spider-man have to go into this one as team-up favourites, but now that we know the fighters involved, there's really only one thing left to do...

The Tape: Iron Fist & Spider-man Ranking: Spider-man (#2)

What Went Down...
Iron Fist stalks across the refuse scattered lawn of Inwood Park, determined to meet the mysterious challenge of his former master. He calls for The Thunderer, but is instead met with the grim visage of his master's son: Steel Serpent!

Davos implies his vengeance was bestowed upon Danny Rand the day he was born. Now his fate is to lose the iron fist power, undoing the slight of Wendell Rand and the August Personage of Jade - Lord YĆ¼-Ti!

The two warriors bow before snapping into a fighting stance. The formality is quickly broken as Steel Serpent makes the first move - thrusting the ball of his foot into Iron Fist's exposed jaw!

Iron Fist lets his body ride the sledgehammer-like blow, but the devastating power behind the strike does not go unnoticed! He responds in kind, moving rapidly to chop Serpent's hand and headbutt his jaw with an "Atama" strike. The move is good, but not enough to rattle a fighter still so fresh!

Steel Serpent restores distance between he and his foe by blocking Iron Fist's second hand, and thrusting his chopped palm straight at the hero's face! The strike instills a sense of urgency in Iron Fist, whose body absorbs the recoil and channels it fluidly into through his legs and into a devastating back heel kick!

Iron Fist abandons banter to focus on pure martial arts, estimating his opponent to be one of the greatest fighters he's ever faced!

Steel Serpent drives his threatening home with a roundhouse kick buried deep into Iron Fist's mid-section with a slam! Iron Fist fires right back with a jumping roundhouse that explodes against Steel Serpent's head! An even match!

From the shadows of nearby trees - Spider-man arrives to observe the epic late night showdown! As a diving Iron Fist gets caught with a hard hooking punch, Spidey becomes desperate to help his one-time ally!

Just as Steel Serpent presses his advantage with belittling insult -- he senses Spider-man swinging from the trees! He catches the web-slinger's foot before it can connect -- and uses a vice-like grip to swing him like a baseball bat!

Spider-man is ill prepared for the twist of fate, contorting like a ragdoll as the arc of the swing brings him colliding with a similarly stunned Iron Fist!

The human hammer toss sends a limp Spider-man hurtling unforgivingly back towards the trees! The velocity wraps his twisting body around itself as smashes into the wooden trunk with absolutely no control!

The sickening scene inspires anger in a battered and bloody Iron Fist. He vows to return injuries in kind and end their duel, charging at his opponent with a fist of fury! Alas, the impulsive maneuver plays right into Steel Serpent's hands!

Davos dodges the strike and uses their close proximity to lock his arms under Iron Fist's in an inverted full nelson! His rage and hatred fuel the true attack -- an assault on Danny Rand's very life-force!

Spider-man is blinded by the light as Steel Serpent uses an ancient technique to drain the very chi from Iron Fist! Its glare lasts mere moments, but it is the third time Davos has used the attack -- and this time he means it!

Spider-man cries out in horror for his friend as Davos raises a fist to the heavens with the power of the immortal Iron Fist flowing through him!

The villain clutches a limp and powerless Iron Fist by the throat, preparing a killing blow to eliminate the threat once and for all. Fortunately for Danny Rand, he is a man with many friends, and fate would not end his life so cruelly!

Misty Knight arrives on the scene just in time to distract Steel Serpent with her speeding car. He is unimpressed with the armed investigator, but is soon persuaded by a demonstration of her unique hi-tech weaponry!

The intervention buys a reprieve for Danny Rand's life, but it cannot undo the undeniable conclusion: Steel Serpent has won!

The Hammer...
The assist from Misty Knight bought Iron Fist a life-saving reprieve, but Spider-man's unsolicited intervention had already doomed him to brutal defeat at the hands of Steel Serpent!

Regular readers may've noticed I've had a serious case of Spider-mania this year, but in the last couple of weeks, I've also found myself on a routine martial arts bender. I couldn't think of a better way to bridge the gap than today's featured fight!

The ultimate showdown between Steel Serpent and Iron Fist was developed like a WrestleMania main event that lost its venue. It was nurtured in sub-plot over several months of issues. When Danny Rand faced a debuting Sabretooth in Iron Fist #14, he was still reeling from an unexpected street fight with shadowy Steel Serpent! The series would only last one more issue before cancellation...

By late 1977, Chris Claremont and John Byrne were already appearing together as creative team on Marvel Team-Up. The sometimes hit or miss series was having a pretty good year under Claremont, largely due to a steady run of top grade villains, and guest heroes. You may remember Marvel Team-Up #58 from the archives, where Spidey and Ghost Rider took on The Trapster.

There was only one missed month between the cover dates for Iron Fist #15 and Marvel Team-Up #63. With the parties involved, it must've been relatively easy to consolidate the Iron Fist conclusion into MTU, but it does read a bit like Spidey is crowbarred in. Less like Byrne had already drawn the pages, and more like somebody was grappling with keeping as much of the envisioned conclusion as possible, even with the theme of the Spidey Team-Up book.

I wonder how much the web-slinger's well-meaning mishap was inspired by publishing circumstance. Iron Fist had seen some big name guests in its final few issues, but I find it hard to believe Spider-man was part of the original plan.

I've been thinking about martial arts genre fiction, particularly Street Fighter, in terms of opera. Superheroes by their very nature lend an operatic element, but it's a little bit more straight forward than the ponderous ensembles of SF.

Spidey invariably compromises the fated, one-on-one challenge. The location seems as likely to facilitate Spider-man and Misty Knight as it does give a 70s grit. Fortunately, there's still a clear intent to give the big fight its due.

Fist and Serpent are completely uninterrupted for three and a half explosive pages -- and it feels like more! Even when Spidey's arrival turns the tide in Davos' favour, the focus is all about the martial artists. I appreciate that!

There is, of course, a rematch in the following issue. You didn't really think they'd leave Iron Fist stripped of his powers, did you...? Well, maybe... The second season of Iron Fist hit Netflix today, and it's fair to say they've had a tough time making the most of their colourful comics inspirations!

Fortunately, classic Iron Fist comics are still available in a variety of collected editions!

When shopping you'll want to make sure Marvel Team-Up #63-64 are included! Some versions cut-off before then, or in the case of Masterworks, don't even get that far!

By using embedded Amazon links, you help support the site at no extra cost to you! Any purchase will do, but a couple of Iron Fist options are provided here for your convenience!

You can also find more Iron Fist and martial arts mayhem by diving into the Secret Archive! There you'll find every featured fight indexed by publisher, series, and issue number! For more targeted discover you should check out some of the links littered throughout this, and many other posts.

You can also get daily links to fights inspired by the topics of the day by following Secret Wars on Infinite Earths on Twitter and Facebook! A like, share, and retweet is another ancient technique used by masters who support the site!

Winner: Steel Serpent
#101 (+131) Steel Serpent (Davos)
#2 (--) Spider-man
#18 (--) Iron Fist
#541 (new) Misty Knight

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