With the arrival of Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix, fans are finally able to meet Danny Rand (Finn Jones), the long-lost heir to the Rand Corporation, who returns to New York City fifteen years after he was presumed dead in a plane crash and finds that not everyone is happy to have him back. Fortunately, Danny has spent those fifteen years acquiring incredible fighting skills – along with the superpowers that go with the Iron Fist mantle.
Needless to say, he didn’t pick them up training at the local Cobra Kai dojo. Danny’s martial arts mastery and his command of the supernatural power of the Iron Fist both came from the same place: The mythical city of K’un-Lun. Located in the K’un-Lun mountain range in Tibet, the city of K’un-Lun is one of the seven Capital Cities of Heaven in the Marvel Universe. The city is home to a race of immortal warrior-monks who have dedicated themselves to perfecting their art and protecting the city and its neighbors from mystical enemies who would destroy it. It is the city that Danny Rand’s father was looking for when he and his wife were killed, and where Danny Rand received his training after the city’s inhabitants took him in.
One of the major features of K’un-Lun is the Tree of Immortality. As its name suggests, it grants immortality to those who eat from its fruit. This can be a tempting offer, especially to an outsider; eating from the fruit would allow one to become a member of K’un-Lun society, staying in the city permanently. Danny Rand had to reject the temptation to eat from the tree and enjoy its benefits when he left K’un-Lun and returned to Earth society.
Made in K’un-Lun
The power of the Iron Fist originates in K’un-Lun, and was granted to Danny by the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. Danny had to defeat Shou-Lao so that he could plunge his hands into the brazier containing the dragon’s heart and gain the mystical power of the Iron Fist.
The power of the Iron Fist isn’t all that comes from K’un-Lun, however. Other individuals such as Davos, the Steel Serpent, also gained mystical powers as a result of their training in K’un-Lun. Additionally, the city is origin of the jade Tiger Amulets that have been used by various heroes over the years to gain the power of the White Tiger. Even the martial arts style used by the inhabitants of K’un-Lun is unique, and very effective.
Not of This Earth
Like the other Capital Cities of Heaven, K’un-Lun doesn’t always reside on Earth. Originally, the city only appeared on Earth once every 88 years – which made encountering K’un-Lun or anyone from the city a once-in-a-lifetime situation. By winning a tournament against the other Capital Cities, however, K’un-Lun earned the right to appear on Earth every 10 years instead. Looking beyond the mystical properties of the city, however, we find an even stranger origin to K’un-Lun.
The original inhabitants of K’un-Lun weren’t just dedicated monks… they were actually an alien race from an unknown world. Their spaceship crashed on an extradimensional world millions of years ago, creating a rift that allowed it to shift back and forth between that world and Earth in the process. They built the city of K’un-Lun around what was left of their ship, and the inhabitants slowly forgot about their origins. Deep within K’un-Lun, parts of that spacecraft still exist… though no one realizes that the Hall of Ancestors in the center of the city is actually part of an alien ship because the entire city was built to mimic the architectural design within the ship.
As one might guess based on Danny Rand’s time in K’un-Lun, the city is heavily structured around mystical martial arts training. The citizens of K’un-Lun were typically presented as Asian in appearance, in part due to the common stereotype of Asian monks training and perfecting their arts in isolation. That’s not to say that individuals within K’un-Lun don’t have unique roles, however; several different martial arts styles are studied there, and various characters that appear in the comics have specific roles within the city.
Notable figures from K’un-Lun include Danny, Davos (aka the Steel Serpent, a long-time Iron Fist enemy), Yu-Ti (the lord of K’un-Lun), Lei Kung the Thunderer (the weapons master of K’un-Lun) and Master Khan (a villainous sorcerer who was exiled from K’un-Lun).
The Destruction of K’un-Lun
In Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, Danny returned to K’un-Lun after being summoned by a young monk named Pei just before she collapses from exhaustion. Danny found the city in flames and Lei-Kung decapitated. He destroyed the Tree of Immortality with his own hands out of anger, facing off against the hooded man who had destroyed the city only to have his hands broken during the battle. Danny is later able to access the combined chi of the survivors of K’un-Lun to regain his power and heal himself, though the recovery of the city itself will take time as the survivors rebuild.
This wasn’t the first time that K’un-Lun has been destroyed, however. A dragon known as Chiantang the Black Dragon (who oddly enough has appeared both green and purple in his past appearances) destroyed the city on two separate occasions a millennium apart. Though lives may be lost in the battles, the citizens of K’un-Lun have always come together to rebuild once the threat that ravaged the city is defeated.
K’un-Lun in Marvel’s Iron Fist
In the comics, K’un-Lun was fairly isolationist and at least somewhat xenophobic. Iron Fist: The Living Weapon showed a young Danny being bullied because of his white skin and blonde hair, which set him apart as an outsider even though he had been accepted into the city. Danny’s eventual claiming of the power of the Iron Fist made him more accepted among the people of K’un-Lun, though there were still some who resented the idea of an outsider claiming that power. Some survivors were also quick to blame him for the destruction of K’un-Lun, claiming that he should have been there to protect them (he was living his life on Earth instead of remaining in the mystical city).
The K’un-Lun of the Netflix series isn’t nearly as isolated, however. Both star Finn Jones and showrunner Scott Buck both confirmed prior to the show’s release that the culture of K’un-Lun would be much more inclusive and feature citizens from a number of cultures and ethnicities. The decision was made to open up the concept of the city and provide more storytelling options in the future, making it a city in Asia without expressly being an Asian city.
Marvel’s Iron Fist is available now on Netflix.