WARNING - Spoilers ahead for Iron Fist
Since his debut in Marvel Premiere #15 in 1974, the Iron Fist has been one of comics’ most popular martial artists. Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, Danny Rand has gone through a number of changes, but his core has always remained the same. Orphaned as a boy and raised in K’un-Lun, one of the kingdoms of heaven, Danny would go on to become a living weapon thanks to his training. Though he’d eventually return to New York and become a superhero, his past has always kept him deeply connected to his mystical second home.
Part of that connection is his rivalry with the Steel Serpent, a gifted warrior raised in K’un-Lun beside Danny. For years, they’ve fought over their different views of what’s best for the hidden kingdom, and who should wield the awesome power of the Iron Fist. Though long-teased in the MCU, Netflix’s Iron Fist has finally brought the Steel Serpent to life. But just who is this foe of Danny Rand?
Who Is The Steel Serpent?
Back in 1974, a subsidiary of Marvel Comics hopped on board the martial arts craze at the time and created a magazine dedicated to the subject. The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu served as the jumping-off point for a number of new characters, as well as a place to tell stories of the various martial artists from Marvel Comics. Though it only existed for a few years, it regularly featured stories about characters like Iron Fist and Shang-Chi. In issue #10, the Steel Serpent was first introduced, but it’d be a year later before he was given the name Davos and fleshed out to become one of Danny Rand’s greatest enemies.
In Iron Fist #1, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne laid out much of the mythos we’ve come to know about Danny. In doing so, they also introduced his rival, Davos, who eventually became the Steel Serpent. Unlike Danny, Davos is a native to the kingdom of K’un-Lun, and is the son of the city’s great master, Lei Kung the Thunderer. From birth, Davos was trained to complete the trials that would lead him to become the Iron Fist. Little did he know, however, that once orphan Danny Rand arrived in K’un-Lun, he’d begin the same journey.
Both Danny and Davos were ready to face the great trial together, and battle the undying dragon Shou-Lao in his cave. If victorious, the winner would gain the great dragon’s power and become the Immortal Iron Fist. Davos, unfortunately, failed his test and was forced to live with the shame. The matter was made all the worse when the outsider Danny Rand passed the trial, emerging as the Iron Fist and protector of Davos’ homeland.
Over the years, this animosity led Davos to despise Danny and seek to destroy him. On more than one occasion, he’s even managed to steal Danny’s power and become the Iron Fist himself. After his failure, Davos gave himself a facsimile of Danny’s dragon symbol by removing the wings. The serpent came to be his calling card, and his moniker was born. By pressing his chest symbol against Danny’s, Davos is able to steal the power of the Iron Fist. Luckily, his coups never last long, as Danny has always been able to defeat him. Thus, they’re locked in an eternal struggle.
The Steel Serpent in the MCU
When Daredevil premiered as the first of the collaborations between Marvel and Netflix, it laid out a number of Easter eggs from comics lore and foreshadowed the future of the MCU. One in particular that had fans buzzing was the symbol on Madame Gao’s heroine. To any fan of Marvel’s street-level heroes, the snake was instantly recognizable as the symbol of the Steel Serpent. Emblazoned on the chest of Davos, it acted as a nod to the great foe of Iron Fist and tied Daredevil to the same tradition of martial arts and mysticism he’s often connected to in the comics. Season two of Daredevil went on to properly introduce those elements, but it would be another three years before Davos would finally join the MCU.
Though Davos has been tweaked over the years to be more of a frenemy to Danny, he’s always been a rival at his core. In fact, in his earliest telling, it’s his jealousy over Danny becoming the Iron Fist that instantly makes him the sworn enemy of the hero. Like Marvel did with Mordo and Doctor Strange in the MCU, this instant hatred was teased out a bit more. In Iron Fist, Danny and Davos are the best of friends, with the former regularly telling Colleen and Claire tales of him and the two of them as boys. When we finally meet Davos, he’s an ally to Danny, even though he’s a bit gruff and far more traditional.
Like in the comics, he’s the son of Lei Kung, the teacher of all those who train to be the Iron Fist. Instead of failing his test against Shou-Lao, however, this version was never even chosen for the test in the first place. He maintains some of the jealousy from the comics, tied to Danny being an outsider, but he masters his feelings. What’s more, much of his anger is derived from Danny abandoning K’un-Lun, taking the birthright of the Iron Fist with him. In this way, we not only get to know Davos more as a human character but can actually sympathize with why he’s angry with Danny. It’s not simply jealousy, but rather betrayal that Davos feels.
In the end, Danny’s inability to protect K’un-Lun and defeat the Hand, at any cost, drives a permanent wedge between him and Davos. Already fearing that Danny was the wrong choice as the Iron Fist, Davos now feels convinced that the power to save his homeland is ineffective in the hands of his former friend. It’s hard to imagine now how Davos might join forces with Gao, but it seems inevitable if that Steel Serpent emblem is going to end up on his chest. When Davos returns for season two of Iron Fist, he'll be back with a vengeance.
Iron Fist is available now on Netflix.