Search This Blog

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Iron Fist News Round-Up

Edited by Robert Beach 

At time of writing, Marvel has successfully produced 3 Netflix original series with a 4th ready to premiere this fall. Marvel’s Netflix output has been…mixed to say the least. Jessica Jones is one of the greatest iterations of the superhero genre ever produced while Daredevil season 1 featured a breakout performance from Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin. Conversely, Daredevil season 2 has been met with a good amount of dislike owing to the plethora of unresolved plot threads, lack of a strong antagonist, and abysmal adaptation of Elektra.  

The second season did boast the incredible Jon Bernthal as the Punisher, who’s apparently getting his own Netflix show down the line. For the moment, the Marvel/Netflix saga isn’t in as strong a place as it was in 2015 when it first burst on the scene. That could all change this fall with Luke Cage, but only one name is dominating the Marvel/Netflix news cycle, and that is Iron Fist. And that’s not a good thing either.

In case you’re entirely new to this entire Marvel/Netflix adventure, here’s the skinny: Marvel’s plan for its Netflix series is to produce 4 standalone series whose characters will all team-up in a crossover series entitled Defenders. The individual series are all meant to focus on more street-level heroics as opposed to the global threats handled by the Avengers and feature Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. I’ve discussed the rest of this roster plenty of times in the past, but I haven’t really devoted too much time to Iron Fist. Mainly, his history is very…taxing if we’re being honest. 

Iron Fist was originally created in the ‘70s as part of Marvel’s attempt to appeal to maturing readers by branching into non-superhero genres; in Iron Fist’s case, this meant Kung-Fu movie.  Real name Danny Rand, Iron Fist's origin is he was the son of a wealthy American CEO whose family got lost in the Himalayas and discovered a secret hidden city called K’un L’un where he learned Kung Fu and the ability to channel his chi into energy punches. 

Questionable Origins

From the very start, that origin has made him seem like a bit of an odd fit for the rest of the Defenders’ street-level line up, especially given that the best Iron Fist stories are set in K’un L’un and its adjacent mystic hidden cities (there are 7.) He’s essentially a Bruce Lee/Mortal Kombat-type character that just happened to fight crime in New York in the ‘70s, so he got grandfathered into the Defenders by obligation. Chances are, if you have heard of Iron Fist, it’s because of the outrage brewing around the casting of Finn Jones as Danny Rand. A lot of folks have raised the issue that there are no Asian or Asian-American superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, Marvel has taken great pains to whitewash the Asian characters they have adapted like the Mandarin or the Ancient One. 

Yeah, I agree with the "outragers" on this occasion. There’s nothing intrinsically “white” about Danny Rand’s origin. The prospect of adding more diversity to the Marvel universe is always a good thing. What’s more, making him an Asian-American character would’ve added an additional layer of meaning to Danny’s story about trying to find a balance between his Asian heritage and western upbringing that could’ve really benefited the character. 

As much as I do like Iron Fist, let’s be honest, his origin is the product of outdated stereotypes and story conventions that basically translate to “white guys, the superior Asians.” Some folks have raised the issue that having the lone Asian character in the MCU be “the karate guy” could be an issue. If the choice is between “potentially stereotypical diversity” and “no diversity.” that issue becomes a lot less pressing.  

It also doesn’t help that Finn Jones honestly looks pretty bad as Danny Rand. Danny’s never had the most definition as a character, and all the set pics we’ve seen of him so far make him look like a real hipster jerk. Though this might just be his hideous beard and “rich but raggedy” visual design. Finn Jones is most well known for his role as Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones where he was decent at best, so it’s not like he’s got a strong history of stellar acting to make-up any concerns here. Incidentally, I have no idea why Danny Rand would be wondering around NYC barefoot in hipster rags. It’s not like his origin involves losing his fortune or going crazy or anything like that. 

Additionally, the fact that so many of these set photos showcase Danny in New York might indicate we won’t be seeing too much of his origin in the hidden city of K’un L’un, which would gel with the Marvel/Netflix mandate against origin stories. The rule of all these Netflix shows has been this: when the show starts, the character should already be super powered and the origin is revealed through dialogue or flashbacks. That would certainly fit with Danny Rand given the scope required to achieve K’un L’un. 

K'un L'un And The Hidden Cities

Speaking of K’un L’un, something that’s been hovering over this entire Iron Fist experiment from the start is how overburdened Marvel’s Asia is starting to feel in terms of secret quasi-mystic groups. With Doctor Strange coming this fall and Daredevil season 2 now complete, both The Hand and the sanctum sanctorum of the Ancient One have been established as secret, quasi-mystic orders embedded within the “mystic orient.” Adding K’un L’un and the 6 other hidden cities to the mix would seem excessive at best. It’s almost assuredly going to happen. Like it or not, the most usable elements of the Iron Fist mythos emerge from the other hidden cities and the idea that each city has their own magic Kung Fu champion like Iron Fist. There have already been rumors that the Prince of Orphans, a fellow champion and anti-hero of the mythos, might show up somewhere in the show. 

The main rumor about additional Kung Fu heroes is Shang-Chi, Marvel’s other premiere ‘70s martial artist, will appear in the show as an Asian character. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Marvel approaches the idea of Shang-Chi given he has even more outrageous baggage than Iron Fist does. Shang-Chi’s origin is that he was the son of Fu Manchu, a literary character Marvel appropriated (they were big into that at the time.) 

If you only recognize the name but don’t know anything about him, Fu Manchu was essentially one of the first superstar villains. He starred in a series of novels from the 1900s that are incredibly racist by modern standards. That same “yellow peril” racism did bleed over to the Shang-Chi comic and has always tarnished his reputation in the comic world. I doubt Marvel would dare bring Fu Manchu into their vaunted MCU, but his absence still leaves a big hole in Shang-Chi’s origin/identity. 

My best bet is that they’ll probably have Shang-Chi be the son of that “real” version of the Mandarin alluded to in Marvel’s Hail to the King short. If you missed it, the short had the REAL version of the Mandarin framed as the leader of the 10 Rings terrorist group from Iron Man 1 whose name and symbols had just been misappropriated by Ben Kingsley and A.I.M. in Iron Man 3.  Marvel’s yet to follow up on the short’s pretty major cliff hangar, so this could be where the question of this character’s identity and power finally get addressed. 

What Villains?

Even if this ends up the case, I doubt the Mandarin will end up a major antagonist of the Iron Fist series. The truth of the matter is Iron Fist really doesn't have VILLAINS in the same way as Daredevil or Jessica Jones do. Most of his antagonists are people he’s fighting in the form of a tournament rather than the standard super villain scheme set-up. Obviously, that doesn’t really work for a New York-set superhero series, so what seems more likely is Iron Fist will simply be picking up the slack from where Daredevil season 2 left off. 

By now, it’s been confirmed the Daredevil show runners are in charge of Defenders, which probably means all the loose ends from Daredevil concerning The Hand and Elektra are simply set-up for DefendersIron Fist will probably just be nudging all that along.  I’m expecting the show to deal with the super-strong lady Chinese gangster from Daredevil seasons 1 and 2 as well as digging more into The Hand’s origin. Not that I’m looking forward to any of that, The Hand are incredibly boring villains that Marvel seems unduly fixated upon. It's likely because they can provide the kind of swarm of anonymous henchmen that Marvel likes to plaster their films with. 

If this all sounds negative, it’s only because the bloom has very much been coming off the Marvel and Netflix roses lately. Both are capable of great success, and I’m in no way soured on the MCU or its various characters; it’s just that Marvel has drown upon the cultural capital of “fidelity” and “enjoyability” once too often. So many times they like to put out films that faithful to the source material to placate fans and are enjoyable enough to placate audiences. That’s honestly getting a little taxing to keep writing them a pass.  

Additionally, the flood of bad Marvel TV work (Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter season 2, Daredevil Season 2) is starting to get increasingly exhaustive when compared to stand-out DC offerings like Supergirl, The Flash, or Legends of Tomorrow. It’s entirely possible this fatigue will all be swept away when Luke Cage comes out later this year. Until then, color me unintrigued in terms of Iron Fist. 

if you liked this article please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment