Some Additional Thoughts on Iron Fist

Posted on March 24, 2017

Show prep for The Printed Panel Podcast is both fun and relatively easy. Garin and I tend to do our fanboy thing and just talk. There may be a few talking points that we want to make sure see the show, but we do not even attempt anything resembling a script. The good part is the Podcast is just an extension of chatting with a good friend.

The bad (or maybe it is also good) part of our casual prep style is I often find myself with talking points worth mentioning long after the show is recorded and posted to the interwebs. Our podcast is really meant to be a conversation with the good people who take the time to listen to us so having more to say is not entirely a bad thing.

I do not pay a lot of attention to what is said prior to reading a comic, watching a show or movie, or playing a game. I very much believe in forming my own opinion. I also believe in letting people stick to their opinion without the need to chime in with a “correction”.

One of the things I am hearing a lot (mostly from younger people) is that Iron Fist should not have been a white guy. One article I read after watching the show criticized Finn Jones because his character represents white privilege. The article (which contained at least 3 instances of the F bomb) said that thanks to President Trump the world is tired of rich white guys. An asian actor should have been cast.

To that I have to say two things. First, you do not understand the basic interesting facts at the heart of the character Iron Fist. Second, you really need to read the comic book to get some greater understanding of the universe. Iron First/Danny Rand is a unique character. I also feel some of the uninitiated may be confusing him with Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. Shang-Chi is in fact Asian. Had he been cast as a white guy I would have taken issue.

To my first point, Danny Rand crash landed in the Himalayas at 10 years old. He returns to New York 15 years later having spent that time being trained in the philosophy of martial arts by the monks and masters of K’un-Lun. For Danny the crash represents the end of his American life. He had grown up wealthy living a luxurious life in New York.

I don’t want people reading this to believe I am saying Danny Rand was a spoiled kid, but he was certainly soft. Having been sheltered and well cared for young Danny has zero street smarts at the time of his crash landing. It is worth saying that he would have died of exposure had the monks of K’un-Lun not intervened and saved him. He was physically and mentally ill prepared for survival. It simply wasn’t something he had ever had to deal with.

After the crash, with his parents dead, Danny now has to learn to live a life of poverty, obedience, and discipline. He is trapped in K’un-Lun (which exists in a different plane of existence) for 15 years. During that time he changes his life dramatically. He hardens his physique through martial arts. He sharpens his mind through study and meditation and learns a very asian philosophy. He becomes a very different person, one that is in stark contrast to who he would have grown up to be had he been raised to manhood in New York.

It is this underlying dichotomy of the character that makes the Iron Fist interesting. While any actor of any race could be an American kid (including an Asian actor) and the same contrasts could exist, it is my belief that the surfer boy, hipster image that a blonde haired blue eyed Danny Rand presents makes the character slightly more compelling. I think that will be more true when he stands beside Luke Cage who has distinctly American sensibilities.

I do believe that most any character can have their race changed successfully. I love the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury a million times more than the one played by David Hasselhoff. I like the new Wally West Flash (or is it Kid Flash). The Val-Zod version of Superman deserves some screen time. Please take no offense Henry Cavill. You are great. My point is simply that in the case of Iron Fist being a white kid raised in New York and then grown to a man in an Asian culture makes the character unique.

To my second point, Iron Fist has always been a white kid. He was created in the 70s when Kung Fu movies were in the Golden Age in the States. Matt Fraction gave Iron Fist something of a revamp in 2006 with the series Immortal Iron Fist. This is where the character shines. I would also recommend reading the New Avengers run and the Defenders which included Iron Fist and Power Man (That is Luke Cage for the uninitiated.)

The Iron Fist series on Netflix was well done. Finn Jones put a ton of subtle naivete into his performance. Danny comes to New York still thinking innocent thoughts in spite of having become an immortal weapon of Heaven. Danny is not capable of seeing the darkness and duplicity of the Meechems who he considers family. Even Ward, who bullied Danny, is a brother figure in Danny’s somewhat undeveloped mind.

Perhaps the people who have such a critical view of the show don’t want to think about these well developed characters. Perhaps the expectation was 13 hour long episodes of fight scenes. I don’t believe that Iron Fist failed to deliver on action either, but I can understand if you went into it expecting a thrill ride why it might have let a person down. To that I will point out the Netflix Marvel series are all dramas with a bit of action. They are super hero soap operas. Keep that in mind and give these shows another shot. There is very likely to be another Kingpin introducing a head to a door scene in the near future.


One Reply to “Some Additional Thoughts on Iron Fist”

  1. Fred Dailey says:

    Gotta agree with everything you say here David. Folks are trying to use modern society views on a character created 40 Plus years ago. One of the strengths of comic books is that they reflect the times in which they were created. They are commentary on their era, they are windows in time. Sometimes “modernizing” a character can completely remove what made that character special to begin with. Iron Fist is a great character and his origins are in the mid-1970’s. There is nothing wrong with that, and once this current era of social retcon fever passes and creators get back to their job of creating NEW heroes and villains to fill the pages of today’s comics, the better off the industry will be.

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