Okay ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to say something that is apparently deeply controversial:
Iron Fist? Is going to be good.
I know, I know: He could’ve been played by full (or half) Asian actor; Finn Jones is a tiny white guy!; this plays into White Savior stereotypes!
Yet, here’s the thing….
All of the above? Are what makes Iron Fist, the comic, work.
Here’s a brief(ish) history of the character: Danny Rand was created to cash in on the kung-fu movies of the early 70’s, but when that didn’t work, someone at Marvel had the brilliant idea to pair Danny with Luke Cage to create an entirely new team: Heroes for Hire and that’s when the magic happened.
Chris Claremont and John Byrne got their hands on the characters and, with the help of Mary Jo Duffy, Kurt Busiek and Christopher Priest, turned two exploitation characters into actual icons. Danny and Luke became, not just the best friend duo that Cap and Tony can’t ever quite pull off, but actual voices on race, society and money. Unfortunately – outside of the X-Men – Marvel Comics never really touched on these things back in the day. Whereas DC Comics at least tried, with varying degrees of success, Marvel kept their societal talks firmly in the realm of the X-Men. To some extent that’s still the case as it’s become a running joke, even in the comics, that unless the X-Men’s (or even ordinary people’s) problems directly affect them the rest of the Marvel universe, especially the Avengers, do not give a f***. It’s the reason so many nerds of color like myself can’t stand Wolverine and Scarlet Witch: they pick up the mantle of mutantkind when it’s convenient to them, but don’t want to bear the everyday burdens of being mutants on the regular – it hits far too close to home.
When Misty Knight, Colleen Wing and Jessica Jones were added to the mix a new level was layered on as Danny and Luke navigated interracial relationships and all the pitfalls and joys therein. The writing was smart, it was funny, it was deeply moving and produced two of the cutest legacy children ever.
However, the essential look into who Danny is happened when Danny got his own run with the Immortal Iron Fist and Matt Fraction went to town, Joss Whedon style, on all the stereotypes associated with a white guy martial arts master. Fraction took all the elements that should work against the book and made them into strengths, flipping the script with dry humor, tough questions and brutal honesty.
When Danny and Luke were brought together once more in the most recent run of Power Man and Iron Fist you see why their friendship is the stuff of legend: no subject is too taboo, no pain too great, no situation too dire that Danny and Luke can’t get through it together. This tiny white guy and huge black man beat the living crap out of people, have real talk discussions (sometimes in the midst of beating the crap out of people) and love each other beyond the telling of it. They, along with Matt Murdock and Peter Parker, became the Street Level Heroes the Marvel Universe needed and the real world desperately wished we had. If you needed someone to save you from a mugging, get you out from under a shady businessman or defend you in court, these were your guys.
Which brings me back to the series: part of what makes Danny work as a character is his odd combination of extreme competence and ditziness. As the show is set pre-Danny meeting Luke we should be getting a Danny who is innocent in a way the other members of the Defenders aren’t. Yes, Danny shares similarities with another famous orphan, but he’s a little bit more of a dreamer than most heroes tend to be. He just wants to come home, reunite with what’s left of his family and do right by the legacy his parents left to him.
This is a sharp contrast to the other Defenders who are all varying degrees of world weary. Danny is the heart of the Defenders (especially with Spider-Man not being a part of the group) because he has the one thing the other three don’t: hope. While some might argue otherwise this is exactly what The Defenders series needs to work, frankly, and why it’s important that we get to know Danny up close and personal the way he’s been written, race (and all that entails) and all.
Yes, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are all fantastic series but they run low on hope: Matt provides it for others but doesn’t really have it himself, Jessica had hope and it was brutally taken from her by Killgrave and Luke finally started to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel when it was abruptly snatched from him. Danny is the reminder these three need that there is good in the world and what they do – who they are, the things they’ve been through – is one of the major reasons for it. At the same time the racial dynamic between Danny and Luke, and the financial disparity between Danny and everyone, will allow for some forthright discussions on race and money in America that are clearly needed in a medium that people will (hopefully) actually hear it.
The other part of the run I hope that translates is the humor. As I said above Danny is a bit of ditz and hilariously clueless when it comes to day-to-day things. Remember, before the plane crash he was the only child of insanely wealthy parents, and afterwards he was raised in isolation in a mystical land. This often leads to him being hyper-competent when it comes to the busting heads end of things but simple stuff (like how to interact with a woman he likes without being a giant doofus or you know…basic common sense) eludes him. It’s one of the things that will make his dynamic with Luke so awesome, his relationship with Colleen (and later Misty) so adorable and that I’m most looking forward to seeing onscreen, especially as Finn Jones truly seems to get these aspects of the character. That kind of lightheartedness is desperately needed in the Netflix MCU. Luke Cage brought a touch of dark comedy to the proceedings but Iron Fist could very well be Marvel Netflix’s Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man: the perfect balance of humor, pathos and ass-kicking and the break we’ll need before the inevitable darkness of The Defenders hits.
All of these things, if handled well (and so far Netflix – for the most part – hasn’t let us down) guarantee a show worth watching. Do I think it would’ve been better had they made Danny Asian-America? Maybe. I think there’s a lot to be explored in having an Asian-American child raised with Western values thrust headlong, with no parental supervision, into an entirely Asian culture. Do I think that not being the case is a detriment to the show? No. If the television show captures even a tenth of the magic of what makes Iron Fist awesome it’ll be more than alright, it’ll be phenomenal.
What do you think? Are you looking forward to Iron Fist or is the casting controversy a bit too much for you? Let us know in the comments below!