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Iron Fist – Bar the Big Boss (Review)

It’s impossible to talk about Iron Fist without talking about cultural appropriation.

There are multiple reasons for this. The most obvious are baked into the character himself, from his origin all the way back in Marvel Premiere as a white guy who travels to a mystical Asian city and becomes better at kung fu than any of the inhabitants before returning to America. There’s also very much the conversation that has been happening around the television series, which has prompted larger debates about the role of Asian performers and culture in Hollywood. Finally, there’s the fact that show so expertly puts its foot in its mouth.

Shaping up…

Bar the Big Boss is the perfect point at which to address this. Again, for multiple reasons. The most obvious is that it represents the last point at which the most obvious aspects of Asian exoticism are in play; barring the closing scene of Dragon Plays with Fire, this episode is the end of the Hand and K’un Lun as narrative forces in the context of the larger narrative. It is also an episode that effectively allows Davos to lightly touch upon the issue of cultural appropriation before brushing his concerns aside by turning him into a stock villain.

But, really, the issue is so firmly baked into the Iron Fist mythos that it is impossible to talk about in isolation.

Warding off evil spirits.

The origins of Iron Fist can be traced back to the interest in kung fu that gripped the national consciousness during the seventies. Indeed, there’s something to be said for the eventual pairing of Danny Rand and Luke Cage, given that Luke Cage was the product of another seventies popular culture fixation. Indeed, the union of Danny and Luke in the pages of Power Man and Iron Fist in April 1978 provides a fascinating intersection of two seventies trends that fit together better than most people would expect. After all, African American audiences loved kung fu films.

Martial arts had an interesting history in cinema. There were some flirtations with martial arts in Hollywood films of the forties and fifties. Even then, the techniques were the source of some controversy. Censors were apparently concerned about the use of martial arts in Bad Day at Black Rock, worried that kids might try to emulate the antics of the gruff one-armed hero played by Spencer Tracy. There would always be a whiff of moral panic around the response to martial arts on film, the British Board of Film Classification even banning the depiction of certain weapons.

Inject a little controversy.

However, martial arts cinema exploded as its own cultural entity in the seventies. This was spurred by an economic and cultural boom in Hong Kong, that saw the release of kung fu films like The Big Boss and Fist of Fury. (Both starring Bruce Lee.) Those films did well enough to secure release in the United States and to attract the attention of American studios. Bruce Lee had worked in Hollywood during the sixties, most notably playing the hyper-competent sidekick Kato on Green Hornet, but his success in Hong Kong allowed him to return as a bona fides leading man.

Released in the middle of 1973, Enter the Dragon was a phenomenon. Produced by Warner Brothers, the film broke down any remaining cultural barriers between American audiences and the martial arts genre. Although Bruce Lee tragically died of a brain edema shortly before its release, the film secured Lee’s place in the cultural canon. The film was a massive success, earning more than ninety million dollars world-wide on a budget of under one million dollars. It was a phenomenon.

Bloody hell to pay.

However, the influence of Enter the Dragon cannot be measured solely by reference to its one-thousand percent return on investment. The film radically shaped and adjusted the cultural consciousness in ways that were readily apparent, but hard to measure. As Sascha Matuszak argues:

Enter the Dragon was also the spark that lit the worldwide martial arts blaze of the late 1970s and 1980s. When Shaolin Temple was released in Mainland China, millions of Chinese took up martial arts and thousands more trekked to Henan and knocked on the temple doors, starting a process in motion that led to the modern Shaolin Temple. Enter the Dragon had a very similar effect on kids in the US. Theaters began playing kung fu films on a weekly basis, dojos sprang up all over California and New York, spreading inland like wildfire. Another process was set in motion, this one leading eventually to films like Bloodsport and The Matrix, a slew of instructor’s manuals and books on Jeet Kun Do, and a martial and fitness culture that would give birth to modern MMA.

Few films have that sort of impact on the popular consciousness. Bruce Lee only made a handful of martial arts movies, a filmography that can be readily consumed over a weekend by an eager viewer. But he made a big impression.

Moving in circles.

There are a lot of theories about why the martial arts craze caught on in the way that it did, why American audiences were so suddenly and so excitedly engaged with concept of Asian martial arts as a form of cultural entertainment. After all, kung fu cinema had not emerged overnight. It had a long and rich history in Hong Kong and China, drawn from a cultural tradition of wuxia (“martial chivalry”) storytelling that infused both novels and feature films. The genre had been growing and evolving since the thirties at the latest, so why did it only land with American audiences in the seventies?

There are any number of theories about why the fad emerged when it did. Part of it was undoubtedly down to ease of distribution, with an increasingly globalised world order in the wake of the Second World War making it easier for distributors to reach audiences abroad coupled with a broader appetite for foreign art forms within the United States. Part of it was also due to the emergence of a figure like Bruce Lee who could straddle both American and Hong Kong cinema to create a bridge between the two.

Going out in a blade of glory…

However, some historians would contend that there were broader cultural factors at play, as much to do with American audiences as the films that they were watching. As Martial Arts Films in American Masculinities argues:

Although glimpses of the martial arts can be seen in American film since the 1940s, true martial arts movies made their first significant impact in the United States in 1973, when a wave of kung fu movies produced in Hong Kong met with unprecedented box-office success. Most scholars agree that their sudden popularity was a response to U.S. failure during the Vietnam War. The spectacle of a physically small Asian male defeating seemingly insurmountable odds – of an Asian masculinity characterised by quasi-mystical fighting prowess – represented a way of coming to terms with a perceived failure of American masculinity and military might in Vietnam. In an atmosphere increasingly open to Asian religions and philosophies and distrustful of the U.S. government, martial arts films of the 1970s offered disaffected American males a countercultural heroic model.

Certainly, it seems reasonable to position the kung fu craze in the context of broader seventies anxieties. Vietnam seems an obvious point of overlap, in terms of rough chronology and rough geography.

We have lift off.

Naturally, the influence of this seventies martial arts craze extended beyond cinema. Other aspects of popular culture also tried to tap into that appetite for kung fu content. Carl Douglas brilliantly tapped into that intersection of blaxploitation and martial arts mayhem with the release of his single Kung Fu Fighting a year after the success of Enter the Dragon. It sold eleven million copies world-wide. The television series Kung Fu overlapped with the fad, launching as a weekly series in October 1972 and running until April 1975.

It seemed inevitable that Marvel Comics would try to cash in on the fad. The comic book publisher had found great success in the sixties by reinventing superheroes for a contemporary audience, updating the genre conventions of the forties to speak to a new generation of readers. During the seventies, Marvel tried to branch out and court audiences interested in genres outside of superheroes. Horror comics were one such avenue; Tomb of Dracula debuted in April 1972, Werewolf by Night launched in September 1972, The Monster of Frankenstein began in January 1973.

Rain of terror.

Martial arts films were a perfect fit for the publisher. After all, producer Paul Heller would concede that Enter the Dragon had a decidedly comic book aesthetic to begin with:

Comic books played a big part in Enter the Dragon. When we first started thinking about the look of the film, there was a comic strip called Terry and the Pirates, and that became sort of the genesis of the whole look of the film. It was about a Dragon Lady and Chinese pirates, and it was a wonderful moment in time about adventure. But it has a wonderful, brilliant color scheme of golds and blues and reds, and if you think about Enter the Dragon, that’s what we did. And that was very, very conscious. It just felt like it would be very right for the film.

Although martial arts lent themselves to a medium that could capture movement, there was also something to be said for slowing down the action in a medium like comic books. Enter the Dragon famously shot some of its stunt work with a slow motion camera just to capture the grace of Lee’s movement.

Paper trail.

Danny Rand was not Marvel’s first foray into the world of martial arts comics, and that is something very important to remember about the character that often gets glossed over in discussions about cultural appropriation within the Iron Fist mythos. Marvel’s first bona fides Marvel martial arts star was Shang-Chi, who was introduced in Special Marvel Edition in December 1973, almost half a year before Danny Rand would make his debut in Marvel Premiere in May 1974. Although less well-known, Shang-Chi got there first.

Indeed, Shang-Chi was quite pointedly modeled on Bruce Lee’s screen persona. The character even had a long-standing association with MI-6, recalling the plot of Enter the Dragon that tied Bruce Lee’s character to the CIA. As future Master of Kung Fu writer Mike Benson neatly summarised, “He was this wonderful combination of Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon and James Bond.” He was also most pointedly not a superhero. Master of Kung Fu never really pitched the character as equivalent to Spider-Man or Captain America.

Phoning it in.

However, Shang-Chi never embedded himself into the fabric of the Marvel Universe in the same way that Danny Rand would. There are any number of reasons for this. Most obviously, Shang-Chi is not a superhero and so he makes a tougher fit with the other characters than Danny might, although Ed Brubaker deserves a lot of credit for bringing Shang-Chi back into the fold as part of his short-lived Secret Avengers run that pitched itself as a secret pulp history of the Marvel Universe from H.P. Lovecraft to Edgar Rice Burroughs and up to the Golden Age.

There were also rights issues, in that the character of Shang-Chi was tied up in a mythos that Marvel did not own outright. Shang-Chi was the son of the supervillain Fu Manchu, a character licensed from the Sax Rohmer estate. The fact that Marvel lost the rights to Fu Manchu understandably made the character of Shang-Chi less practical. Again, the writer Ed Brubaker did Shang-Chi quite a service during his Secret Avengers by disentangling him from that mythology and allowing him to branch out into the wider Marvel Universe.

Oh, Danny boy.

However, the shift from Shang-Chi to Danny Rand did not happen in a vacuum. It was part of a broader cultural context. Although the martial arts films of the early seventies were largely imported from Hong Kong and used Hong Kong talent, there was an eventual shift towards white American characters within these narratives. In The Kung Fu Craze, David Desser positions the re-release of Billy Jack in May 1973 as a key moment in the genre’s evolution:

It is not the capitalist conspiracy that is responsible for the kung fu craze, but rather the traumatic stock-taking that the Vietnam War engendered. The kung fu craze is just one cinematic signifier of a post-Vietnam stress disorder on the cultural level. Other signifiers include the spate of films focusing on troubled returning Vietnam vets (of which Billy Jack was a the martial-arts paradigm), the Vietnam War films themselves of the late 1970s and, more precisely, the rise of the white male martial arts stars who, in a sense, co-opt the Asian martial arts for the American action hero, for the American movie star, for the American man. It is no coincidence that the kung fu craze could be critically dismissed as long as it consisted of badly dubbed foreign films, remained the province of black and youth audience, and as long as it was confined, afterward, to blaxploitation. But it is no coincidence that the genre takes hold in American cinema precisely when a white star not only enters the genre but situates his persona within an Asian context: Vietnam and the Vietnam War. The kung fu craze of the 1970s is a deceptively complex moment in American cultural history, when a foreign cinema grabs hold of the box-office as never before and eventually gives rise to a new and significant genre in American cinema.

If the Hong Kong martial arts star was a handy representation of the defeat of American machismo by Asian dedication, then the white American kung fu star would seem to be an attempt to reclaim that lost prestige; to appropriate that power and incorporate into depictions of American masculinity. In the late seventies and into the eighties, the martial artist became increasingly white and increasingly American; Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Michael Dudikoff.

Father from the source material than intended.

Danny Rand and the Iron Fist exist within that context. They are not part of the first wave of kung fu cinema, but the second wave of kung fu reinvention. Like Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal, Danny Rand is an all-American hero who can do kung fu as well as any foreign action star. He is also quite consciously designed to incorporate that martial arts aesthetic into a conventional superhero framework. Whereas Shang-Chi was a character who was difficult to integrate into the shared Marvel Universe, Danny Rand was practically pre-packaged to blend in.

After all, it could be convincingly argued that Danny Rand’s defining attributes were stock superhero tropes; his dead parents and origin story, his memorable costume, his comic-book-isation of martial arts prowess through a literal glowing power fist. One of the stock criticisms of Danny Rand, both in the context of the show and as a comic book character, is that he is remarkably bland. There is very little original about Danny beyond his martial arts, which feels like the answer given under “powers” in the stock superhero generator machine Marvel kept around the office.

Tied into continuity.

Indeed, creator Roy Thomas confesses that Danny Rand’s creation largely came about because he thought it would be fun to have a conventional superhero who intersected with the broader cultural trend:

When I saw my first Hong Kong kung fu movie in the early ’70s (Five Fingers of Death) and it contained a ritual called “The Iron Fist,” I decided that would make a good name for a Marvel hero to take advantage of this coming trend, and asked Gil to work with me on it. Except for the name, I had not fleshed out the idea.

Gil, a lifelong admirer of Bill Everett’s (there’s that name again!) pre-Sub-Mariner hero Amazing-Man from the Centaur Comics Group, reeled off for me the origin of “A-Man,” which contained a Shangri-La clone and a group of enigmatic figures headed by the hooded Great Question. All these elements were incorporated into our joint plot, though we stuck around only for Iron Fist’s origin (in Marvel Premiere #17) then turned the feature and a few basic concepts over to Len Wein, who worked with artist Larry Hama on the second story.

In a very weird way, the character of Danny Rand seems consciously designed to serve as the Chuck Norris to Shang-Chi’s Bruce Lee, a more conventional and more palatable (and more white American) alternative to an Asian martial artist.

A drop in the ocean.

It should be noted that this trend of erasing Asian people and characters in favour of white Americans is not something exclusive to martial arts stories, which might be why the production of the Iron Fist television series reopened all of these wounds. The movie 21, released in 2008 and based on a true story, changed the race of the primary characters so that British actor Jim Sturges played the leader of what had been a group of Asian students in the events that inspired the film. Scarlett Johansson is headlining an adaptation of the manga and anime Ghost in the Shell.

Even in the context of these seventies martial arts films, white washing was a point of contention and discussion. Kung Fu launched in October 1972, starring white American actor David Carradine. Carradine did not know any martial arts at the time that he was cast, although the series turned him into a global icon who could give kung fu lessons to Bob Dylan. However, Kung Fu arguably owes its creation to The Warrior, a television series proposed by Bruce Lee following a remarkably similar premise. (Justin Lin is reportedly reviving Warrior for television.)

“Did you just Facetime me?”
“I prefer to think of it as Handtiming, but yes.”

Interviewed by Pierre Berton for Canadian television, Lee candidly acknowledged that media companies were worried about audiences appetite for stories about Asian culture starring actual Asian performers:

Let me ask you about the problems that you face as a Chinese hero in an American series. Have people come up to you in the industry and said, ‘Well, we don’t know how the audience is going to take a non-American’?

Well, the question has been raised. In fact, it is being discussed, and that is why The Warrior is probably not going to be on… They think, businesswise, it’s a risk. And I don’t blame them… If I were the man with the money I would probably have my own worry whether or not the acceptance would be there.

There is something disheartening about how little progress has actually been made on this front, to the point that Matt Damon is still needed in order for The Great Wall to be considered an internationally viable production.

Punching below his wait…

So, this is the context of the debate around the character of Iron Fist, which became a massive issue almost as soon as the series was announced. Before Finn Jones was cast, there was a concerted effort to convince Marvel to change the race of the character and cast an Asian performer in the role. After all, this sort of cultural appropriation was the character’s original sin. Comic book purists were quick to cite canon as a defense, because canon is increasingly seen as scripture and a barrier against the outsiders.

Truth be told, it often feels like the logical thing to do would have been to drop Iron Fist from The Defenders and replace it with Shang-Chi. (Although, to be honest, Master of Kung Fu is a much catchier show title.) After all, Iron Fist has shown itself remarkably disinterested in the superhero trappings of Iron Fist, from costume-wearing to dragon-punching to K’un Lun itself. Strip away the superhero trapping from Danny Rand, and it seems like the only appreciable difference between him and Shang-Chi is that he’s a white billionaire. Which is not a good basis for this choice.

Streets behind the curve.

In fact, Shang-Chi would certainly work a lot better within the tone that Iron Fist is trying to set for itself. Iron Fist doesn’t want Danny wearing a costume and won’t show him in K’un Lun, instead preferring to cast Danny as a gritty and angsty martial artist grounded in something closer to the real world but with more hand-to-hand combat. That seems like a much better fit for Shang-Chi. In fact the rights issues tied up in Shang-Chi’s back story present an opportunity; just make him Madame Gao’s son rather than Fu Manchu’s, or maybe tie him to Sigourney Weaver in The Defenders.

Certainly, Shang-Chi has done more to earn that fourth Marvel Netflix slot than Danny. By any appreciable measure, Shang-Chi has outperformed Danny Rand, from the outset. Shang-Chi would lead Marvel to rebrand Special Marvel Edition as The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu in April 1974, more than a year and a half before Danny Rand would launch his own self-titled book Iron Fist in November 1975. However, Shang-Chi not only started (and blossomed) earlier, he lasted longer.

No need to be so tied to continuity.

Since his creation, Danny Rand has been lucky to carry a solo run for thirty-issues and change, with the Marvel Premiere and Iron Fist run adding up to twenty-six issues in total (with a two-part coda in Marvel Team-Up making twenty-eight) and The Immortal Iron Fist running for twenty-seven issues and a variety of tie-in specials. In contrast, Shang-Chi headlined one hundred and eleven issues of Master of Kung Fu over almost a decade of publication, including four giant-sized specials and an annual. He was also a fixture of the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine.

Even today, it seems like Shang-Chi’s back catalogue carries more prestige than that of Danny Rand. The production and broadcast of Iron Fist was met with a modest push for Danny Rand in the company’s monthly line-up, but it also coincided with a highly prestigious reprinting of the entire runs of Master of Kung Fu and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu in glorious oversized hardcover. This impressive six-tome reprint was undoubtedly tied to Marvel securing the rights to Fu Manchu, but the point stands that Danny did not get an equivalent high-profile push.

Ward will lose his sonny disposition.

So there’s very little about Iron Fist that makes a compelling case that the fourth defender needs to be Danny Rand. Indeed, using the character of Shang-Chi would have skillfully defused a lot of the controversy around the show from both sides of the divide. Fans concerned about the appropriation of Asian culture would at least be given a prominent Asian character headlining a high-profile television show. Fans concerned with continuity and canon would avoid that whole viper’s nest of “… but Iron Fist is white in the comics!”

Of course, like almost every other creative decision made during the development of Iron Fist, the production team made a poor choice. They settled on Danny Rand. However, this problem was not fatal of itself. The production team could still make any number of creative decisions that would mitigate the cultural appropriation narrative. The most obvious decision, and the one advocated by a large number of journalists and critics, would be to reinvent Danny Rand as an Asian American character.

Bad dad.

After all, adaptations had made similar alterations to characters before. If the real-life Asian Americans who inspired 21 could be reimagined as white people, surely a white character could be reimagined as an Asian American? Marvel certainly has form on this point. Daredevil cast Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin, a character who had always been white in the comics. Claire Temple was white in the comics, and is played by Rosario Dawson. Even Iron Fist recast the usually white Colleen Wing as Jessica Henwick.

Comic books themselves have become increasingly aware of the fact that characters created in the forties and sixties do not reflect contemporary America. So Marvel has turned many of these characters into legacy heroes. Jane Foster took over from the Odinson as the Mighty Thor. Miles Morales is a spiritual successor to Peter Parker as Spider-Man. Sam Wilson inherited the title of Captain America from Steve Rogers. Riri Williams replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man. Roberto Reyes is a new Ghost Rider.

Always a Joy.

Of course, these are all explained within the framework of comic book continuity. In theory, so is the African American version of Nick Fury from The Ultimates, although it is probably best not to worry too much about how it makes sense in terms of continuity that character’s race can change between dimensions without altering their role or fundamental identity. However, the simple truth is that film and television adaptations of these characters are largely starting from scratch, and so there’s little need for the insulation provided by legacy.

After all, movie-goers don’t care that the version of Nick Fury who first appeared in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos in May 1963 was a white guy who apparently looked surprisingly like David Hasselhoff. To most people, the name “Nick Fury” conjures up images of Samuel L. Jackson, to the point that there’s entire extended joke in xXx 3 that all characters played by Samuel L. Jackson might secretly be Nick Fury. This does no harm to the legacy of Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, nor does it devalue the original comics. But it does make the Marvel Universe more vibrant.

The harshest cut.

There are those who would argue that none of this is relevant. That Danny Rand was created as a white character, and so he should remain a white character to remain true to the text. Roy Thomas, the character’s co-creator, seemed to suggest that attempts to recast Danny Rand were political correctness gone mad:

I have so little patience for some of the feelings that some people have. I mean, I understand where it’s coming from. You know, cultural appropriation, my god. It’s just an adventure story. Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.

He was a character for a comic book at a different time. It’s very easy to second-guess anything. You can argue about Tarzan, you can argue about almost any character who came up then is bound to be not quite PC by some later standard or other. Okay, so you can make some adjustments. If they wanted to kill off white Iron Fist and come up with one who wasn’t Caucasian, that wouldn’t have bothered me, but neither am I ashamed for having made up one who was. He wasn’t intended to stand for any race. He was just a man who was indoctrinated into a certain thing.

I just think some people have too much time on their hands, I guess. They have an infinite capacity for righteous indignation. By and large, that tends to be misplaced quite often because if you’re becoming all upset over things that are just stories, and if you don’t like it, instead of trying to change somebody else’s story, go out and make up your own character and do a good job of it. That’s just fine, but why waste time trying to run down other people’s characters simply because they weren’t created with your standards in mind?

The interview prompted Jessica Henwick (who has found herself in the middle of this debate) to cast some shade, tweeting, “Oriental is a term used to describe rugs, not people.”

Fist of fury.

Of course, the truth is that adaptations change all kinds of things about the source material. That is the art of adaptation. Translating a story from one medium (and one era) to another is an art rather than a science, and flaws with the adaptation should not be excused with an appeal to textual fidelity. This is something that most people have come to accept. After all, people seem to have embraced Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, despite the fact that he is not a hairy Canadian midget. Adaptation is change. Change or die.

After all, it’s not as if Iron Fist doesn’t make any number of other changes to the character of Danny Rand. His parents die in a plane crash instead of a mountain climb, perhaps a nod to the fact that modern audiences are more conscious of child endangerment in their origin stories. The Iron Fist is reconfigured to be a mortal enemy of the Hand in order to better integrate into the framework of The Defenders, despite the fact that Matt Murdock is also a mortal enemy of the hand. Danny also abandons his post as Iron Fist, evoking Orson Randall.

Meachum family reunions are always such fun.

Those last two changes are arguably bigger changes than making Danny an Asian American. They are also much poorer choices. However, they tap into the idea that Danny Rand is a relatively low-tier superhero, and so perhaps has greater flexibility than most adaptations. As Joshua Rivera argues, it’s not as if most audience members have a preset image of Danny Rand to which the television show must adhere:

It’s hard to find someone who gives a sh!t about Iron Fist. As far as Marvel superheroes go, he’s a pretty deep cut—maybe not as deep as the Guardians of the Galaxy before they starred in an extremely popular movie, but still relatively obscure. The broad strokes of his character are simple: Danny Rand is the son of a wealthy corporate magnate who loses everything but finds a mythical city where he gains superpowers and martial arts training, returning to New York after 10 years away to both discover himself and reclaim his family’s legacy.

This is, essentially, the narrative arc that the upcoming Netflix series Iron Fist will explore.

So, in theory, the production team working on Iron Fist had the same freedom to put their mark on this story as James Gunn did to conceive his version of Guardians of the Galaxy. Scott Buck all but conceded as much in interviews, drawing attention to Danny’s status as a relatively blank slate that afforded the production team “the freedom to create the character [they] specifically wanted to.”

His red left-leaning hand.

It is ironic that Iron Fist owes so much to the superhero films of Christopher Nolan, to the point that large swathes of the first season are effectively a loose adaptation of the most boring aspects of Batman Begins. Nolan’s trilogy of superhero films set a high water mark for the genre, and became iconic and influential, in large part because they understood the delicate balance between drawing from an inspiration and adjusting the material to fit a new medium and context.

That is arguably true of the more successful superhero works surrounding Iron Fist. After all, Legion takes the themes and iconography of the X-Men mythos, without being beholden to it. Logan draws upon the character’s history and some choice beats from the source material, but tells a powerful story that feels true to this version of the character. Even Jessica Jones and Luke Cage find their own voices while drawing upon the work of earlier writers and artists, finding something to say unique to this moment and this place.

Dialing up the “concerned father” bit.

As James Mangold has argued, change is natural even within the context of the comic books where new ideas are constantly being added and old ideas are being recontextualised:

The point I’d make to fans, before they get up in arms, would be: The comic books themselves reinvent the worlds over and over and over again. There are multiple Earths circling on opposite sides of the moon. There is time travel. The original Superman is not the Superman we saw in the ’60s and not the one in the ’90s and he’s not the one in comic books now. Artists from Frank Miller to Neil Gaiman to Chris Claremont to Joe Kubert and on and on and on are reinventing the design, the philosophy, the tone, the style, the uniform, in every way with these characters, and no one had an issue. In fact, everyone loves it. But the idea that the movies themselves have to be perfectly sealed is … I don’t think it works for everyone.

I think also there’s a unique bargain that the internet press and the press in general have played, in the need to be able to generate copy. There’s a never-ending fount of stories you can write about when someone is breaking away from canon or not, and create many controversies all the way through preproduction and production and even until a movie opens, about whether or not they’re breaking canon. Is it a blasphemous movie or not? At some point, you gotta stop and say, Is there this expectation that it’s like we’re doing Godfather Part I and II, only it’s going to nine movies? And we’re just gonna cut them into this kind of Berlin Alexanderplatz that never ends? We’re gonna suddenly take a moment to really savor the fact that these movies exist in an identical tone? The reality to me is that you can’t have interesting movies if you tell a filmmaker, “Get in this bed and dream, but don’t touch the pillows or move the blankets.” You will not get cinema. You will just get a platform for selling the next movie on that bed, unchanged and unmade.

After all, the comic book run that inspired Captain America: The Winter Soldier only kicked off in January 2005, driven by a core idea that was considered iconoclastic at the time.

Back kissues.

Even some of the ideas that Iron Fist takes for granted are so new as to represent a subversion of the Iron Fist mythos. The notion that Danny was the latest in a long and venerated line of sworn defenders of K’un Lun was suggested by his origin, but only really fleshed out by writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction during their run on The Immortal Iron Fist that began in November 2006. Also in terms of the television series, characters like the Bride of Nine Spiders and Zhou Cheng were both relatively late additions to the mythos.

Indeed, it is possible for changes made in these adaptations to filter back into the comics. Jimmy Olsen originated in Superman radio plays. Barbara Gordon owes her existence to the suggestion of corss-media synergy from Batman! producer William Dozier. The character of Harley Quinn exists primarily because writer Paul Dini thought that the Joker needed a one-off supporting character who was more than a generic goon in Joker’s Favour. These were good ideas in these adaptations, and they became good ideas in the comics.

“This Netflix subscription was one of Kyle’s better ideas.”

Even the tone and attitude of the Marvel Netflix shows have already began to trickle back into the comics. David F. Walker is launching a Luke Cage monthly in May 2017, and acknowledged that it existed in the context of the Netflix show:

I’m writing him as a little more mature, and I’m not going to say that the television show was a huge influence on me, but it did show me a lot of ideas and ways Luke could be handled; a lot of them were in conjunction with ideas I had been developing in the first place or had been thinking about. I really want to give the readers the best Luke possible, and I think that’s a Luke who does more than just fight all the time. I think the best superheroes are ones who aren’t just beating the crap out of something or someone.

As such, the “… it was like that in the comics…” or “why adapt something if you’re just going to change it?” arguments don’t hold true. It is entirely reasonable to change or update the source material, especially if those changes are improvements.

A cut throat market.

So, would changing Danny Rand to make him Asian American be an improvement to the character and the show? It certainly has several immediate advantages, in that it introduces more diversity into the line up of The Defenders and adds another Asian American protagonist for a high-profile television series, both good things. It would also defuse at least some of the more unfortunate legacy issues baked into the character dating back to his debut in Marvel Premiere appearances, particularly the issue of cultural appropriation.

Accepting that these are good things, are there reasons not to make Danny Rand an Asian American character. There are several arguments against reimagining the character in that way, but none of them are entirely convincing. The most obvious is that it would be a cliché to have the one Marvel Netflix show with an Asian American protagonist be the martial arts entry. That is a stereotype of itself. And this is, on paper, at least a fair argument. However, it also moves the goalposts when it comes to the debate about Iron Fist.

Speaking off-the-cuff.

After all, few people arguing that Danny Rand should be Asian would object if Tony Stark or Steve Rogers or Clint Barton or Bruce Banner or Jessica Jones had been reimagined as Asian instead. In fact, it is fairly fair to say that an Asian Captain America or an Asian Hulk or an Asian Iron Man would be a much better opportunity than an Asian Iron Fist. Few would object to that. But this is not the debate. If there were more representation of Asian Americans in popular culture, it seems unlikely that this controversy would have blown up in the way that it has.

The debate of Iron Fist is not simply a debate about whether there should be greater representation in popular culture, although there definitely should be. It is a debate about how best to deal with characters like Danny Rand who have these unfortunate roots. While there is undoubtedly something cliché and stereotype about changing the race of a martial arts expert to make them Asian American, it should be noted that the Iron Fist production team did this anyway with Colleen Wing.

Back Hand.

Indeed, Jessica Henwick acknowledged that Colleen’s martial arts prowess made her think twice about taking the role, but that she understood that a properly-developed character can extend beyond mere martial arts ability:

Another stereotype with Asian roles is that they have to do martial arts. And that was the one that made me go “hmmm” with Colleen. But actually, having done it, it was so integral to the character… OK, she’s an Asian who does martial arts, but what comes after that? What if you fight regularly – what if your morals are compromised? What if you’re addicted?

It is not ideal, but few things about Iron Fist are ideal. The real question, as ever, is that is this a better idea than the ideas that made it to screen. And it most definitely is.

Some Chi-sy foreplay.

Of course, it should also be noted that the people objecting to reimagining Danny Rand as an Asian American character seldom voice those same objections to employing the Hand as a collection of even more stereotypical Asian clichés. Not only are the Hand an anonymous ninja horde with deadly kung fu skills, they also indulge in mysticism and magic. Although Iron Fist does make some small effort to step away from the more extreme clichés, Madame Gao is hardly the most progressive portrayal of an Asian character.

That said, there are arguments that Danny Rand needs to be white. There are people who would argue that Danny Rand’s whiteness is a core aspect of his character, perhaps more than Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. Ignoring the more noxious white identity politics arguments that have become increasingly acceptable in recent months, there is some small kernel of logic to these objections. After all, maybe Danny Rand is meant to be the literal embodiment of white privilege that he reveals himself to be.

“I’ll be Bak… uto…”

Certainly, this is the argument that Marvel Studios has tried to make in defending the casting. Jeph Loeb made a similar point when pressed on the matter:

To answer that, just really flat out, the way the story is told and when people see the story, the importance of Danny as an outsider is something that is a theme that runs throughout the entire show, so I think once they see it, they’ll understand why the story is told the way it’s told.

Superficially at least, the logic checks out. Danny is a white kid who is adopted by mystical monks in the Himalayas. Surely feeling like an outsider there is part of his story? Surely this is a “fish out of water” narrative?

Stepping out.

There are several convincing counter-arguments to this. The most obvious is that “fish out of water” narratives do not depend on race as their sole defining feature. After all, it is entirely possible to construct a “fish out of water” narrative using a white character in white society. Captain America is a fish out of water, because he comes from another time. Superman is a fish out of water because he comes from another planet. Thor is a fish out of water because he is a god. So it is possible to build a “fish out water” narrative about an Asian in an Asian culture.

“Fish out of water” narratives can be built around any form of identifiers. Class, geography, culture, sexual orientation, gender, race, politics, age. It is possible to argue that Danny is a “fish out of water” in K’un Lun because he is a wealthy American, not because he is white. Indeed, the assumption that Danny would fit in better among K’un Lun’s population if he were Asian American betrays a very monolithic way of looking at non-white ethnicities. African and Asian American communities are not monolithic, any more than white American communities.

Ward has a lot of pent(house) up rage.

Indeed, Asian Americans would reasonably argue that they feel just as much like “fish out of water” in Asia as they do in North America. Lewis Tan spoke about this when discussing his own failed audition for the title role on the series:

I personally think it would have been a really interesting dynamic to see this Asian-American guy who’s not in touch with his Asian roots go and get in touch with them and discover this power. I think that’s super interesting and we’ve never seen that. We’ve seen this narrative already; we’ve seen it many times. So I thought it would be cool and that it would add some more color to The Defenders. And obviously I can do my own fight sequences, so those would be more dynamic. I think it would be really interesting to have that feeling of an outsider. There’s no more of an outsider than an Asian-American: We feel like outsiders in Asia and we feel like outsiders at home. That’s been really difficult — especially for me. It’s been hard for me, because in the casting world, it’s very specific. So when they see me and I’m six-two, I’m a 180 pounds, I’m a muscular half-Asian dude. They’re like, “Well, I don’t know what to do with this guy.” They’re like, “He’s not Asian, he’s not white … no.” That’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. So I understand those frustrations of being an outsider. Like Danny’s character. I understand him very well.

Tan makes a very convincing argument, and there is really no convincing rebuttal to that point. An Asian American in K’un Lun would be just as out of place as a white American. Then again, it’s not as if Iron Fist shows a lot of K’un Lun.

Central Park that plot line until next season.

There is another argument that Danny Rand needs to be white in order to justify the narrative, that white privilege is the explicit point of the story and that Iron Fist is a story about Danny Rand coming to terms with his own sense of entitlement and appropriation. This is perhaps the most convincing argument for keeping Danny Rand white, to tell a story in which Danny is confronted with his legacy of cultural appropriation and forced to confront his own privilege. This would turn his whiteness into an interesting foil or character arc.

Iron Fist is not interested in telling that sort of story. The show repeatedly indulges Danny’s privilege rather than deconstructing it. When he breaks into Joy’s house in Snow Gives Way, it is treated as something perfectly reasonable. When he shows up uninvited at Colleen’s dojo with takeaway and property deeds in Under Leaf Plucks Lotus, it is presented as innocent and well-intentioned. Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch can’t come up with a better reason for Rand to take back control of Rand Industries than his name on the building.

Ward doth murder sleep.

Indeed, Iron Fist has something of a double standard when it comes to Danny. The character is never really called out for any of his poor choices or decisions. In The Blessing of Many Fractures, Danny insists that Colleen and Claire trust him to come up with a plan on the way to China. While Iron Fist seems to call out Davos for indulging in violence in Bar the Big Boss and Colleen for indulging her dark side in Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch or Eight Diagram Dragon Palm, Danny’s temper control issues are repeatedly glossed over.

To be fair, Iron Fist seems to be extending Danny Rand this courtesy because he is the protagonist. After all, Marvel Studios are quite anxious that their heroes remain relatively above reproach, to the point that the Punisher is presented as a decent guy underneath it all over the course of the second season of Daredevil. In practice however, Iron Fist seems to cut its white billionaire lead character a lot more slack than the more diverse supporting cast. This is a problem.

A touching reunion.

It is a problem compounded by the way in which Iron Fist uses the character of Davos to broach the issue of Danny’s privilege and appropriation. Over the course of the three late-season episodes that Davos spends with Danny, the K’un Lun native is used as a window to explore Danny’s entitlement. Even before the climax of Bar the Big Boss throws them into literal conflict with one another, Black Tiger Steals Heart and Lead Horse Back to Stable suggests that Davos presents an ideological challenge to Danny.

Davos makes a pretty serious charge against Danny, rendering explicit something that had been implied as early as Eight Diagram Dragon Palm. Danny did not leave K’un Lun by mutual consent. He abandoned his post. However, Davos makes an even stronger case against Danny. Up until Davos appears to guide Danny home, the audience could assume that K’un Lun simply trained a replacement Iron Fist to fill the vacant slot. However, Davos makes it explicit that this did not happen. Danny effectively took the Iron Fist from its home.

Sharp banter.

“He was the first outsider to be chosen,” Davos explains to Claire in Lead Horse Back to Stable. “He stole the Fist from K’un Lun. He stole from us.” Davos even explicitly outlines the stakes to Danny at the end of Black Tiger Steals Heart, “The way to K’un-Lun is open, and you are not there to protect it.” Davos repeats the threat in his final address to Danny in Bar the Big Boss, “All I know, the way to K’un-Lun is open and there’s no one guarding the pass. There will be consequences for this, brother.”

These are pretty serious allegations, particularly given what eventually plays out. Danny has been running around New York, telling anybody who will listen that he is the Iron Fist. When he announced his presence to Madame Gao in Immortal Emerges From Cave and Felling Tree With Roots, he was also signalling to the Hand that K’un Lun was undefended. It is no surprise that the Hand are revealed to have launched an all-out offensive at the end of Dragon Plays With Fire. And it is all down to Danny’s greed.

“You said you didn’t want me in your life…
I guess you were right. Yeah.”

Danny is a white billionaire who traveled to a foreign land, and took something that belong to them. In Eight Diagram Dragon Palm, Danny confessed that he didn’t even fully understand what he was taking, just that he wanted it. This is borne out by the fact that Bakuto knows more about the Iron Fist than Danny, teaching him much in The Mistress of All Agonies and Black Tiger Steals Heart. Then, having taken something that he did not understand and which could not be replaced, he ran back to New York, leaving K’un Lun undefended.

This should be one hell of an indictment. Davos should be a villain for the ages. Davos is effectively making an argument that has some semblance of sense to it, standing on relatively sure ground. In theory, Davos should be positioned as a spiritual successor to Magneto, a character whose actions are villainous but whose motivations are perhaps sympathetic. This is great; Magneto is a supervillain for the ages. Given that Marvel Studios have long had difficulty realising convincing or engaging antagonists, Davos should be a slum dunk of a character.

#DavosWasRight

However, the company’s reluctance to criticise its heroic characters by virtue of their narrative position kicks into play. As with Captain America: Civil War, anything resembling an argument from first principles is abandoned in favour of an emphasis on heightened emotional stakes. Davos is a bad guy, who does bad things. And while he might make criticisms of Danny that sound legitimate, Iron Fist bends over backwards to assure viewers that they come from a place of heightened emotion and so can’t be trusted.

After Davos makes his case to Claire in Lead Horse Back to Stable, he immediately takes a moment to “centre” himself and regain his composure. “I apologise,” he states. “I shouldn’t have raised my voice.” Similarly, Bar the Big Boss goes out of its way to paint Davos as excessively violent and brutal during the lobby fight, particularly contrasted with Colleen and Danny. If Danny’s position is privileged by virtue of being the nominal protagonist, then Iron Fist works very hard to erode Davos’ moral standing.

“You may feel a sharp, stabbing pain.”

More than that, Iron Fist suggests that all those reasonable objective complaints about Danny are just window dressing for the real reason that Davos is so angry at Danny: Danny hurt his feelings. It is a way of delegitimising Davos’ complaints, by suggesting that they come from a place of heightened emotional volatility, similar to the way that the stereotype of the “angry black man” has long been used to devalue legitimate complaints made by the African American community about the way that the country has treated them.

Iron Fist insists that Davos’ anger at Danny is rooted in a sense of personal betrayal rather than objective criticism. When Danny states that he cannot leave New York at the end of Black Tiger Steals Heart, Davos snipes back, “You had no trouble leaving us.” He then suggests that he was using the royal “we”, elaborating, “One day, you were just gone. Without a word. I kept waiting, Danny, thinking you’d be back.” The show just layers on the angst.

Hell hath no fury like a Davos scorned.

Indeed, Iron Fist repeatedly seems to tease the suggestion of a quasi-romantic relationship between Danny and Davos, the sort of really heightened male friendship that the company cultivated between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Of course, there could not possibly be any hint of a romantic relationship between Danny and Davos. After all, they both swore vows of chastity as part of their training, right? Then again, they did both sneak off to “go eat some donkey” together. Danny was nonplussed about losing his virginity in Felling Tree With Roots.

Iron Fist steers into this implication. After the opening credits in Bar the Big Boss, Davos finds himself forced to accept Colleen Wing into the band of heroes. He seems decidedly uncomfortable as Danny wraps his arms around a shaken Colleen and tries to comfort her. “What sort of a relationship do you have with her?” Davos demands, which sounds a lot more like hyper-emotional jealousy than the legitimate concern that he tries to pitch in the lines that follow.

“Davos, I’m only dancing. She turns me on. Is that so wrong?”

When Colleen and Danny come to blows in the street, Danny sides with Colleen over Davos. Davos is naturally dejected by this. “You know, this place has confused you,” Davos warns Danny. “It’s no wonder you can’t summon the Iron Fist.” Given the obvious impotence subtext, Bar the Big Boss really commits to the homoerotic subtext of the relationship between Davos and Danny, cast Davos as something close to a jilted lover.

Iron Fist tries to have its cake and eat it in this regard. The final throwdown between Danny and Davos in Bar the Big Boss is played as a really emotional beat between the two characters. Rain falls and thunder breaks as the two wrestle and grope in the night. Danny pins Davos down. “This has nothing to do with K’un-Lun,” Danny grunts. “This is because I left you.” He admits, “I hurt you. I get it. It was selfish and wrong of me to leave without telling you.” It is this that causes Davos to storm off, as if Danny has acknowledged something unspoken.

Making an executive call.

The relationship between Danny and Davos is textbook queerbaiting from Marvel, the use of gay subtext to avoid directly engaging with non-heterosexual sexuality. As Ilana Massad explains:

Queerbaiting is a term that exists mostly in fan communities, and refers to the writers or creators of a world (whether of a movie franchise, a book series, or a TV show) using injections of homoeroticism and romance to draw an audience seeking LGBTQ representation, while not alienating a wider audience who may not want to see a gay relationship depicted. Think of the term “bromance” – a dynamic that employs romantic tropes, all the while not actually fulfilling them.

Accusations of queerbaiting are more commonly directed towards television than books: TV shows such as House, Supernatural and Rizzoli & Isles have all been singled out, while recent depictions of “confirmed bachelors” Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have also been accused of dabbling in manipulative homoeroticism.

Indeed, it would be tempting forgive Iron Fist for completely skipping past Davos’ potential to explore issues of cultural appropriation if the show had actually embraced its subtext and allowed Danny Rand to embrace this implied bisexuality. Unfortunately, Iron Fist appropribaits.

“It’s just a flesh wound.”

The brawl between Danny and Davos in Bar the Big Boss ends in the worst possible manner. Davos once again makes the (convincing) case that Danny has caused very serious problems for K’un Lun, and Danny refuses to return to the city to take up the position that he abandoned. Worse than than that, though, Bar the Big Boss ends in affirming Danny’s appropriation of the “Iron Fist” title from the people of K’un Lun, insisting that he has the right to define what that title means and what the role entails by reference to his own standards.

“Coming here has taught me that the Iron Fist isn’t just for K’un-Lun,” Danny advises Davos, which largely feels like a justification for his actions rather than a convincing argument. “Others before me may have felt it was their destiny but I am Danny Rand. And I’m the Iron Fist.” Danny does not renounce his ceremonial role as Iron Fist. He does not suggest that Davos could take up the role, albeit without the power to back it up. Danny does not admit that he was wrong to pursue the role without understanding what it was.

Fist first.

Bar the Big Boss insists that Danny was perfectly entitled to the claim the role, because he had the ambition and the ability to do so. It does not matter that Danny lacked the temperament or the understanding to fulfil the role. He won the title, and so he gets to define it. It does not matter that the Iron Fist is part of the rich cultural heritage of K’un Lun and plays an important role in their society. Danny took the power, and so there is no reason for him to be mindful of its historical or cultural importance to the society from which it emerged.

This is the result of mindlessly imposing superhero tropes on an awkward origin story. Iron Fist clearly intends for Danny’s fight with Davos to fulfil the old trope of a superhero asserting his identity. Think of Michael Keaton declaring “I am Batman” or Robert Downey Junior boasting “I am Iron Man.” It is a reforging of the character’s identity, representing the culmination of a long and winding journey. It is an understandable beat in a superhero story. It just happens to be a tone deaf moment in this story, given everything leading to this moment.

Glowing with anger.

Iron Fist squanders virtually every opportunity that it has to tell an interesting story about an interesting character. Whether rightly or wrongly, any Iron Fist adaptation in the twenty-first century was going to have to mount a defense of a character with very problematic roots. Iron Fist not only bungles the case, but serves up a pretty damning indictment.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the first season of Iron Fist:

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7 Responses

  1. *standing ovation*

    Darren… wow! I was on tenterhooks through the essay; “I need to comment about Billy Jack — oh, he knows; I have to say something about Amazing-Man — oh, he knows.” This is a tour-de-force and surely a high point at which to end the series.

    …One more episode? Aw, I guess I’ll have to restrain myself and praise you again tomorrow.

    Another thing to bring up about Danny’s ethnicity is that the comics originally claimed Wendell was from K’un-Lun (we can assume Kane didn’t think so, hence his western features) so I had always told people Iron Fist was half-Asian – up until Immortal Iron Fist changed it. I wrote it up here: http://section244.blogspot.ca/2017/03/iron-fist-shangri-la-amazing-man-kung.html

    >In a very weird way, the character of Danny Rand seems consciously designed to serve as the Chuck Norris to Shang-Chi’s Bruce Lee

    There is an issue of Spider-Girl where Pat Oliffe drew an aging Iron Fist with a very Norris-style mustache, so you’re not alone in making this comparison (Shang-Chi, of course, was frequently drawn by Paul Gulacy from photo references of Lee).

    >In contrast, Shang-Chi headlined one hundred and eleven issues of Master of Kung Fu over almost a decade of publication, including four giant-sized specials and an annual. He was also a fixture of the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine.

    More than that, Shang won critical acclaim; Master of Kung Fu was a very well-regarded comic in the fan press during its height (Moench/Gulacy). Iron Fist would have been an odd footnote if not for teaming him with Luke Cage.

    There were also moments in the series where I couldn’t help but be reminded of Master of Kung Fu in that the characterization of Davos feels less like the comics version and more like Shang-Chi’s adopted brother Midnight; Danny and Davos weren’t really friends, where as Shang and Midnight were raised as brothers, competed against each other and found themselves on opposite sides; one of Danny’s stories about he and Davos stealing wine recalls a Master of Kung Fu flashback story where Shang and Midnight were accused of stealing wine and worked together to find the real thief; finally, Danny living barefoot in Central Park is how Shang-Chi’s story began, not Iron Fist’s.

    >It is ironic that Iron Fist owes so much to the superhero films of Christopher Nolan, to the point that large swathes of the first season are effectively a loose adaptation of the most boring aspects of Batman Begins.

    What I find truly ironic is that Batman is now the trailblazer, yet he was the last man to join the pack. Batman’s origins weren’t tied to the east until a fill-in(!) by Christopher Priest in 1989, yet quickly became codified in Batman: The Animated Series and are now treated as being essential to his origin.

    > And while he might make criticisms of Danny that sound legitimate, Iron Fist bends over backwards to assure viewers that they come from a place of heightened emotion and so can’t be trusted.

    Unlike the show’s hero, who is constantly over-emotional but in way which (I guess?) we’re meant to sympathize with.

    >Bar the Big Boss really commits to the homoerotic subtext of the relationship between Davos and Danny

    Let’s be honest, it’s Finn Jones. Game of Thrones’ Finn Jones. The audience came with expectations of homoeroticism because it’s all he’s known for.

    • Thanks Michael!

      To be fair, this is really the climax of the series of essays. The final write-up is really just a bit of a postscript looking at what a disappointment the plotting and structuring of Iron Fist was after all. This is the piece of which I am most proud, and the piece into which I put the most work. So it means a lot that you liked it.

      I’ve actually only started working my way through these Master of Kung Fu omnibuses, but they’re actually quite enjoyable. They remind me a lot of Tomb of Dracula in terms of texture. Certainly stronger material than any solo Iron Fist story I’ve read that isn’t The Immortal Iron Fist. It’s a shame that Marvel’s seventies experiments with genre never really took root at the big two, although the past couple of decades have seen the indie scene really grow to fill that sizable void.

      • I enjoy every part of Master of Kung Fu from Englehart to the end of Moench and all of Moench’s many revisits over the decades, but I’d say the series really took off when they sidelined Fu Manchu for the first time. Instead of Fu Manchu being involved in absolutely every issue, it allowed the series to find its footing and build up the supporting cast. It was in those first non-Fu stories (the Carlton Velcro epic) that Shang officially joined MI6 and the Bond homages arrived in full force. After that, their subsequent Fu Manchu stories were a much bigger deal because he’d take a couple of years off between epics (there were only 3 Fu Manchu epics in the whole of MOKF #40-125). That first Fu Manchu epic, the Golden Dagger storyline, is as good as MOKF ever got.

        I definitely see the comparison as Fu Manchu was the driving force behind much of MOKF, just as Tomb of Dracula was about the people hunting Dracula. Although Fu Manchu himself was seldom allowed to take center stage the way Wolfman frequently did with Dracula (MOKF #50 being a rare tale told from Fu’s perspective).

        Claremont & Byrne’s Iron Fist is still perfectly good super hero stuff. Rereading them, I like Iron Fist’s earnestness and honesty, he had an appealing mix of confidence matched with inexperience. Still, not as good any other Claremont/Byrne comic you’d care to mention (JLA aside).

        Shang certainly grapples with tougher material than Iron Fist; he had a code against killing which was put to the test in MOKF #50 and examined it again in the ‘Golden Dawn’ saga. Shang underwent significant character growth over the course of the series in how he related to his father, to Black Jack Tarr, to Clive Reston, to Leiko Wu and finally to Sir Denis, whom he finally viewed as a truer father to him than his flesh-and-blood parent. I love that Moench was left alone to chart that course across 100+ issues, it’s a beautifully rare thing in corporate comics.

  2. >Claire Temple was white in the comics, and is played by Rosario Dawson.

    No, Claire Temple was African-American – Night Nurse, the character she was smooshed into, that’s the Caucasian person.

    >Even Iron Fist recast the usually white Colleen Wing as Jessica Henwick.

    Colleen is supposed to be half-Japanese as of the Claremont-Byrne years so it isn’t much of change to treat her as full-blooded Japanese (though really, her father’s name being Lee Wing? sounds much more Chinese than Irish).

  3. You make a good point, why ISN’T Shang Chi the main character? He would’ve fit this a lot better.

    • Certainly, I think, based on what the production team were trying to do; a gritty street-level story of a young man trying to escape from the shadow of his obligations and commitments.

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