Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Final thoughts on Iron Fist

First, goddamn am I well past sick and fuckin' tired of talking about this shit.

Ok, now, I can never stop loving Roy Thomas. He wrote the Conan the Barbarian comics I grew up on that led me to the original Robert E. Howard stories, to naming my son Conan. There are other reasons, but that's the big unbreakable reason I never could stop.

That said, this interview he recently gave, in which he discusses Iron Fist, Iron Fist Co-Creator Roy Thomas: 'Complaining About Cultural Appropriation And Crap Like That Makes Me Furious' by Caitlin Busch, is tone deaf as hell. It's just embarrassing. It would be difficult for me, without knowing better already, that the person being interviewed wasn't a drooling moron.

"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."

Let's read that back, "Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that ________ isn’t a Colored Person, or whatever word? I know Colored People isn’t the right word now, either."

Nice work.

"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."

Would anyone even consider adapting Tarzan without updating it for the age we live in rather than the one Burroughs was writing it in? Nobody outside the Klan or the Trump administration.

So, here we're in drooling moron territory.

"Okay, so you can make some adjustments," he says.

Alright, so what was the point in even bringing up that other thing than?

"If they wanted to kill off white Iron Fist and come up with one who wasn’t Caucasian."

Or you could, while adapting various elements for a new medium, just make an adjustment to that.

As I said in The generic white guy, he says, "I would have found it easier to write about a Caucasian, so that’s one reason I probably did it."

Per the co-creator, he's not a white guy based on some larger plan or design sense to his character. He's a white guy because the creator is a white guy and so a white guy was the first thing he thought of.

Frankly, if he didn't discuss Netflix discussion before, the whole rant following the question "You mentioned before all of the whitewashing controversy that’s been swirling around Iron Fist. Could you expand on that a bit?" would leave one under the impression he thought someone was suggesting they alter the original comics or something that has nothing at all to do with the current discussion.

It's like listening to a senile relative, more sad than illuminating. He doesn't seem like he's even attempting to engage in a current discussion on this question in the real world and the current time.

The problem with the show, however, is that, much like Roy Thomas made Iron Fist white because he's white, and he just didn't think of a different notion, Marvel's Iron Fist seems have been done because someone decided that Iron Fist was one of the characters they decided to put in Marvel's The Defenders, so they gave him a show leading up to it. Nowhere during the show do they seem to have come up with a reason for the show to exist on its own. As William Bibbiani tweeted, here, "Two hours into 'Iron Fist.' So far I haven't seen any indication that it has a point of view, a style, a theme or a reason to exist."

Despite my issues, I was well prepared to think this show was yet another Schadenfreude Gangbang Lightning Rod, like Ishtar or John Carter, and it certainly is. That phenomenon is not reserved for things that are better than their reputation. There are plenty of bad enterprises that everyone still lined up to see who can get the best shot at.

And I'm sure everyone smelled blood with "Iron Fist". With all of the success Marvel has been having with movies and TV, the idea that they'd finally dropped the ball with one was all the bait people needed to jump on and take their turn.

I hate to take part in such things, but it really is a mess, and I feel like, having already put way too much time discussing this, I should cover it.

None of the characters make any sense. Early on, I thought it was like the writers didn't have a common well to draw from on who the characters were, like no character work was done together or provided to them or an outline of the characters so they could give them any kind consistency as themselves or as part of their arcs. Having finished it, I think it was just because they all needed to make wild leaps in order for all of the unreasonable twists to happen, and creating internally consistent characters who can withstand those kinds of twists is harder work than the writers of "Iron Fist" were prepared for.

Here's where the show needed a unifying notion to piece it together. Having an Asian-American showrunner could have really given it a focus. For one thing, the much touted "outsider" theme is essentially non-existent on the show. It gets lip service in two scenes. An Asian-American could have tapped into being an outsider among Asians and Americans, which is something that many Asian-Americans express, and used that theme that enough people find important in "Iron Fist" that it comes up in literally every discussion of this subject.

I recommend Marvel Almost Had An Asian-American "Iron Fist," But They Blew It by Hoai-Tran Bui for some really well expressed thoughts on how an Asian-American lead could have benefited the show.

I know, the kneejerk anti-political correctness brigade is always convinced that serving diversity is somehow working against character and story. First of all, because they believe political correctness is some kind of real force, their ability to make reasoned judgments should be considered dubious at best.

But even considering that something like that is something that can happen, and has happened, whatever name you put on it, that's still just a result of crappy execution. Marvel made a point of having a woman showrunner, Melissa Rosenberg, as showrunner for Marvel's Jessica Jones and an African-American showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker, for Marvel's Luke Cage. There are legitimate criticisms of both of these shows, but their ability to use the experience of being female and of being African-American into the fabric and details of the stories is their greatest strength, which is borne out in the consistently better reception both received from both critics and the public at large.

Yes, you could have found that focus in, say, martial arts. Have a showrunner who is like a Joe Lansdale, who martial arts is a significant part of his life.

And I, of all people, understand that this is fiction and there are other ways around these things, like simply research, but on "Iron Fist" the lack of real interest in martial arts shows in every detail of the show, from the abysmal screen execution of the fights to the way the martial arts and their philosophies are discussed so lazily, like the folks involved watched a couple of episodes of Kung Fu and read a Wikipedia article, but didn't bother to engage in any of it as meaningful.

You can read You don't know kung fu, Iron Fist by Aloysius Low for a good perspective at how it fails at portraying Kung Fu.

I could go on and criticize the acting and casting choices. I could note how even the very talented David Wenham, who I've seen singled out for praise in a number of places, is ultimately reduced to working with the subtlety of Daffy Duck or how even Rosario Dawson, whose Claire Temple has been a highlight on each of the previous series, is reduced to a rudderless spouter of platitudes in order to produce something that resembles internal conflict. Ultimately, it's almost impossible to blame any of them, because clearly they're all, to one extent or other, victims of the poor writing and directing all through the show.

In the end, the show is like the pieces of a Marvel/Netflix show pieced together without a lot of care or understanding why they worked in their previous contexts. On that level, I think it will be a good signpost for them to make some adjustments to these familiar, growing to be overfamiliar, elements and try to find ways to make their coming shows/seasons fresher.

There's potential in some of the characters to go in new directions. And there are always other characters to expand to. My friend Chris Neri suggested the Miles Morales Spider-Man. There are many reasons that's unlikely, next to impossible, but it's the perfect choice. It's both a significantly different tone from the one they've been working and a character who would fit nicely into that world. While it might be impossible, it's a good benchmark for what they should be looking for in a new character to add to their lineup.

And that's so much more than I ever wanted to write about goddamn Iron Fist.

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