Monday, March 13, 2017

Issues around Iron Fist


Does anyone care about Iron Fist? I've spent a lot of time around comics fans and hearing a lot of them chatting about this thing or that, but I don't recall a lot of love for ol' Danny Rand hopping around. I'm sure there's plenty of folks who pop up to claim him, as there are when you say something like this, but I haven't seen a lot of them going on about it, so I doubt the strength of their enthusiasm. I won't fight them on it, but I'll remain largely skeptical, though.

Don't get me wrong, he's a good foil for Luke Cage, who I love, so like all good nerds, I love Heroes For Hire. If you haven't, I recommend jumping right into Power Man and Iron Fist: The Boys are Back in Town by David F. Walker and Sanford Greene, but there's some new collections of older stories that have come out recently, though.

But as a solo act? There's an Iron Fist series, The Immortal Iron Fist, by fucking Ed Brubaker. I fucking love Ed Brubaker, but I never manage to get around to this one. Why? Because it's about Iron Fist. That's how overwhelming my apathy is.

That's what we're getting, though, Marvel's Iron Fist, and word on the street is not so good.

I think part of the issue is that there have been growing concerns with the Netflix/Marvel series that have come to a head here, and part of the reason is, well, Iron Fist. It's ok to voice these issues with Iron Fist, because who cares? It can take the hit for all of them.

It did start getting stronger on Marvel's Luke Cage already, so it was definitely coming. Luke Cage had a number of things going to prevent it from growing as strong. The strength of the character and Mike Colter's performance is first. It also created a tremendous atmosphere. Watching the first four episodes were like a bit of TV heaven dropped down. It's really when they try to pull off a Third Man twist after that where it really loses steam.

Orson Welles, in that case, said that if everyone talks about your character for all this time, you don't have to do as much work to impress. I think this shows how it helps to be Orson Welles, though, because Diamondback turns out to be a massive disappointment and drags the whole show down with him from there on. I say this as someone who found the atmosphere of the show so amazing that the show certainly held on to be entertaining and delightful for the rest of the season despite this, but it does show where the creators are struggling with making these shows work for twelve episodes a season.

These shows need to figure something out about the twelve episode requirement. They could drop it and just do the number that works, whether it's eight or fourteen, but I suspect there's a reason that even streaming services are committed to that number, which is fine.

They just need to weave in some single episode stories. In the case of these, there's decades of single issue comics that could easily be adapted. There's no excuse. To reach an hour, they will need a bit of expansion and that could include a scene or two that touches on the overarching story, so we don't forget about it. They could even draw some into conclusion that gives us a cliffhanger that brings us right back into the larger story. Figuring stuff like that out is indeed why they are paid the big bucks to write.

There's other examples, but I'd just look at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was often forced to sneak their overarching story in, so they do a particularly good job of keeping it going in the background of stand-alone episodes.

Iron Fist has racial concerns that have come up. Yes, Danny Rand has always been white. There would have been a fuss if they'd made him Asian, too.

But there is the question of whether having a white hero learn the Asian ways, at it were, and come out, to some view, as the "best of both worlds" hasn't always had some issues in terms how they show and are received by many Asian readers. The fact that these concerns have only begun to come out in more mainstream discussion is not the same as them being new in the world. I have no specific solution regarding the handling of this character.

They should have skipped the problem entirely and used Shang-Chi instead. I've seen plenty of people rave about their love of the "Master of Kung Fu" plenty during my time around other comic readers. It's not like they have a "Heroes For Hire" series on the docket yet. Heck, you could have introduced Iron Fist on a "Heroes For Hire" show anyway. Who is Luke Cage's annoying new buddy? Find out in the next episode.

This is the power Hollywood has to make all of these issues go away. Cast with more diversity all of the time and all the arguments about individual cases come to nothing. If there were lots of Asian leads in Hollywood blockbusters, the issue of whether the lead in Ghost in the Shell should be Japanese or not is muted. "Oh, her body was always supposed to be Caucasian? Ok, then." But only when there is diverse casting all over.

That's where starting with Shang-Chi helps make arguments about whether a twenty-first century Iron Fist might be better as an Asian American tame. In a world where there's already an awesome Asian-themed Marvel series starring an Asian actor, the argument has little to gain traction on.

I know there's some numbers guys saying that there's no money in Asian actors in major roles, which seems dumb. I know there was a boom of Hollywood movies with Asian leads in the late'90s/early '00s, but really, how many of them really looked like money makers to you? There's the Rush Hour movies, which both look like and were hits, and what else? Marty McKee will point out Drive with Mark Dacascos, which got unceremoniously dumped at its release, giving it no chance either way. There are many others, lots of mediocre and lousy ones, like The Replacement Killers, and some good ones, like Unleashed, that simply weren't of the type that were ever likely to win over the masses. There's nothing to suggest anything negative about the marketability of Asian actors, unless you're looking for it already.

And a production that has made such a boldly African-American show as "Marvel's Luke Cage" really has no excuse to fall back on cowardice when dealing with issues of diversity.

I know, I could be back here next week saying "Marvel's Iron Fist" is amazing, forget what I said leading up to it, everyone was wrong.

Even if that happens, and I hope it does, it still won't mean that the folks in charge weren't asking for these criticisms. They definitely are, and they need to look into how to fix them while they still have goodwill to burn.
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UPDATE:

It seems appropriate to note that I realize that Shang-Chi comes with his own problems, starting with his direct connection to Fu Manchu. I think a series that takes diversity as seriously as Marvel's Jessica Jones and "Marvel's Luke Cage" did would be able to hire an Asian-American, or Asian, showrunner who could confront that issue, and others, head-on in a fashion that would enrich the story and that background.

I Come to Mourn Iron Fist, Not to Praise Him, "'Jessica Jones' wouldn’t have been the show it was if Melissa Rosenberg wasn’t the showrunner and the writers’ room wasn’t well-balanced on gender lines; 'Luke Cage' wouldn’t have been the show it was if the showrunner wasn’t Cheo Hodari Coker and the writers’ room wasn’t majority black."

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