Nothing lasts forever. Rome collapsed under its own weight; ER lost its entire original cast; the Twinkie was already put out to pasture once; and now it seems the Marvel Netflix universe is on the verge of mediocrity as well. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was already taking a few missteps, it seemed with the Netflix shows that we might be experiencing a second Renaissance of geek flee but early reviews for “Iron Fist” were released yesterday and not only was the shown torn asunder for its racist undertones—but it turns out the show just isn’t that good.
Don’t mistake my jovial tone for reveling; I genuinely wanted Iron Fist to do as well as his Netflix contemporaries. Yes, I had misgivings about the premise, the casting also did nothing to assuage my fears, and the trailer didn’t give me the same stomach churning need as Luke Cage’s; but I was still genuinely hopeful that Iron Fist would get his day in the sun. After all, I love Danny Rand! He isn’t a particularly powerful or important superhero but he has an important place in the Marvel Universe—which is why his sour reviews make me kind of annoyed at Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb.
I’m going to put aside the Orientalism this show stepped neck deep into; I’ll get to it later in the article but I am just a white dude so a lot of the experience and opinions I’m going to get into aren’t my own. Instead, allow me to focus on a lot of the story problems that are happening right off the back—and I’ll start at the trailer. Right away I felt an unease as I watched Danny Rand walk around the streets of New York but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As person after person commented on his bare feet it hit me, this isn’t written very well. That joke is good for a chuckle exactly once and the trailer wouldn’t have lost any impact for its absence. And I thought, “Is that all Danny Rand is?” And of course it isn’t. That’s showrunner Scott Buck’s narrow view of a character that is important for so many other reasons. In the comics it’s hardly brought up that he was in a plane crash; and he’s never been played up as the fish out of water and it’s easy to see why. He was in that plane crash when he was twelve, he didn’t come back and forget how Chuck Taylors work. And if you are going to go that route, that is the most boring route you can take! He left and they were just rolling out cell phones, he came back and now there’s four terrible Transformers movies. What I’m saying is there’s a better role in the Marvel universe for Danny Rand than “That weird guy with no shoes”.
Going to the source is usually the best way for figuring out the problem and in our case it’s pretty easy. In the show it looks like Danny is really only into Kung Fu; in the comics, Danny is really into being a hero. He’s the reason Luke Cage teams up with him to form the Heroes for Hire. Luke doesn’t want to be a superhero and bucks the mantle every chance he gets. Danny on the other hand seeks it out and actively strives to be a superhero, no matter how bad he is at it. And I really wish Scott Buck would have pulled this from Marvel’s own comic books because right now they have a problem. The next series on the horizon is the Defenders, a super hero team but for the streets. Problem is their entire roster of heroes doesn’t want to be heroes. So what motivation do they have to form a super hero team? Mathew Murdock spent the entire last season pushing away and alienating his friends and allies so he could solo as Daredevil, Jessica Jones is a caustic personality who rolls her eyes at spandex, and Luke Cage only wants to help the people of Harlem—and also he’s headed to prison. So now would be the perfect time to bring someone in to unify the team, you know, a “Phil Coulson” type. But from the looks of things, Danny ain’t that guy.
It’s now floating around multiple interviews that Danny isn’t going to be donning his famous silk pajamas; which is puzzling. If the guy is okay with walking the streets of New York barefoot without a tetanus shot, why is he so embarrassed of the green and yellow? And that’s when the dots connect: Danny Rand is another Netflix Not-A-Hero. He’s gonna be another guy who sneers at the Avengers, who tells everyone he’s not interested in being a hero, and he’s gonna turn into a Daredevil clone. Because what does he have that makes him different from Mathew? He’s just gonna be another guy who lurks in the shadows and fights dudes in a hallway. He’s going to be indistinct. He’s gonna be pointless. And when the Defenders show up on screen it’s gonna be The Mighty Defenders… and that guy with the glow fist. It’s disappointing because it’s easy to see his value from a narrative perspective. Even the writers of Heroes knew that if everyone in their cast was gonna side eye super powers, then you need one person who is genuinely enthusiastic about it. And that’s why Hiro quickly became a fan favorite. Yeah, his powers were undeniably cool but the excitement in his voice when he jumped into the women’s bathroom was like ten birthday cakes lit with firework candles. Danny Rand would have been an amazing Hiro Nakamura.
So, that brings me to the teeth gnashingly awful part of the reviews. In the show, Danny Rand goes to Colleen Wing’s dojo. There he proceeds to instruct her on how to properly do martial arts. Let’s not be opaque about this, this is a garbage fire of awfulness. Let me take a step back to when they were casting Danny Rand. A lot of Asian Americans thought a good way to include Asians in Marvel’s universe would be to cast Danny Rand as Asian. There’s nothing in his backstory that precludes him from being Asian and it would have brought another dimension to the character. True, making the only Asian hero in the Marvel universe good at Kung Fu wouldn’t look good but many were willing to set that to the side in order to have an Asian American hero. Marvel was quick to dispel the wishful thinking, insisting that Danny was white in the comics so he was going to be white in the show and they weren’t going to mix races to appease fans. Let’s all collectively forget that Sam Jackson knocked it out of the park as Nick Fury, a role originally played by David Hasselhoff—a man who is the opposite of Black. Marvel insisted they had a story for a white Danny Rand and that they’d create more controversy if they cast him as Asian. So, back to the dojo scene where Danny Rand is being the grossest Weeaboo to grace the Marvel Netflix universe. This is a white dude, going into an Asian American’s place of business and telling her how to do her job. Women deal with this kind of thing non-stop, especially in comic book stores, arrogant assholes forcing women to be their captive audience to show off how much knowledge they have while belittling the women who work there. So Marvel, in their attempt to sidestep some slight controversy instead fell into a deep shit hole that couldn’t have been more obvious with blinky lights and an airhorn siren. Danny Rand is turning into a boring, repetitive, arrogant, asshole and Marvel needs to fix that.
So what can Jeph Loeb do about Danny? Iron Fist releases next week so that damage is done. We’re stuck with boring, Danny in his series, but things can be done in The Defenders to redeem him. First off, put him in the pajamas. I don’t care how silly it looks, I don’t care if everyone else is casual; the whole point is to distinguish him from the pack and give him a reason for being there. Second, team him up with Luke Cage as fast as possible! Mike Coulter knocked it out of the park and the only way they’re gonna wash the bad taste of Iron Fist out of our mouth is if they replace it with Heroes for Hire. I don’t care that Luke Cage is going to prison, have Danny waiting in the cell when he gets there. Figure out a way, write it up because Danny needs help. Third? Look at your strengths, Jeph. The reason Jessica Jones resonated so well was that it was an abuse survivor confronting abuse both physically and emotionally. Luke Cage became so well entrenched in the Black community and brought a corner of the world into focus that audiences weren’t being shown. Find something that Iron Fist can connect with other than not having shoes. The mistakes here are already done but if Marvel can get their shit together, Danny Rand might not end as a skid mark.