As the weeks and days grow closer to the premier of Netflix and Marvel’s latest superhero show, Iron Fist, it’s easy to think it’s just yet another billionaire white guy in spandex story. The synopsis and online criticism of the last few months—more on this later— suggest so: “Billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returns to New York City after being missing for years, trying to reconnect with his past and his family legacy. He fights against the criminal element corrupting New York City with his kung-fu mastery and ability to summon the awesome power of the fiery Iron Fist.” But unlike superheroes who’ve come before, there is more to Iron Fist than just the similarities.
The vagueness of that seemingly bare synopsis is intentional. For those who follow Iron Fist in comics, the character is in that fine line between the gritty streets and the supernatural world. Iron Fist’s long run in comics has taken him all around the crime-infested boroughs of New York to the mythical lands/realms of the Marvel universe. While the comic started as a product of the western world’s fascination with martial arts, Asian culture, and kung fu, Iron Fist has quietly made a niche for himself that go way beyond the typical Marvel hero.
This is perhaps never clearer than in the pages of The Immortal Iron First comic by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and artist, David Aja. The 16-issue story took Danny Rand from the streets of Manhattan to the mythical land of K’un-Lun and beyond. From the pulp-noir and old school kung fu influences of the story to the medically precise yet still energetic art of David Aja, Iron Fist grew to be more than just a pop-culture knock-off to something that successfully combined eastern and western pop-fiction that was both current and timeless at the same time.
Judging from the most recent trailer, the people behind Marvel and Netflix’s adaptation seem to heavily reference Brubaker, Fraction, and Aja’s comic, hopefully capturing the same success and magic that the comic had. And actor Finn Jones seems to understand that as well, as the trailers and clips released show Jones being able to display the grit and wonder the character calls for.
In a recent interview with Buzzfeed while promoting Marvel’s Iron Fist, Jones had to answer the controversies of white saviors, orientalism, and diversity surrounding the show—highlighted by his casting—head on. While the character in the comics really was white, many felt that the show missed an opportunity to update its cast and promote diversity in an already culturally struggling industry. Even writers from Marvel itself took to Twitter against the casting with Han Solo, Astonishing X-Men, and Dark Wolverine writer, Marjorie Liu commenting, “Iron Fist is an orientalist-white-man-yellow-fever narrative. Asian actor would have helped subvert that offensive trope, and reclaim space.”
While there is merit for the outrage, for Jones, the actor caught in the middle of it all, it is a matter of not only seeing the whole picture but going beyond the surface as well. As he said on that Buzzfeed interview, ““With this instance in particular, what I struggle with and what frustrates me is that people are commenting on the headline without understanding the full picture, without understanding the full story. What you’ll find with the way that we’re telling this story is we’re addressing the issues that people are very concerned about in a very intelligent and modern way.”
Time will only tell if Jones and the whole production really do pull through in not only highlighting the diversity of the show but also doing the character justice. Danny Rand/Iron Fist has gone through changes both real and fiction and it seems Marvel’s Iron Fist aims to not only celebrate that legacy but more importantly, bring it into today’s world.
The complete first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist will premiere exclusively on Netflix on March 17.