The Iron Fist has obviously had one of the more problematic journeys to the small screen. Was it less problematic when it was created? Maybe. It was created at a point when there was a huge interest in martial arts, and having a white guy indoctrinated into the secrets and becoming the hero was often seen as a window into an alien culture. Kung Fu with David Carradine, one of my favourite shows as a kid, given his playing of a Buddhist monk, might be considered more of a problem if you dig into it, but it was also a highly influential show that got a lot of people interested in the culture. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction created a critically acclaimed run around the character, and it didn’t hit me as being awkward, and sure, you can say that derives from me being white, but from what I remember at the time, it didn’t draw that kind of criticism … so what was different?
I feel like there was something about the way the character was acted that wrapped it all up in a neat bundle of white privilege and cultural appropriation. If that were the concept’s problem, why did The Arrow not draw similar fire? Danny Rand seemed a little more callow and shallow, and whiny. Compared to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, both a lot more rooted in the cultural zeitgeist, he seemed to be everything that people were against. Is Oliver Queen much different? On the surface, no.
With the second season coming along, and the intervening stories told in The Defenders and with Danny’s appearance in Luke Cage, he seems to be something a little different this time through. The way Danny came across when we first met him, in the rearview mirror looks more like an unprepared man burdened with a great gift, trying to come to terms with, at the same time as he asked to use it. Back in his home town, with distractions pressed close to him, he struggles. This season digs into the notion that perhaps he has no right to the fist. It gets taken by his one-time friend Davos, and the idea is floated of giving it to his girlfriend. Sides are taken in a Triad war. Moral boundaries are blurred, and as with Luke Cage, things are a little more complex, but for me, this sophomore effort is better than the first.
You really start to see, with this set of second seasons, that Marvel has built a community here, and that the strength of each of the characters is really derived from this, as much as it is derived from any inner strength. It replicates on the small screen what the Marvel Universe has done so well on the big screen. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones came out of the gate strong – Iron Fist is something that is growing up on screen … I hope it gets another season to keep growing.