Some thoughts on Netflix’s Iron First and how it’s actually kind of good

No spoilers (provided you’ve seen the trailer or have even a cursory knowledge of who/what Iron Fist is).

A lot of people I know on Facebook appear to dislike Iron First. I see a lot of comments about people getting bored after 1-2 episodes, hating how dumb Danny (Iron First) Rand is, disliking the cultural appropriation, finding it odd that they have a Singaporean-Chinese-Zambian-English actress playing a Japanese woman, and being frustrated by simple solutions not being tried first (e.g. hey Danny, why not have a shower, get some shoes, and generally look a bit less absurd before you go into the headquarters of Rand Enterprises? And then you could, I don’t know, tell them something that only you and they would know in episode 1 instead of episode 3 or 4.)

But I think there’s something to be said about Iron Fist, and it’s that the character of Danny Rand is internally consistent. That’s one of the things that keeps me watching the show.

Danny was 10 when his plane crashed and he was adopted by the monks of Kun Lun. From what we can tell about him based on what little backstory we are given throughout the series, he was spoiled and bribed to do what his parents wanted. He was allowed to ride his skateboard through corporate headquarters, was always roaming around the building and finding ways in and out of it, at least sometimes refused to do what his parents wanted unless they bribed him (like with a trip to the circus), and just generally fits the stereotype of the spoiled rich kid.

This led to him being arrogant, and then he went to a monastery and was trained that “doubt leads to death.” So you take his arrogance and you turn the self-confidence dial up to 11.

As near as we can tell, his only education at the monastery was in fighting and farming. He has a 5th grade education in reading, mathematics, and science, and possibly not even that because he was home schooled. Considering the implications regarding being spoiled, it’s not hard to guess that his schooling wasn’t rigorous. Danny’s father certainly didn’t appear to drive him as hard as Ward and Joy’s father drove them. If their plane hadn’t crashed, I imagine that Danny Rand would have turned out a lot like Oliver Queen prior to the Queen’s Gambit going down.

So when Danny returns to New York and walks into the headquarters to find the people he thinks of as his long-lost family, I can kind of understand that. He expected to be welcomed back with joy (no pun intended) and celebration. He doesn’t know any better.

Another facet of Danny’s personality, that we get mostly from the comics but a bit from the show, is that he is generally naive and innocent, and he thinks the best of people. He learned honor from the monks and assumes everyone is as honorable as him (which later gets him in trouble with the board of Rand Enterprises). His parents seemed to love him and shelter him, and except for Ward being a bully to him as a kid, he lived in a safe bubble. While the plane crash was traumatic, he was then taken in by these fantastic people and literally lived in heaven for 15 years. He isn’t used to people lying to him. We know from the comics that not everyone in Kun Lun was kind to him–he was, after all, being trained to be a living weapon–but people were generally straight-forward.

So you’ve got this guy with no education, no street-smarts, who is absolutely arrogant and self-confident, and who thinks the best of everyone… but there’s a darker set of traits influencing Danny Rand too. He likely has PTSD from the plane crash. As part of the Iron Fist’s training and duties, he was to “kill” Danny Rand and become wholly the Iron Fist, but he clearly chose to go back to New York and try to resume some of his life as Danny Rand. He is internally conflicted, and this conflict has a negative impact on him.

I don’t really enjoy the Iron Fist comics, but I do think they’re internally consistent, and I do find the character kind of interesting. What we have here isn’t Tony Stark, who is a narcissist. Nor do we have Oliver Queen, who is driven by guilt. Nor do we have Batman, who is just super complicated and there’s no way to talk about Batman without limiting the discussion to a particular iteration of Batman… What I’m getting at is that Danny is another rich white superhero who thinks he can save the world, but he is different from the other rich white superheroes we’ve seen.

Danny doesn’t particularly like himself. We get this more in the comics, and while I’m only in episode 9 of the Netflix series, I think we’ll see more of it as the show goes on. The conflict between Danny Rand and Iron Fist is hard, and he doesn’t know his place in the world. What’s more, the world doesn’t work the way he expects it to, and no matter how hard he tries, it refuses to work the way he wants. I have always felt like, for many of the other superheroes, they face an ever-escalating series of conflicts and they overcome and we get catharsis. Iron Fist fails over and over again, not because he doesn’t defeat the bad guys, but because his goals are so monumental that they’re impossible to achieve. And unlike Tony Stark, the futurist who can invent what’s needed to change the world, Danny Rand has no idea how to make a real, lasting difference. He’s not smart enough to wield his corporate empire, and he’s not strong enough to stop all the bad guys.

Iron Fist is a B-list hero; he was deliberately written to be on the B-list. Iron Fist gives us an opportunity to see, “What would happen if a regular guy got super powers?” Yes, this regular guy is a multi-billionaire, but the money is largely irrelevant to the story or Danny’s character, except insofar as it shaped the first 10 years of his life.

OK, so that’s why I think the show has some worth. It’s internally consistent and I can see where it’s coming from. That said, I mostly watch it for:

  • The Joy-Ward story arc. I want to like Joy but am not sure I should. I want to hate Ward but am not sure I can. And despite them both being of questionable moral fiber, their sibling love is something I admire. They’re great characters.
  • Claire. I mean, come on. I laughed long and hard at her saying, “Sweet Christmas” right before she knocked a guy out. She’s a straight-shooter and I love that she ties all the Marvel TV shows together. My only regret is that she hasn’t facilitated a meet-up yet.
  • A lot of people like Colleen, but I think she’s just OK. She’s a bit too much of a supporting foil for me, and I wish she was more independent and stronger on her own.
  • Tie-ins. I love all the ways the various Marvel TV shows tie together. I have a deep longing for tie-ins to the movies too. They’re going to do a Defenders movie, I think, and I am hopeful that Doctor Strange will at least have a cameo in it.

 

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