Everything you need to know about 'Iron Fist'

Walt Hickey said it best -- "You've got questions, we've got answers."

The pop culture guru together with ABC News hosted a Marvel special as the "Iron Fist" series hits Netflix today. Iron Fist is a familiar character in the comics, but unlike Daredevil or even Iron Man, he is one that many casual fans might not know much about.

So, before you start streaming today, here's what Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso and Ed Brisson, one of the authors of the current Iron Fist series, had to say. Obviously there are some differences between the books and shows, but this gives insight into the character.

Back story

Iron Fist was one of the first Kung Fu superheroes and came out of the 1970s.

"He's a perfect fusion of martial arts and superpowers," Alonso said.

His origin story is familiar, but with a twist. Danny Rand was the son of a billionaire and as a young boy saw both his father and mother die. His father's death was at the hands of a business partner, against whom the son vows revenge.

Rand eventually finds solace in the magical kingdom of K'un L'un and begins his training at a very young age. As one of the best students there, he is given a shot at becoming the Iron Fist.

His powers

You have to suspend reality a bit here. Rand was given the powers of the Iron Fist by defeating a dragon, Shou-Lao the Undying.

"This is a power that was earned, it wasn't bestowed upon him," Alonso said, explaining how this character is so unique. "It wasn't a radioactive spider or gamma radiation."

The dragon tattoo on Rand's chest came as a result of his fight with Shou-Lao.

When he focuses his powers, he can punch his way through almost anything. But as he is trained in the martial arts, he's also compassionate and smart.

"He's not like Tony Stark [Iron Man]. he's not as mercurial, vain or egotistical," Alonso said. "He's looking to do good in the world and he has this other life as Iron Fist."

In the books, when Iron Fist has a chance for revenge, he chooses not to kill his father's ex-business partner upon seeing that the man has already suffered, and instead channels his sympathy and compassion.

Heroes for Hire

Rand, along with his dear friend Luke Cage, is part of the Heroes for Hire, one of the most beloved and iconic groups in Marvel history. He's also part of the Defenders, which you'll get to see on Netflix this year and which includes the likes of Fist, Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil.

But it's Iron Fist's friendship with Cage that's really special. The two couldn't be more different, one black and one white, one rich and one poor. But over decades, the two have looked past their differences and been best friends fighting crime together.

"Danny Rand throws the most potent punch in the Marvel universe, and who's better equipped to take that punch than Luke Cage?" Alonso said. "You've got an orphan guy who is looking for friends."

Alonso said "Power Man and Iron Fist" is one of the original "buddy books."

"There's a very special chemistry between Danny and Luke," he added. "It's sustained them past the decades of the '70s ... They found magic in their pairing."

This should be interesting to watch in "The Defenders" -- that chemistry between Mike Colter, who plays Cage, and Finn Jones, your Iron Fist.

"Friendship transcends the material ... there's something common about their souls," Alonso said.

His cast of villains

Rand doesn't have your typical Joker or Thanos to battle; he's got some really unique villains who are germane to his world and his character.

As Hickey put it, the Iron Fist fights street-level crime in New York, which may include just gang or drug violence, or it may be bigger.

"There's the Steel Serpent, who is from K'un L'un as well," Alonso said. "He's gone up against The Hand, with their endless supply of ninja warriors [which you've seen in the "Daredevil" Netflix series]. Many people don't know this, but Sabretooth [a major Wolverine villain] actually first appeared in Iron Fist."

In the show, it will be Rand's journey to get back his family business and more early on that viewers will see.

Iron Fist, the man behind the team

Like Tony Stark, Rand has a lot of money to spend in order to protect his home, New York and beyond.

"Rand has bankrolled an Avengers team," Hickey said.

This could also play a role in "The Defenders," in which Iron Fist teams up with Cage, Jones and Murdock, none of whom has two dimes to rub together. Their good deeds could be elevated to new heights with Rand's deep pockets.

Marvel and ABC News are both part of parent company Disney. For even more about Iron Fist both on and off the screen, watch the full interview above!

"Iron Fist" is available for streaming now on Netflix.


Don’t Worry, There’s Plenty of Great Iron Fist—It’s Just Not on Netflix

The critical pile-on of Iron Fist has officially reached comedy status. The fourth of Netflix’s Marvel shows (and the final lead-in to next year’s Defenders teamup) premieres today, and the reception to the first few episodes has not been kind. While that’s largely the fault of dull writing and plodding plotting, though, Iron Fist himself hasn’t been helping. From the moment that Netflix announced the casting of Finn Jones as the titular hero, there’s a been a steady drumbeat of complaints about a white guy playing the greatest martial artist in the world—a complaint that has only become louder as Jones has waded intro the fray, getting defensive on Twitter and suggesting that people are only complaining because Donald Trump is President.

To be fair, many comic book fans have come to the defense of Jones’ casting. Sure, they argue, it might be racially insensitive to have a white guy be Marvel’s best martial artist; and yeah, it’s another example of Marvel’s reliance on the “white savior” trope, one more troubling after last year’s Doctor Strange turned The Ancient One from an Asian to a Caucasian role. But, they insist, it’s canon, because Iron Fist was actually white.

That’s true: Danny Rand, the Iron Fist on the show, is indeed the primary Iron Fist in comic book continuity. But that doesn’t mean that Danny Rand is the only Iron Fist in Marvel’s comic book mythology. As early as his second comic book appearance (in 1972’s Marvel Premiere #16), there was the implication that Iron Fist wasn’t an individual’s identity as much as a shared mantle that had been worn by different people throughout history. It would take decades for that idea to come into focus, but when it did—courtesy of the 2006 Immortal Iron Fist series by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja—it revolutionized Iron Fist as a concept, and as a superhero identity.

Rand, Immortal Iron Fist revealed, was the sixty-seventh Iron Fist to that point. Although the series only introduced readers to seven of his 66 predecessors, all but one of them was of Asian descent. Beyond Quan Yazou, the original Iron Fist, there were Li Park, Bein Ming-Tian, Wu Ao-Shi, Bei Bang-Wen and Kwai Jun-Fan—and none of them were a hipster version of Bruce Wayne.(Though it’s telling that the series spent more time with the seventh predecessor, a white dude named Orson Randall, than any of the others.)

Nor was Iron Fist’s Asian legacy only in the past; in both Immortal Iron Fist and subsequent series Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, the writers established that the future of the Iron Fist was distinctly un-Caucasian. The former series flashed-forward to the year 3099 to introduce Wah Sing-Rand, while The Living Weapon showed a young female monk called Pei possessing the Iron Fist.

In many ways, this is in keeping with Marvel’s general direction with regards to comic book representation over the last few years. Once upon a time, the company’s catalog of heroes who were women or people of color was limited to sidekicks, supporting characters, and the occasional team-member. More recently, though, more familiar superhero identities have been turned into franchises with an aim of more accurately reflecting the world outside your window. The half-Black, half-Latino Miles Morales became a second Spider-Man; Sam Wilson—formerly the high-flying Falcon—signed on as a new Captain America; Thor was replaced as god of thunder by his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster.

While that trend seems to be continuing to this day—Invincible Iron Man was recently relaunched with a teenage girl taking the place of Tony Stark—there remains a horde of traditionalists for whom there can only be one version of any given character. More often than not, that means the original version, when almost everyone was a white dude. It’s worth noting that Marvel is seeing historically low sales of its monthly titles, leading to rumors of a relaunch later this year that will restore the white male versions of its big names in hopes of appealing to long-term fans.

Is that conservative impulse among fandom the reason that Marvel didn’t try to switch things up when selecting a TV version of Iron Fist? It’s unclear. The company’s movies and TV adaptations tend to hew towards the “classic” takes on characters, but not always: Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Agents of SHIELD‘s Ghost Rider were based on later incarnations rather than the original (white) ones. But if you’re convinced that Netflix’s Iron Fist should be white because of “canon,” forget it: A full 80% of the comic book Iron Fists to date haven’t been white. There’s more than enough material available to support an alternative take. Perhaps those concerned with fidelity to the source material should ask themselves why Marvel didn’t really go with canon in the first place.

Iron Fist’s premiere doesn’t make a convincing case for its own existence

“Why does this story need to be told?” That’s the question all writers and directors need to (or at least should) ask themselves before they put pen to paper or shoot a single frame of film. Iron Fist is fighting an uphill battle in that regard, solely because there have been so many similar stories explored in entertainment over the past decade or so. Wealthy white man falls into bad luck, learns impressive skills in a mysterious place (more often than not somewhere in Asia), then returns as a hero is the basic premise of Batman Begins, Iron Man, Arrow, Doctor Strange, and to some extent The Wolverine. So without an inherently original premise (which isn’t the worst sin in Hollywood), Iron Fist needs to find another hook—any hook—to justify why viewers should stick with it for 13 episodes. So does it? Well let’s break it down:

The action: If there’s one thing you’d expect from a series about a superhuman martial arts master, it’s compelling action. But this premiere features some shockingly lackluster action scenes. The show is clearly holding back on the full extent of Danny Rand’s Iron Fist powers, which makes sense, but the short action scenes that do exist lack any of the visceral pizzazz of Daredevil or even Luke Cage. Hell, Agents Of S.H.I.EL.D. is regularly pulling off better hand-to-hand combat scenes than this premiere. It’s hard to tell if the issue is with the fight choreography, the editing, or Finn Jones himself, but his opening brawl with the Rand Enterprises security guards looks like a rehearsal at half speed, not the world’s greatest martial arts expert opening a can of highly trained whoop-ass.

The characters: On the other hand, Jessica Jones was never great at action either and still managed to tell a compelling story, so lackluster fight choreography alone isn’t enough to earn Iron Fist a failing grade. The show just needs something else to recommend it, like the compelling central characters of its sister series. Superhero properties are more often than not going to trade in archetypes, but the best ones either find a unique spin on that archetype or at least present it with a whole lot of conviction. Unfortunately, Iron Fist does neither. Mysteriously returned Rand Enterprises heir Danny Rand (a.k.a. Shoeless Joe Jet Li) is as bland a hero as they come, with only an occasional mysterious flashback to offer any sort of interest to his story. And the show’s villains aren’t much better. Brother/sister duo Ward and Joy Meachum are stock corporate baddies with no specificity to ground their personalities, at least not yet.

The performances: But good performances can often elevate so-so characters so how does Iron Fist do on that front? Again, not so good. Finn Jones is a vortex at the center of this premiere, sucking in the show’s energy with a performance that I think is aiming for sheepishly charming but just comes across as na├»ve at best and disinterested at worst. He spouts Danny’s platitudes with neither conviction nor ironic detachment, one of which would be needed to make his frequent mantras interesting. And none of his co-stars make much of an impression yet either, save for one exception that we’ll get to in a second.

The style: Even at their schlockiest moments, the one thing these Netflix Defenders shows have going for them is a lush visual style. And I’ll give Iron Fist credit for looking better than your average network procedural. But unlike Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, it doesn’t deploy its prestige-aesthetic to any real purpose. It has visual gloss, but there’s nothing thoughtful about its eye-candy (or eye-protein if you prefer) to make that a major selling point for the series either.

The writing: And in our fifth and final category, Iron Fist once again comes up short. Even by Defenders standards, this is a slow premiere. At one point we spend a solid minute watching Danny look at a door. He wanders doe-eyed into his family’s old company then proceeds to make zero logical choices about proving his identity. It takes him forever to think of telling personal stories from their childhood to convince Ward and Joy that he is who he says he is, even though that seems like the most obvious course of action. And the dialogue throughout is incredibly uninspired, particularly between Ward and Joy as well as in the flashbacks to Danny’s childhood, which feel like they come from a made-for-TV movie from the ’90s. Plus I’m not convinced even Meryl Streep herself could find a way to effectively deliver clunky lines like, “I’m texting my driver right now, which means he’s going to be pulling around the corner any second, and if you’re still with me when he gets here I’m going to ask him to detain you because he’s not just my driver, he’s also my guard. My armed guard.” And it certainly doesn’t help that rather than find any humor in its heightened material, Iron Fist takes a particularly po-faced approach to its storytelling.

In fact, the one scene that stands out in “Snow Gives Way” is the one that does have its own unique sense of humor. It turns out that seemingly dead corporate head-honcho/Rand family friend Harold Meachum is actually very much alive and living in an impeccably decorated underground bunker. In a premiere full of things I’ve seen before, this scene at least offers something different, like Harold toying with his loyal employee who apparently regularly works with him in said bunker until way past midnight. There’s a personality and specificity to the Harold/Ward confrontation that the rest of the episode is sorely missing. And as I alluded to before, the most interesting performance comes from David Wenham (a.k.a. Faramir “always a bridesmaid never a bride” Of Gondor) as the Kennedy-esque recluse who apparently faked his own death for reasons yet unknown.

But one interesting scene aside, what we’re left with is the fact that Iron Fist exists not because it has a unique story to tell, unique visuals to present, or unique characters to explore. It exists because it needs to set up the Defenders crossover event. And, unfortunately, “corporate mandate” just isn’t a great answer to the question of why this story needs to be told.

Of course, this is just the premiere and Iron Fist still has more time to finds its feet. And to be fair, these Netflix Defenders shows all tend to start out a little slow because they’re assuming the binge-watch model will entice viewers through at least a few episodes before they make up their minds about it. That means their premieres aren‘t as top-heavy as traditional TV pilots (Daredevil’s much-hyped hallway fight came in its second episode, not its first). There’s every chance Iron Fist could turn itself around over the course of the next few episodes. But as it stands, this is the weakest Defenders intro yet. And that’s not the greatest thing to feel while starring down 12 more hours of a TV show.

Stray observations
  • Welcome to Iron Fist coverage! Reviews will drop daily at 11 a.m. EST. I won’t be watching ahead, so my reviews will be spoiler-free for upcoming episodes. On that note, if you have watched ahead, please make sure to mark spoilers in the comments section. Or better yet, reserve conversation about the series as a whole to the first comment thread. That way people who haven’t seen the whole show yet can just collapse that thread.
  • If you’d like to read more about the campaign for an Asian-American Iron Fist that took place when the series was first announced, I highly recommend this piece from Keith Chow over at Nerds Of Color.
  • You’d think Rand Enterprises would have some lockdown procedure for when someone beats up their guards and breaks into the building, but, nope. The guards don’t even think to call the police.
  • The casting directors did a good job finding a teenaged version of Ward who looks like he’d grow up to be Tom Pelphrey.
  • I liked the warmth Craig Walker brought to his portrayal of Danny’s newfound friend Big Al, although the character did feel a bit like a collection of stereotypes about homeless people.
  • There are so many times in this premiere where people act weirdly illogically. For one thing, why does Ward get into his car when Danny hijacks it? No car is worth your life, dude. And for another, it was strange that after beating up the Rand Enterprises guards who came after him during the parade, Danny screams, “Who sent you?!?”. I guess he was trying to figure out if it was Ward or Joy who specifically issued the order, but it felt like the sort of thing you’d ask an anonymous henchmen, not the person who clearly works for the corporation you’re currently butting heads with.

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