Cara Howe/Netflix

Iron Fist stars (from left) Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing, Finn Jones as Danny Rand and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple.

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Some comic book characters, like Superman and Spider-Man, seemed fully formed (and successful) the minute they hit the newsstands. Others ... well, their overnight success takes a little longer.

That brings us to Iron Fist, the newest Marvel series on Netflix. The first season becomes available for streaming on March 17, starring Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick – both of whom, coincidentally, worked on Game of Thrones. Rosario Dawson, who has been in Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, continues her journey as a “Night Nurse” who patches up New York’s gifted. And Matrix star Carrie-Anne Moss, who played lawyer Jeri Hogarth in Jones, brings that character back in Fist as well.

Another player is New York City itself. Daredevil and Jones were set in Hell’s Kitchen, while Luke Cage moved uptown to Harlem. Fist is set in Chinatown and affluent areas such as Gramercy Park, Wall Street and the Upper East Side. By the time all these series dovetail into The Defenders (slated for a mid-2017 release), there won’t be much of Manhattan viewers haven’t seen.

That’s the backdrop on TV for the sudden re-appearance of Danny Rand (Finn), who shows up after being missing and thought dead for years. Finn’s story is that he was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Himalayas when he was 10, and adopted into a hidden mystical city named K’un Lun, where he was trained in the martial arts to be a human weapon called the Iron Fist. Oh, and he can focus his chi (spirit) to where his fist “glows and smolders,” as they say in the comics, “until it becomes like unto a thing of iron!”

Naturally, nobody believes him. That includes childhood friends Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroup), a lawyer, and Ward Meacham (Tom Pelphrey) who is now running Danny’s father’s chemical and pharmaceutical company, Rand Enterprises. There’s no DNA or fingerprints for Danny, so why should they believe this guy?

“The key is letting other people react to it the way that they would in the real world,” says Marvel’s head of television, Jeph Loeb, a former comics writer and a veteran of all of Marvel’s Netflix series. “It’s not something that you readily accept. This is something that you question and continue to question and it becomes one of those issues where you think, is this really happening or is this something that he made up? You have to decide. There are many versions of what the truth is and that’s part of the journey.”

One person who has to make that decision is Colleen Wing (Henwick), a martial arts instructor with her own dojo. As one of the Sand Snakes on Game of Thrones, combat is certainly nothing new. And for emergency room nurse Claire Temple (Dawson), getting roped into another superhero dust-up is getting to be just another Tuesday.

Naturally, we believe Danny, because that origin – white Westerner learns mystic secrets of the East and returns with baffling abilities – makes perfect sense. After all, we accepted it when it was used for The Shadow and The Green Lama, Dr. Doom and Dr. Droom, Mandrake the Magician and Chandu the Magician, Will Eisner’s Wonderman and Bill Everett’s Amazing Man, Alan Moore’s Ozymandias and Peter Morisi’s Thunderbolt, and Deadman and Dr. Strange. Even Batman dropped by Tibet for a little Eastern enlightenment in Christopher Nolan’s movie Batman Begins. 


Sarah Shatz/Netflix

Carrie-Anne Moss returns as Jeri Hogarth (left), to star with Finn Jones in Iron Fist.

And when Danny Rand debuted in 1974, there wasn’t much original about a protagonist who knew a lot of martial arts. The kung fu craze of the mid-‘70s was in full swing, fueled by the TV show Kung Fu (1973) and movies like Billy Jack (1971), Five Fingers of Death (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973), the latter starring the sensational Bruce Lee.

But the pump had been primed even before that. In England, the TV series The Avengers (1961) starred Honor Blackman and later Diana Rigg judo-ing and karate-ing their way through Merrie Olde’s enemies, while James bond faced the inscrutable Oddjob in Goldfinger (1964). America had its own karate stars in Treasury Agent James West (Wild, Wild West, 1965-69) and Napoleon Solo (Man from U.N.C.L.E., 1964-68). Oh, and don’t forget the 1966-67 Green Hornet, which co-starred a young man named Bruce Lee before his days of Dragon superstardom.

Comics, of course, had plenty of martial-arts masters, because there’s nothing comics like better than a fistfight! Some of the more notable entries were Charlton’s Thunderbolt and Judomaster in the mid-1960s, the arrival of I Ching to tutor Wonder Woman in 1968 and Karate Kid (long before the movie) in DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes in 1966. Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu arrived in 1973, combining the kung fu craze with the super-spy fad.

So when Iron Fist debuted in 1974, he was a character with a used origin riding a fad – right into oblivion. It’s not that his green-and-gold costume was all that bad, although some looked askance at his slippers, waist-sash and chest-baring tunic. And his series introduced familiar names, such as Colleen Wing, half of Knightwing Restorations (the other half being Misty Knight, first introduced in Luke Cage comics) and X-Men foe Sabretooth. But by 1977 the first iteration of Iron Fist was heading for cancellation.

As was another book born of a fad. Luke Cage, Hero for Hire debuted in 1972, riding the blaxploitation wave that gave us classic movies like Superfly, Cleopatra Jones and Blacula. (OK, maybe not Blacula.) When the street-wise angle faltered, Hero for Hire became Power Man, with superhero hi-jinx goosing the book for another few years. But by late 1977, Luke Cage, Power Man was on the rocks, sales-wise.

Which is when someone got the bright idea of seeing if these two great tastes would taste great together.

The last issue of Luke Cage, Power Man with a 1977 date guest-starred Danny Rand in an adventure titled “Fist of Iron – Heart of Stone!” Two issues later – before sales reports on that first team-up were in – Danny had co-star credit as the book changed its logo to read Power Man and Iron Fist.

And a star was born. Why is anybody’s guess. But the black, cynical hustler with the super-hard skin and the white, naïve, optimistic boy raised by monks became a popular duo. They were abetted by some of the best supporting characters in comics, including Misty Knight as both a bionically-enhanced detective and Danny’s significant other – one of the first long-running, mixed-race couples in comics.

In short, both characters escaped their one-dimensional roots and became unique characters in their own right. Blaxploitation and Bruce Lee were dead, but Power Man and Iron Fist not only lived, but thrived.

Now both are on Netflix. We’ve seen that Luke Cage has had a mild makeover for TV, and the same will be true for Danny Rand.

For one thing, Danny won’t wear the “classic” green-and-gold – but what he will wear will be close, according to costume designer Stephanie Maslansky.

“I always go back to the original comic illustrations, the origin stories,” she told Forbes.com. “The original illustrations actually inform a lot of what we do. We look at what was done in the past, and we translate those original images, kind of evolve them into looks that are definitely current and modern, but contain a nod to the original source.”

And here’s another change: In the comics Danny’s parents didn’t die in a plane crash. They were eaten by wolves after surviving a plane crash. See? Different.

That’s fine, though, as long as Danny, at some point, says he can turn his hand “like unto a thing of iron.” There are some things too sacred to change.

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As I recall the origin I read on Iron Fist Danny's father was bringing his family back to Ku-un-lun when he was  murdered by his business parter Meacham, who then offered to marry Danny's mother but she turned him down and fled with Danny.  They were in sight of Ku-un-lun when the wolves attacked and she told him to run and threw herself into them to save him  When Danny came back Meacham killed himself leading to a long range feud with daughter.  Am I wrong or was that all retconed?  

I'm pretty sure somebody else killed Meacham but he got the blame. Was his father supposed to have been from there before? I think he was just an explorer looking for it originally.

I can't get to the Iron Fist box right now, but not for the first time do I wish comic book writers would let a characters origin stand.

From everything I'm hearing, this series is getting an extremely lukewarm reception--which doesn't surprise me, as the Iron Fist solo comics were pretty mediocre as well. I'm not sure if it's a matter of him not being able to work as a solo character or more how well he plays against Luke Cage, but I haven't seen much that gets me interested in this character. Maybe if they skipped the origin and made him a mentor to a neophyte super hero  or something like that, but otherwise there's never been much for me to get excited about.

I actually found a reason to like Iron Fist when they expanded his role to being one of many. I liked the 1920s Iron Fist, who was a failure and addict who became a Buz Sawyer/Doc Savage sort of soldier of fortune. He even had his own gang of experts, like Doc Savage. I thought that was a good touch, making him the sort of adventure hero that was popular in the pulp era but probably never really existed.

That brought about the expansion of K'un Lun, in that it had six sister cites (equally hard to reach from Earth) who had their own champions. I found them to be pretty cool -- as I've said before, when a writer comes up with a group of characters, usually they're just a collection of names and a single defining trait, and ultimately boring. But the other Immortal Weapons, from Bride of Nine Spiders to Fat Cobra, were all pretty interesting. Well, except for Steel Phoenix, and Brubaker and Fraction (who created the Immortal Iron Fist angle) were stuck with him. (He was Davos, Rand's longtime arch-nemesis. Spoiler.)

I guess the unhappy reviewers we have seen quoted had a preview of least the beginning (two episodes?) of the Netflix show, which is supposed to be available to the rest of us on Friday, March 17.

So far I’ve been happy with all of the Netflix Marvel offerings. Back in the day, I was buying all of the Marvel superhero comics, so I bought Iron Fist. I never got excited about it. I get the impression that Martin Goodman told Stan that he wanted a kung fu character* ASAP. The Shang-Chi character was head and shoulders above Iron Fist and, if adapted to Netflix, would have had the advantage of not being about a white guy who rises above the non-white guys. This cliché is from the early twentieth century.

I think that the training in K'un Lun is going to be painfully familiar to a lot of viewers. As Cap pointed out, it was used in the Batman Begins movie and has been done to death in the weekly Arrow TV show.
I’m hoping that the early episodes that were available for these reviews are surpassed by the rest of the season.

*I haven’t looked it up, but I’m surprised that Danny Rand debuted after Shang-Chi. I guess Goodman wanted to have a second kung fu character.

Maybe Goodman thought a white guy would sell better.

Richard Willis said:

I guess the unhappy reviewers we have seen quoted had a preview of least the beginning (two episodes?) of the Netflix show, which is supposed to be available to the rest of us on Friday, March 17.

So far I’ve been happy with all of the Netflix Marvel offerings. Back in the day, I was buying all of the Marvel superhero comics, so I bought Iron Fist. I never got excited about it. I get the impression that Martin Goodman told Stan that he wanted a kung fu character* ASAP. The Shang-Chi character was head and shoulders above Iron Fist and, if adapted to Netflix, would have had the advantage of not being about a white guy who rises above the non-white guys. This cliché is from the early twentieth century.

I think that the training in K'un Lun is going to be painfully familiar to a lot of viewers. As Cap pointed out, it was used in the Batman Begins movie and has been done to death in the weekly Arrow TV show.
I’m hoping that the early episodes that were available for these reviews are surpassed by the rest of the season.

*I haven’t looked it up, but I’m surprised that Danny Rand debuted after Shang-Chi. I guess Goodman wanted to have a second kung fu character.

Randy’s comment about skipping his origin caused me to remember something.

In the Netflix shows, they introduced Luke Cage as a mysterious guy who was (pretty much) invulnerable and had super-strength. They introduced him in the Jessica Jones series without showing his origin. In his own series, Luke’s origin was alluded to but not shown until, IIRC, halfway through the season. This is superior writing.

If they hit the ground running by showing Danny Rand smashing a hole in a wall with his fist and left the origin for later they would have been better off.

From the quotes on the Netflix site from Jeph Loeb and others, it seems they wanted to play with the "is he crazy?" angle for a little while. I guess that would be answered the first time he turns his fist like unto a thing of iron. So they must delay that for a while. Must not be very exciting the first couple of episodes.

And I don't think the audience is going to have much patience for the "is he crazy?" bit because we've already seen three more-than-mortal characters with shows named for them, and here's a fourth, so we're going to accept Danny's story at face value. Like with Fear the Walking Dead, we're going to be impatient for the people on the screen to catch up with us on the learning curve.

Just started watching this. I was hoping the negative critical response was off base but so far things aren't looking great. There are ingredients of a good show peppered throughout, but basic elements like plot, story logic and character motivation are sorely lacking.  It's too bad because most of the faults that I see could have been easily corrected.  There's enough here to keep me watching, but I'm a bit disappointed so far.

I've been binge-watching Arrow lately, and as pulp-nonsense entertainment, I've been enjoying it.

But I am extremely wary of taking on another long-form show about a martial arts fighting loose canon (white) CEO.  Killing and/or instantly concussing ninjas by the score.

As to the comics, only the excellent Claremont/Byrne Iron Fist comics were reprinted in the UK, so I quite liked the stories I read.

(Like unto a thing of iron sounds very Claremont, though!)

Something I'm not getting is the whole controversy over casting a Caucasian actor to portray a Caucasian comic book character.

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