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Is 'Iron Fist' Just In It For The Fans?

The only thing the Netflix show has stayed faithful to is the comic’s inherent racism

"These shows are made for the fans, not for critics," Finn Jones, star of Netflix's Iron Fist, told RadioTimes after a barrage of bad reviews hit the internet. "I think the fans of the source material and the fans of the Netflix and Marvel shows will love what we’ve created. I think it’s that simple." This is the oft-repeated refrain whenever a comic-book film draws critical ire. It's for the fans.

Putting aside the "comic-book fans versus critics" mentality that assumes critics can't possibly be fans of comics (it pops up the most when a new DC movie drops), this argument is a bit akin to religious conservatives who claim that their understanding of the Bible is better than yours. All that homosexuality? The Bible is totally against it — but only fans get that. By the same logic, Iron Fist can't be racially problematic because the series starred a white guy when the character debuted in 1974's Marvel Premiere #15. Never mind that the origins of the series itself are racist. A white man is the one person who can wield the power of a mystical Asian weapon? Sure. Pretend the series was created with no ill intent all you want, but Iron Fist cocreator Roy Thomas last week told Inverse, "I have so little patience for some of the feelings that some people have. You know, cultural appropriation, my god. It’s just an adventure story. Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either." Sweet Christmas.

Regarding Iron Fist's faithfulness to its source material, the only thing it stayed true to is its racial blind spots. In the Netflix series, Danny Rand's motivations are muddled and unclear. His parents die in a plane crash and he survives by living in K'un L'un, a mystical city where the power of the Iron Fist is bestowed upon him. Fifteen years later, he leaves the city … just because. It's not until he's reunited with the Meachums, family friends and co-owners of Danny's family's company, that he begins to suspect his parents were murdered. If we were to keep things completely 100, Harold Meachum's treachery is immediate from the jump. In Danny's comic-book origins, Harold is in love with Danny's mother, so he kills Danny's father. During an attempt to escape with her son, Danny's mother is eaten by a pack of wolves and he's orphaned. When he is taken in by the warriors of K'un L'un, it's because his father trained there and was intent on bringing Danny into the fold. This young boy didn't randomly survive the freezing cold because he's the most exceptional white child who ever lived; in the comics there is a reason for Danny to be in K'un L'un and a reason for him to depart — to avenge his father's death.

In the comics, Harold loses his limbs thanks to the freezing cold of the Himalayas, but returns home to run the company he controls. Harold has a daughter, Joy, and a brother, Ward, who seek vengeance on Iron Fist when they believe he's responsible for killing Harold. (He's not. It's instead a random person named Ninja — yes, just "Ninja," like he's the Asian "Cher.") In the series, Ward and Joy are both Harold's children and vacillate between liking Danny, wanting him dead, befriending him, and various other motivations that change from episode to episode. By the end of the series, Joy wants her revenge, but it no longer makes any sense at all. Her revenge will be facilitated by Danny's former friend Davos, who also wants Danny dead because he abandoned K'un L'un and because Davos is probably in love with him, given the overwhelming amount of sexual tension in each of Danny and Davos's scenes together. In the comics, Davos tries to gain the power of the Iron Fist, fails, and immediately becomes jealous of Danny. Davos is never seen as an ally, and instead becomes the villain Steel Serpent and tries to kill Iron Fist at every opportunity.

Perhaps none of Danny's original adversaries from his comic-book origin story appear in the Netflix series because it attempts to shoehorn Daredevil rogue criminal group The Hand into the series. Here they're busy selling drugs and opening their own version of Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Children, as if we didn't just watch an entire season of the same thing on Daredevil. But if we're truly making Iron Fist for "the fans" who loved the original comics, it's worth noting that The Hand didn't debut in the Marvel universe until Daredevil writer Frank Miller created it in 1981, a full seven years after Iron Fist's creation. By that time, Iron Fist had already teamed up with Luke Cage in the series Power Man and Iron Fist, making him a little too busy to be fighting Daredevil's villains.

Then there's Danny's love interest. Colleen Wing is nothing more than a friend to him in the comics; his actual love interest is Misty Knight. But the Netflix series couldn't resist having Colleen and Danny jump into bed with one another, for no reason other than that the protagonist needed someone to have sex with. Colleen's father should be prominently featured in her origin story, but in the Netflix series she seems to have no family and is a member of The Hand who somehow has no idea it's evil, like she's Sydney Bristow in SD-6. Not exactly in the spirit of the comics, is it?

This isn't to say that a television series adapted from a comic book should stick exactly to what happened in the source material. That would be painfully restrictive and incredibly boring. But in turn, when you're defending a series against claims of oppressive white-savior tropes and your response is "it's for the fans who read the comics," you should probably know what you're talking about.