Monday, February 29, 2016

Real Name: Danny Rand
First Appearance: Marvel Premiere #15 (May, 1974)
Fight Club Ranking: #40

Featured Fights:
- vs CONSTRICTOR & SABRETOOTH: Power Man & Iron Fist #66 (Dec 1980)
- vs UNUS THE UNTOUCHABLE: Power Man & Iron Fist #90 (Feb 1983)
- vs UNUS THE UNTOUCHABLE: Power Man & Iron Fist #90 (Feb 1983)
- vs AVENGERS: Civil War #3 (Sep 2006)
- vs DAREDEVIL: Daredevil #87 (Sep 2006)
- vs THE HAND: New Avengers #27 (Apr 2007)
- vs MIGHTY AVENGERS: New Avengers #36 (Jan 2008)

There were a handful of other small screen contenders for HOTW this week, but I really couldn't ignore the influence of one of the biggest stories of February: Marvel's reported casting for Iron Fist!

Entertainment Weekly led with the story this week, identifying English actor Finn Jones as the prospective star of the fourth live-action Marvel/Netflix series. You might know Jones best as "Loras Tyrell" from TV's Game of Thrones. I don't know him from a bar of soap. This acknowledges one of the most shocking stories you'll read on this blog all year: I've never watched Game of Thrones.

At 27, he reads a little young on first impression. Which gives me a real tough time picturing him as best bud to 39 year old Mike Colter. Colter appeared as Luke Cage in last year's Jessica Jones, and will headline a Power Man series later this year. I hate to consider the possibility that the Heroes For Hire won't be rock solid BFFs in the land of Netflix, but commitment to the expectations of the character have been sketchy throughout development. Marvel & Netflix have reportedly declined to comment on the casting, so there's still an outlying chance things are not as they seem.

Not that there's anything obviously wrong about the 6', square jawed Brit. He isn't quite the yellow-blonde martial artist I picture from the comics, but he's close enough. It's a given at this point that he's been chosen for his ability to act, but we'll want to see him fight before giving the full endorsement.

I wouldn't ordinarily consider it noteworthy, but it's also true that Jones isn't Asian.

In the build-up, some determined Asian ethnicity a desirable trait in Iron Fist's casting -- a deliberate departure from the character's cross-cultural origins. As is popular for the moment, those in favour became convinced a switch in race could be a course-correct for representation on screen. An attitude that typically disregards decades old source material, good creative, or the more impactful desire to take the opportunity to create and contribute sincere new multi-cultural icons. It doesn't say a lot for the film landscape in general, either, indulging a tunnel visioned reality where the audience is as much to blame for making Marvel Studios the only important thing in the world. More anything? More everything!

Some pushed back, questioning the sensitivity of choosing a master martial artist for Asian stunt casting. I'll assume none of the parties involved are actually partaking in the wonderful world of Chinese cinema, where representation of martial artist and Asian is expert and abundant. Perhaps once mainstream American audiences have become (re)acquainted with Donnie Yen -- upcoming in Star Wars: Rogue One and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage -- we can look forward to his name being thrown around in more racially confused circuses. Too late for The Ancient One's casting, sadly. That could've been fun and fitting. Perhaps a petition for more fair-skinned redheads to be cast in traditional Chinese films? Lets hope not.

Of course, the instinct to harness the Chinese flavour of Iron Fist's mythology isn't at all wrong. There's a fantastic opportunity to populate his world with interesting, genuine Asian characters.

Ultimately, the fusion of cultures -- Chinese & American, ancient & modern, martial arts & superhero -- has always been underlying in what makes the character interesting. A man in a world he doesn't obviously belong to, forced to earn his place and prove his worth. A conceptual vessel for cultural contrast and connection. A good man taking an earnest interest in other cultures and the world around him. Something we should all aspire to.

The new series presents an opportunity to diversify Marvel's portfolio not just with actors, but new genre content, and new visual and conceptual identity. It isn't totally unfamiliar ground: Daredevil season two is gearing up to venture further into the traditions of The Hand ninja clan. Iron Fist can take it further though, offering a more romantic flourish by placing its origin story in the environment of K'un-Lun and/or China itself. This is a story that may or may not benefit from the mountain philosophies soon to be established by November's Doctor Strange [1/4/2016], topical conditioning even if the connections between Marvel's movies and Netflix series don't pan out.

The more things have changed at Marvel, the more they've stayed the same. DD opens the door to a flagging world of martial arts cinema once prominent through to the mid-2000s. Iron Fist can kick that door down, reinvigorating a genre and giving us all something fresh to enjoy. This type of trail blazing is arguably the right lesson to learn from Deadpool. A genre investment even proven properties like Mortal Kombat (Warner Brothers) have been too timid to make. Marvel's for the taking!

Visual identity has been a through line for Hero of the Week this year. As much as I'd like to see some authentic Chinese fabrics and designs in the depiction of a screen K'un-Lun -- what I'd really love to see is Iron Fist's yellow and green. The slippers, the huge collar, the plunging neckline - probably too much imagination to ask of the same adults fumbling in the dark for true cultural understanding. A character who might encourage Daredevil to ditch the 90s style armor for the flexibility of a live-action red onesie? Be still, my beating heart! We'll dare to dream.

Iron Fist probably won't hit streaming services until next year, but with Power Man Luke Cage on his way, I'm sure we'll sideswipe the other Hero For Hire along the way. If you're not real familiar with either character and want to know more, be sure to follow the featured fight links at the top, or character tags littered throughout. You can also find many more stories in the Issue Index Archive!

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