Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Re-Imagining the Immortal Iron Fist

Tarmon Gai’don has come and gone, and we’ve still got quite a while before Words of Radiance, the second book in The Stormlight Archives, comes out, and in the meantime I still need something to read.  This week that something is The Immortal Iron Fist, a short-running Ed Brubaker / Matt Fraction collaboration whose first six issues were on sale at Comixology on Monday for $.99 each.  

Fraction and Brubaker are both favorites of mine.  I discovered Fraction’s work late—via his also short-lived Defenders series—but it’s his Hawkeye series that’s really amazing.  Brubaker, meanwhile, is more like an old favorite.  I think of his stuff as mostly crime fiction, but this being the American comic book market, his crime fiction is usually told through the lens of super hero (or at least super-powered) characters.  Anyway, his Captain America was terrific, his run on Daredevil is absolutely top notch, and I thoroughly enjoyed Sleeper: Season One, although even all of that together is still only a small piece of the man’s total back-issue catalogue.  

Beyond that, I’d heard good things about Immortal Iron Fist but never had a chance to read it myself until it went on sale this week.  It’s good.  I’m digging it.  But reading it has me thinking of how they will—inevitably—put it into an Iron Fist movie.

If you’re not familiar with Iron Fist, he’s a decided “C”-lister from somewhere near the back of Marvel’s gigantic character library.  Danny Rand was a kid when his billionaire father took the entire family to Tibet on a ludicrous quest to find the mythical lost city of K’un L’un (Marvel’s in-house version of Shangra-Lai).  Danny’s mother and father perish in the mountains, but he himself manages to stumble half-frozen into K’un L’un where the monks then have basically no choice but to nurse him back to health and then raise him as one of their own.  In time, he masters their unique version of Kung Fu, eventually becoming their champion to the outside world—the Iron Fist.  

As a character, Iron Fist was introduced into comics back in the early 1970s.  Along with Shang Chi, Iron Fist was a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of martial arts movies back in the day, but where Shang Chi is basically Bruce Lee, Iron Fist is more like a reimagining of Batman (or maybe Wonder Woman) through the lens of Lee’s movies.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean that the character didn’t have legs, but I think it’s safe to say that Iron Fist by himself was just half of a concept.  After all, the original Iron Fist series only last something like fifteen issues, and I don’t think the character did much to resonate with the popular consciousness until he was teamed with Luke Cage, then known as Power Man.

Power Man and Iron Fist ran as a team book for seventy-five issues.  Then Marvel canceled it in the 1980s in order to make room for the New Universe, and they’ve been trying to figure out how to undo that mistake ever since.  

So now the question is... who’s gonna play these guys in the movie adaptation?  Or, more specifically, who’s gonna play Iron Fist?

It’s an interesting question because China is already a substantial part of Marvel’s movie marketplace—so much so that they changed the essential nature of the Mandarin in order to avoid offending Chinese sensibilities and then released a different version of Iron Man 3 to the Chinese market in order to make a Chinese character a more prominent part of the story—and I can’t help but wonder what that market will think of the Iron Fist character.  

Consider: here’s a character whose origin story makes him literally the only white guy to visit this ancient, mythical Tibetan city in centuries, i.e. he’s basically a Hollywood cliché.  He’s a white protagonist surrounded by Asian characters in a land he doesn’t understand but ultimately adopts whole-heartedly anyway.  He’s basically Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.  Or maybe Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.  And that’s fine.  But if you’re Marvel, and you’re looking for a better hook into the world’s largest consumer market, do you maybe consider re-imagining your hero as a Chinese guy, either ethnically or nationally?  After all, it wouldn’t take much to put the Rand Company in China, to make Danny Rand’s father a Chinese national with a passion for the legends of K’un L’un, or to leave the whole enterprise set in America but centered around Chinese-Americans looking to explore their lost heritage or some familial connection.  And any or all of that stuff would make more sense than what’s in the comic book canon.

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that were going through my head as I read The Immortal Iron Fist this morning.  Because even in the comic, it’s weird that there are like a thousand years’ worth of ethnically Chinese Iron Fists, up until 1913 when there are suddenly two white ones in rapid succession, and neither one spends any time whatsoever in China after finishing his training.  It left me wondering what these K’un L’un guys were thinking when they decided to train these guys and what the trainers themselves got out of the deal.  

Which isn’t to say that I specifically need (or even want) to see an ethnically Chinese version of Iron Fist.  I just think it’d be an interesting take on the character.  Imagine Bruce Wei, son of Doctor Thomas and Martha Wei.  She’s a beautiful Gotham socialite.  He’s an expatriated member of the Chinese nobility who fled to the States a step ahead of the Communist Revolution.  But when they’re gunned down in the streets of Crime Alley, their son vows revenge, eventually taking the Bat as his symbol…

No, no.  That’s a different story.  But you see where I’m going with this, right?  It could work.  That’s all I’m saying here.

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