Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rumor Has It... Marvel's Having Some Iron Fist Issues

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As you may have noticed in the “Weekly MCU Review” for July 4, rumor has it that Marvel has been having some trouble figuring out exactly how they want to proceed with Iron Fist.  Specifically, they are not sure if they want to bring the mystical elements of the Iron Fist Universe into the very grounded universe which they established in Daredevil.  And if they do bring in those mystical elements, they are unsure as to how.

So, because I am an internet writer (and we all know how knowledgeable those are!), I thought I would help Marvel out with their little mysticism conundrum.  Here are my thoughts on how Marvel should bring the mystical elements into the Netflix corner of the MCU.


The first question to ask is:  “Should they even bring in the mysticism?”  And the way I see it, the only possible answer is:  “Absolutely; otherwise he’s not really Iron Fist.”

Simply put, the thing that distinguishes Danny Rand, aka “Iron Fist,” from other Marvel martial artists like Daredevil and Shang-Chi (a highly-trained Chinese martial artist) is his “Iron Fist” ability—his ability to concentrate his chi energy in his fist and release it in a devastating attack.  Introducing a highly-trained martial artist is just fine—in fact, Daredevil or Iron Fist might even be a good place to introduce Shang-Chi—but if you’re just introducing a skilled martial artist without the Iron Fist skill-set, there’s really no point in calling him “Iron Fist.”

What’s the Problem?

I think the issue that Marvel is having is figuring out how to mesh the relatively grounded world of Daredevil and Jessica Jones with the relatively not-grounded world of Iron Fist.  In Daredevil, Matt receives his abilities from chemicals which were spilled on his face.  The chemicals took away his vision, but they heightened all of his other senses.  However, that is the extent of his superpowers; all of his other abilities come from training.

The same holds (mostly) true in the case of Jessica Jones.  Though we do not know the origin story and abilities they are going to use in the series, the comic book origin story involves a major car accident in which Jessica’s family is killed and she is left in a coma after being covered in a (different) chemical.  The accident gave her super strength, flight, and invulnerability, but only to a limited extent.  Assuming that it is similar in the Netflix series, she will be substantially more powerful than Daredevil, but there will still be a degree of consistency between them:  Science created her.

This is even more the case with Luke Cage, whose origin story is actually tied to that of Captain America in the comics.  He receives his powers after volunteering for an experiment in prison trying to recreate the Super Soldier Serum (why you would ask for convicts for something like that is beyond me…).  The experiment goes wrong (of course), but that actually causes it to succeed in giving him super strength and unbreakable skin.  As with the other two, science is primarily responsible for his superpowers.

This does not hold true in the case of Iron Fist, whose powers come from defeating a mystical dragon and dipping his fists into its molten heart.  This is the most “out-there” origin story of the four.  Is there a way to mesh this with the grounded realism of the other three characters?

The Importance to the MCU

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This question does not just affect Marvel Netflix; you might say that the entire future of the MCU rests on this question:  Is there a way to mesh such disparate concepts as technologically-driven superpowers and mystically-given superpowers?  If there isn’t, then Doctor Strange is not going to fit in with characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and Vision; he’s just too… strange.  This would also put major limits on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the network TV side of the MCU:  characters like Druid just can’t appear in the Secret Warriors.

And yet, the beauty of the Avengers—and the Marvel Universe in general—is that it brings together disparate characters like Thor, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange.  Even though these characters’ abilities should not be compatible, they somehow work in stories together.  If the MCU does not allow a mystical character like Iron Fist to stand alongside more “grounded” characters like Luke Cage, what does that say for the future of the Avengers?

In fact, we’ve already seen this bringing together of disparate concepts taking place with the Earth-based and cosmic realms.  Thor was the first example:  an alien who came to Earth to learn humility and returned to fight alongside the Earth-bound heroes.  We’ve seen it even more on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Lady Sif has fought alongside regular human S.H.I.E.L.D. agents without any superheroes around.  Regular humans faced and defeated Lorelei (with help from Sif).  Going even more cosmic, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team met a Kree scientist in season 2.  They have found ways to make these two disparate concepts work in concert with each other in such a way that they make sense in the same universe.  I think Marvel can do the same with magic and mysticism.

Hints We’ve Already Seen

We need to remember that Iron Fist will not be the first character or series to make use of mystic powers.

Daredevil made use of mysticism—along with hints at Iron Fist—though mysticism was not very central to the season.  The biggest example is meditative healing.  Stick told Matt that he would teach him a technique by which he could heal injuries through meditation.  Later on Matt told Claire that he had learned the technique, which allowed him to keep doing what he was doing.  We even saw it in action near the end of season 1 as Matt meditated to heal the injuries he had received in the fight against Nobu and Fisk.

We have also seen potential hints at the Iron Fist universe in the character of Madame Gao.  Her heroin bears the symbol of the Steel Serpent—the champion of one of the heavenly cities and one of Iron Fist’s villains.  Gao herself used a technique against Matt which bore a striking resemblance to the Iron Fist:  she struck Matt with the heel of her hand with sufficient force to send him tumbling across the room.  Add to all of that her cryptic statement to Owlsely that she was “returning home” to somewhere “a good deal farther away” than China, and the evidence starts to pile up.  She is very likely the leader of one of the heavenly cities, and closely connected to Iron Fist.

Based on these examples, Marvel Netflix has already laid some groundwork on which to expand the concept of mysticism with Iron Fist.

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How to Bring in Mysticism

All of that being said, I do agree with the rumor in that Marvel needs to tread carefully in introducing mysticism into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This means expanding on what they have already shown before they start going further with a heavily-mystic character like Iron Fist.

This can start with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introducing a character or two who make use of mystical methods for gaining superpowers.  As the S.H.I.E.L.D. team attempts to understand how their powers work, the viewer learns more about it as well.  The character could even become a member of the Secret Warriors so we see them in action on a semi-regular basis.

A second option (perhaps preferable) is to make use of the medium which is already playing with mystic elements:  Daredevil.  As mentioned above, Matt uses meditative healing, and has already encountered one potential Iron Fist character.  We don’t know what season 2 holds—apart from Daredevil vs. Punisher—but there may be room for an episode or two dedicated to furthering Madame Gao’s plot, perhaps tying it in with Stick’s war.  Both of these plotlines could conceivably involve mystical elements.  Madame Gao likely comes from a heavenly city, and whatever her plans are in New York, it is likely that mysticism will play a part.  Likewise, we’ve already learned of one mystical aspect of Stick’s martial arts—meditative healing—so we could learn about more in season 2.  In fact, if Madame Gao returns for Daredevil season 2, that might also be a good time for Iron Fist to make his debut.

You don’t really need to do a lot in either of these series to build up the mystical aspects of the Marvel mythos.  All that is really necessary is a few more hints—perhaps a little more overt than the previous ones.

Iron Fist’s Mysticism

So, now Marvel TV has sown some more mystic seeds.  Now what?  How do we proceed in Iron Fist?

The first season will follow Danny Rand’s first weeks in Hell’s Kitchen.  At the beginning of the season we know nothing about him except that he is new to the city and came from somewhere far away.  However, over the course of the season we discover that he came from K’un-L’un and either was sent away because the elders of the city foresaw that he would be needed in the outside world or chose to leave an find the man responsible for his parents’ deaths.  The challenge with this setup would be distinguishing this series from Daredevil season 1, but that would be entirely possible.

The first several episodes of Iron Fist will not involve any mystical elements beyond those that have already been introduced—specifically meditative healing.  However, Iron Fist will make use of these abilities—and meditation in general—substantially more frequently than Daredevil does.  Over time, Iron Fist will begin to reveal more of his mystic abilities, but not the “Iron Fist”—he wants to retain a degree of anonymity.  However, around the eighth or ninth episode, one of Iron Fist’s opponents will use an ability similar to the “Iron Fist” against him, and in their next battle Iron Fist will respond in kind with the “Iron Fist.”  Finally in the last third of the season, Iron Fist will break out all of his mystical abilities in a massive fight against hordes of ninjas.  Simultaneously, we will learn about the heavenly cities and their connection to both Iron Fist and Madame Gao.  However, a full exploration of K’un-L’un will not come until Iron Fist season 2 (or a Heroes for Hire follow-up series).

I think that a slow reveal would allow the series to walk the fine line between not throwing too much at us all at once and remaining faithful to the mystical aspects of the comics.  Additionally, this would allow Danny Rand to already be the Iron Fist and have some degree of proficiency with his abilities.  The other option, of course, is for this to be a straight-up origin story with his family searching for K’un-L’un, his parents being killed, him being taken in and trained, and culminating with his defeat of the dragon Shou-Lao and subsequent rise to become the Iron Fist.  Following this victory he could choose to leave the city and journey through our world for a time before returning to K’un-L’un.  This would set up for his first meeting with the Defenders to take place in the mini-series.


Whatever way Marvel chooses to introduce Iron Fist, I think they need to leave the mystical elements of his origin and powers intact.  And in fact, it is entirely possible for them to do so and have him work within the universe they have established.  They have already laid some of the groundwork for mysticism—and they have numerous opportunities before his debut to further that groundwork.  If they introduce his powers slowly, as they did with Daredevil in season 1, then they can easily take us from accepting meditation-based healing to accepting the ability to concentrate one’s chi in a fist by the end of the season.  And this can absolutely work alongside heroes like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and especially Daredevil.

This is the third or fourth time I’ve written an article responding to a rumor.  Would you like to see me make “Rumor Has It” a (semi) regular feature here?  I wouldn’t do it every week, but whenever there’s a particularly interesting or confusing rumor, I would write something responding to it.  Let me know in the comments if you want to see this continue.

How do you think Marvel should proceed with Iron Fist?  Do you want to see them go all-out with the mysticism from the get-go?  Do you want them to avoid the mysticism all together and keep his powers more in line with Daredevil?  Let me know in the comments!

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