Published in collaboration with The Nerds of Color.
What exactly is the problem with bringing Iron Fist to Netflix? It’s hard to know. Though the latest news is that the show is still on track, it’s clear they haven’t yet figured it out – they don’t have a star, they don’t have a showrunner, and for some reason, no one has bothered to ask Lexi Alexander on how she could make Iron Fist “the most popular show ever.”
One of the issues is apparently no one at Marvel Studios can figure out how to bring the character’s “mystical” elements into the grim and gritty universe established for its Netflix series. Birth Movies Death’s Devin Faraci, who first reported on Iron Fist’s troubles back in July, writes that “one of the big hold-ups is the mystical element, with lots of different opinions on just how much weird wuxia to bring in to the show.”
This seems like an odd concern, given that these shows share a cinematic universe with Asgardians, Kree, and Inhumans. However, the Netflix series appears to be trying to do superheroes in a more realistic and grounded way – don’t expect Luke Cage to be able to throw a car, as he does in the comics (I actually think there’s a good chance Luke may not have any super strength at all, only unbreakable skin, but that’s another thing entirely). That said, the Daredevil series has already hinted at a number of supernatural elements, which could easily lay the groundwork for a more mystical Iron Fist.
In fact, Daredevil has already dropped hints about Iron Fist in the form of the phenomenal Madame Gao. Gao clearly has powers beyond the ordinary, knocking Daredevil sprawling with a single punch. She tells Fisk that her home is “a considerable distance farther” than China, and the heroin her organization distributes is marked with the symbol of the Steel Serpent, Iron Fist’s principal antagonist. This has led to speculation that she is in fact Crane Mother, another central Iron Fist villain.
In episode seven of Daredevil, Nobu’s organization is seen to be transporting a small child, which they refer to as Black Sky. Precisely who or what Black Sky is is unclear – there’s no mention of it in the comics – but it clearly has mystical elements with Stick telling Daredevil that “that thing in the container was not a child.” The murder of Black Sky is part of Stick’s “never-ending war,” and indeed Stick seeks out Matt to train him as a soldier in that war.
While Matt remains in the dark (a war “with who?” he asks “you never got around to that part”) it’s clear to the comics savvy reader that this refers to the ongoing shadow war between the ninja clans The Hand and Chaste. Though they’re never referred to by name, there’s no question that “the Japanese” (as Owsley calls Nobu and his men) are indeed the evil ninja clan known as The Hand – when Matt describes them as Yakuza, Stick laughs and tells him derisively “you don’t know what’s going on in your own backyard.”
Season two of Daredevil may also incorporate additional mystical elements that would further set up the more otherworldly elements of Iron Fist. At the end of the episode – in a shot straight out of Frank Miller and John Romita Jr’s Man Without Fear – we see Stick speaking to Stone, another member of the Chaste. Given that Scott Glenn has been confirmed as returning for season two, it’s likely that the Hand/Chaste war will be a central part of the new season.
That brief scene between Stick and Stone may hint at additional supernatural elements related to The Hand from the Daredevil comics. Stone asks Stick “will he be ready when the doors open?” (referring to Murdock), to which Stick replies “I have no idea.” We’ve speculated before that perhaps the area of Hell’s Kitchen that Nobu’s clan is developing will become Shadowland. In the comics, Shadowland is a fortress in the middle of New York constructed by Daredevil when he was leader of the Hand. Daredevil’s leadership of The Hand results in him being possessed by the demonic entity known as The Beast – all part of a plan by Snakeroot, a cult within The Hand that worships The Beast.
In the comics The Hand, for the most part, operates as a basic criminal empire – indeed, more or less exactly like the real life Yakuza, including deep ties to politics and business – but it is Snakeroot that is obsessed with the occult (for a deeper look at the history of Snakeroot, check out this great article from the fantastic Daredevil fan site The Other Murdock Papers). It’s unlikely that the Netflix series will complicate things by differentiating between The Hand and Snakeroot – instead, it’s likely that the MCU’s version of The Hand will have the occult elements of Snakeroot as part of its principal modus operandi.
In short, there’s plenty of supernatural and mystical elements already established in the Netflix corner of the MCU that it seems reasonable to assume that audiences won’t blink at a magical city of immortal warriors in another dimension above the Chinese mountains. Indeed, you could make the case that adding some weirdness into Netflix world would further help connect it with the greater MCU. And given that by the time we get an Iron Fist series we’ll have at least 52 hours of grounded and gritty superheroes on Netflix, it will be exciting to see some more fantastical elements. In fact, the contrast between the darker and more realistic tone of the street level superheroes (something that for the most part the Iron Fist series would do well to maintain) would help give Iron Fist his own unique flavor, rather than make him a less interesting version of Daredevil or even Elektra. After all, part of what has made the MCU so successful is that despite a consistent tone each property has its own distinct feel and flavor.
An Iron Fist series about a magical kung-fu warrior who returns to earth in order to seek vengeance, and must grapple with the dissonance between his adopted home and a New York he barely remembers? Pretty sure glowing fists will work just fine.