1) Lean Into The Crazy
Daredevil and Jessica Jones are both properties that lend themselves to the grim, gritty and realistic approach to one degree or another. Even though Mark Waid recently had Matt Murdock return to his roots as a gregarious, happy-go-lucky swashbuckler, most people are probably more familiar with the character’s years as a tormented, broody, Catholic guilt-ridden avenger of the night. While some may prefer the more upbeat version of ‘ole hornhead (but with an inner turmoil that belies his outward demeanor), the darker version is probably the more well-known one, so it’s unsurprising that they’d go with that iteration of the character for his series.
Similarly, Jessica Jones, introduced in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, has always walked in the darker side of the Marvel Universe. Granted, in Alias the Purple Man is literally a purple man and we get occasional guest spots from Captain America and (no joke) a character named Man Mountain Marko, but Alias was still a dark, gritty, noir-ish comic that left the color and larger-than-life superhero action for other books.
So when it comes to Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the gritty dark approach either has precedent or is an integral part of the story. But while some Iron Fist comics have dabbled in a darker approach, at the end of the day it’s still about a guy who can punch through concrete because he killed a dragon with his bare fists and absorbed its chi. Trying to put a realistic spin on that puts you in danger of ending up with a barely recognizable version of the character. Sure, you could probably create a version of Danny Rand and his supporting cast that completely removes the supernatural and “out there” elements of the story, but the question is: should you?
While, depending on who you ask, the dark, realistic vibe in Daredevil and Jessica Jones has made for a refreshing change of pace from Marvel’s usual fare, so maybe with Iron Fist the time is right for the Netflix endeavor to let its hair down and get a little crazy. Give the series a healthy effects budget and just go nuts, Marvel! Give us high-kicking, mystically-empowered kung-fu whamma jamma. Throw some Avatar: The Last Airbender stuff at us (the show, not the movie). Give us a change of pace from gritty alley brawls and let’s have some fights where the combatants can fire lightning from their palms or use fantasy weapons with as much basis in reality as the Flying Guillotine. Heck, give us the flying guillotine!
Just don’t do that thing you do where characters hardly ever use their alter-egos and silly-sounding names. There’s a character in Iron Fist named Bride of Nine Spiders. If she shows up on the show, that’s too awesome a name to not use, even if you want to give her a normal sounding name for when she orders a coffee or files her taxes or whatever.
While you could probably find some way to turn Iron Fist into a gritty, real-wold martial arts drama and stay true to itself, the character and his accompanying side of the Marvel universe has typically been a big crazy Shaw-Brothers-meets-superheroes fantasy epic. And we say keep it that way!
That doesn’t mean you can’t also make it serious and meaningful and impactful, far from it. The power of fiction is that you can tell meaningful stories in pretty much any environment. The Thing is still a powerful meditation on paranoia and mistrust despite having an upside-down-head spider. Up is still an incredibly powerful allegory of death, mourning and moving on despite a non-zero amount of talking dogs. You can make Iron Fist have as much powerful and impactful meaning as anything else out there and still have stuff like this in it:
And if The Avengers can have a tech-based hero and a guy who literally fought in World War II rub shoulders with a Norse god, Netflix’s Defenders having a gritty street vigilante and a mystically empowered kung-fu master sharing a drinks tab shouldn’t be that hard, right?