I’m a comic book fan. It’s not something I try to hide from the world. If you’ve taken a wander around the site, you’ll have seen a photo of me by now. You’ll know what I mean. I’m slightly overweight. I’ve got a scruffy beard and glasses. I’m an old-school comic book geek.
It’s all around me here. There are action figures sitting up on top of the unit behind me. Stacks of comics and graphic novels. There’s a life size model of Hellboy’s gun on my desk and Blade’s sword is balanced in front of some DVDs, on a shelf by the door. I even own a t shirt or two with some connection to one Joss Whedon show or another. I know, I know. My wife is a lucky woman.
These days, as a comic book geek, I’m also pretty lucky. I’m spoilt for choice, in fact. Star Wars has come back stronger than it has been in a very long time. DC are doing some fun, bright and breezy shows on TV whilst they try to run before walking in the cinema. Preacher turned up on as a TV show. Samurai Jack came back and, of course, Marvel Studios are giving me two or more big, shiny, expensive movies to get lost in during the course of a year. As well as, you know, actual comic books.
A couple of years ago, Marvel struck up a deal with Netflix. Since then they’ve been producing a string of surprisingly strong TV shows. Daredevil fought his way breathlessly onto our screens and into our hearts, bringing the likes of The Punisher and Elektra with him for his second season. Jessica Jones, one of my favourite modern comic book characters, got her own show and did her best to resent any attempts to call her a hero. Then Luke Cage came along and showed that there’s honour to be found within a modern take on the 70s Blaxploitation ethos of the one man army.
This year, after a lot of hype, we finally got to meet Danny Rand. The trailers looked pretty good, but the early reactions from the press weren’t great. Which was hardly a surprise. Critics rarely like anything that comes off a comic book page. Particularly anything mainstream. They’ll get behind a Logan, a Sin City or a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, but they rarely feel uncomfortable when they’re required to write about someone like Thor with a straight face.
Not that I cared about the critics. I’m a comic book geek. I had bought my ticket for this ride a long time ago. I sat in front of the TV last week, drink in hand and snacks at the ready and got right down to episode one. It was binging time.
I hate it to say, but after a few more episodes, I was starting to agree with those critics. Iron Fist really wasn’t the most engaging of experiences. If anything, towards the end, it became a bit of a chore.
Every other Netflix Marvel show that came along, I watched it like my life depended on it. I blasted through them, trying to dodge spoilers, trying get to the end as soon as I could. I had to know how they finished. I had to see my heroes become who they were meant to be. By the end of Iron Fist, I was ready for one thing and one thing only. Something better.
There was none of the violence and guilt of Daredevil. None of the damage and redemption of Jessica Jones. None of the brutal strength and noble heart of Luke Cage. Instead, it felt like I was stepping back into the world of the Star Wars prequels. I was back with a slightly whiny, blinkered, entitled boy who spent far too much time either shouting petulantly or reciting fortune cookie wisdom. Any of the other Netflix shows, I couldn’t leave the room when they were on. I couldn’t look away. I had no problem getting to the fridge and back when it came to Danny Rand.
Every other one of these shows could take your breath away. They could make you wince, make you pity your hero’s plight as they fought on. They also had villains with more about them then just a moustache to twirl and some money to spend. Unlike here, where we got the spectacle of boardroom meeting after boardroom meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible. It was just average and I hate average. Marvel have done average too many times for my liking. Especially in the early days, when they attempted to follow in the footsteps of Sam Raimi’s first two Spiderman movies and Bryan Singer’s opening offerings for the X Men franchise.
Remember that first, clunky Daredevil movie? The one where they tried to cram a whole major storyline into one night of the character’s life for some reason. Or the Ghost Rider movies? Where they took a grimly cool character and made him out of place in his own franchise. Plus, let’s not forget those Punisher movies. Where Frank Castle’s real enemy was tone. Iron Fist had that same rushed, fumbling sense of panicked storytelling. There was no investment in character. There was no drive beyond the need to get to the next cliff hanger. No depth to give his struggle meaning.
Here’s the thing, though, I think there’s a really great story to be told with Danny Rand. One we rarely get offered by any comic book movie or series.
You see, I’m pretty sure a lot of people didn’t know who Danny Rand was until the advertising for this show started. Which is why I would’ve taken the focus off him. To begin with, I would’ve left him as a mystery, an enigma, always in the background. I would’ve stayed with the character of Claire. Rosario Dawson has been brilliant throughout every separate series and, after Luke Cage, she can easily be a leading character in her own right. So, let’s see her getting used to life without Luke. Let’s see her training with Colleen Wing, not knowing the truth about her. In the background, you can have Danny Rand appearing on the news. The lost millionaire returning to the world and taking his place at the top of his company. Making changes for the better. We could see him giving press conferences, maybe even turning up at restaurants or on the street.
Meanwhile, there is talk of an unbeatable warrior out there on the streets. An unstoppable vigilante. Someone taking on a hidden enemy. At first, Claire can think it’s someone she already knows; until then she sees him. She sees the Iron Fist and is terrified of him.
All this time, you keep him and Rand separate. That way, you let it pay off differently. Because, here’s the thing, we’ve never had that before. We know Superman is Clark Kent. We know Bruce Wayne is Batman. We know all of that going into those stories. Which meant they always have to be told a certain way.
You can’t start a Batman movie with Bruce Wayne coming home and then have all these stories about The Bat out there, taking on criminals, and not expect the people in the audience to know that it’s Bruce. It’s inescapable baggage for the storyteller. But not here.
Danny could take an interest in Colleen for reasons I’m trying to avoid talking about here. Claire could wonder why, maybe even side with Claire. Maybe even get a certain blind lawyer or private detective involved. Imagine watching Daredevil go up against this mystical warrior in a suit and mask and lose to him. Imagine that fight ending with the revelation that this Iron Fist is, in fact, the prodigal businessman we’ve been hearing all about. That would’ve got the story rolling. That would’ve expanded the world Netflix and Marvel have built ready for The Defenders. Think of Jessica Jones being paid to follow him. Think of Danny maybe getting arrested and ending up in a cell with Luke Cage. There would have been so many interesting questions raised if you went about this way. Who is Danny Rand? Where he is going? What he has been up to all this time?
The annoying thing is, right now, there is a great comic show on TV that is playing with character and plot, but very few people are watching it. To be fair to them, I had my doubts about Legion to begin with. Now that we’re 7 episodes in, I’ll happily hold my hands up. I was wrong. I was very, very wrong.
Legion is strange, unsettling, funny and nightmarishly dark. It is also ridiculously intelligent. It can be Avant Garde at times, sure, but its characters have heart. They have fears and passions. They feel everything, no matter how strange or shocking it is. Every episode might answer a question or two for the viewer, but it always raises more. It makes you care without knowing exactly where it’s taking you. It’s fantastic television and brilliant storytelling.
So, in summary, Iron Fist is okay but you could tell that story in a far more interesting way. Everyone should be watching Legion. Logan is a damn good movie and Bruce Wayne is, in fact, Batman.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some comics to read. If only they had my name on them. Ah well, maybe one day.