A lot has been said about why the Marvel series Iron Fist on Netflix hasn’t been received well by fans. Some point out that problematic elements from the original comic book character, particularly regarding his origin, should’ve been changed more in order reflect the times we live in where we are more aware and hopefully more responsible regarding inclusivity and overused tropes regarding white protagonists and the representation of other cultures. I agree with much of this, but also think the show changed the wrong things. Some of what was changed actually made the story and character weaker. Here’s what should have stayed from the comics.
Defeating the Dragon
Danny Rand first appeared in Marvel Premiere #15, where he was just about ready to face a dragon, the last test to beat if you’re going to be the Iron Fist. There was a lot of disappointment from fans that this battle against the dragon is never shown in the Netflix series. This could be a matter of budget, but honestly, even if we only saw glimpses of the dragon, we should’ve seen the battle. Not just because the presence of such a creature is one of the biggest and coolest parts of Danny’s origin, but because his character and why he deserves to be Iron Fist shines through during this battle.
When Danny faces this test in Marvel Premiere #16, he defeats the beast not through brute force but through intelligently discerning the dragon’s weak spot. He doesn’t press an attack, but embraces the creature, blocking a scar on its hide that draws mystical energy from its detached, golden heart. In doing this, he wins the battle and earns the scar on his chest. It’s a display of intelligence and being willing to lower your defenses because you know it’s the best course of action. That’s a great character trait to show and we miss out on it. All the Netflix show tells us is that he fought a dragon and won. That’s a shame.
In the Netflix series, Danny’s parents die during a plane crash. His mother has no lines in any of the flashbacks except to cry out for Danny a moment before the plane rips apart while in mid-air, at which point she’s sucked out into the open air and plummets to her death. Other than the fact that she is Danny’s mother and wife to Wendell Rand, there is nothing to her. There is no character here, just an idea of mother for Danny to mourn later.
In the comics, Heather is arguably not a fully realized character, but at least there’s a lot more to her, more to show us her personality and to mourn her ourselves. In the comics, Danny’s parents are traveling through the Himalayan mountains on foot. After witnessing the death of Wendell, Heather takes it on herself to get her son to safety. As they reach the bridge to K’un L’un, hungry wolves approach. At this point, Heather sends Danny ahead and runs towards the wolves, fighting them while knowing that she will die in the process. Her sacrifice buys Danny time. It’s a scene of true heroism that Danny will remember for the rest of his life, and it’s sad to not include it in the adaptation.
Wendell’s Connection to K’un L’un
In the Netflix series, the plane crash happens to occur nearby the mystical city of K’un L’un and happens to occur during the period that it is accessible to Earth (which seems to be at least a few weeks of time). In the comics, Wendell knew K’un L’un was real and timed their trip to the Himilayas so that they could find it. In the original Iron Fist comic stories, this is because Wendell is an inhabitant of K’un L’un himself, once known there himself as Rand-Kai, and wants to return home with his family. Starting in 1980, this was altered and it was said that Wendell was an American who had visited K’un L’un and stayed there for ten years. He even had the opportunity to become an Iron Fist himself but turned it down. Whichever version you pick, these backstories give Wendell and the Rand family a deep connection to K’un L’un and it puts Danny in a position where he knows that he’s leading a life that his father turned away from. That’s all very interesting and leads to a richer character. It’s remarkable that the Netflix series chose to ignore this.
Danny is a Kid
In the original comics, Danny is only 19 years old when he leaves K’un L’un and returns to the outside world. Danny is an accomplished martial arts master and someone who is aware of his own emotions and fallibility, but he still has trouble fully accepting the death of his parents at first, and his original mission is one of vengeance. All of this, and his social naïveté, feels a lot more natural when you consider that he’s not even legally old enough to drink alcohol in the US.
By casting an actor who is just over a year shy of 30, we don’t give Netflix Danny the same leeway, even when he’s playing a character who is four years younger. Instead, we can’t help but think he should be a lot more mature and a lot less entitled that how the story makes him. It’s even worse considering the scripts make him more immature, less self-aware, and more entitled at age 29 than comic book Danny ever was at 19. If this is a coming of age story, you need an actor who is young enough that just looking at him immediately reminds us of this.
There are other problems with the show, but I think these major ones reflect what was lost by changing the wrong things from the original comic. Your opinions may differ.