I watched the trailer for the second season of Iron Fist, and it's just not that visually interesting. Eventually his fist glows and he does a ground pound shockwave thing.
It is obvious there is a tonal issue with Iron Fist, and that much has been evident from the original series launch. Iron Fist in the comics is a much more philosophical character that was much more influenced by the area where he was trained, while Danny in the TV series somehow manages to retain some of the worst elements of his own culture, even though he’s spent a significant portion of his life in K’un L’un.
That said, it can be hard to just “fix” tone, and it can be difficult to get a handle on a very physical character with a martial arts background without looking at how you visually communicate information about that character.
It strikes me that the starting point for Danny really should have been that he is a wuxia character that is not in a wuxia story. While the Netflix Marvel stories are aiming for a gritty, street level feeling, the contrast between the established setting of this version of New York with Danny’s “native genre” would have made for a better contrast. Instead of running away from the mystical elements of the character and/or toning them down, they should have dove straight into them.
I’m not an expert on Danny Rand. I read Heroes for Hire as a young child in the 80s (where I got to see them cross over with ROM, Spaceknight!), but a lot of what I’ve seen of Danny has come from his appearances in other comics. That said, I have some familiarity with the character.
His fist and his tattoo glow, he can magic punch people, and he can even do things like healing others. He is a wuxia character.
While I have never seen a comic that shows him hovering in the air while performing his attacks (something that isn’t evident in a static medium like comics), or defying gravity to run up walls or the like, this is exactly what he should have been doing in his series.
Using more wirework to portray Danny’s martial arts as clearly mystical would have also helped to alleviate the problem with the actor not being the most proficient with his fighting. If he can run up a wall and backflip over an opponent, nobody is going to think twice about sloppy or sluggish punches or blocks, because that’s not what is impressive about his “style.”
In this paradigm, the setting is still gritty and street level. In fact, Danny isn’t immune to bullets or swords. He can just defy gravity for a few seconds at a time, run up walls, and do other “supernatural” things. With that as your starting point, instead of “grounding” the character, anything else you do to differentiate him will flow naturally from realizing that he isn’t fighting his supernatural, philosophical background, but trying to integrate it into a world that is much less ethereal than the one he left.
In other words, for a character that is defined by being a martial artist, the best way to decide how to portray him is to understand his martial arts. While also moves him away from being a white guy with a chip on his shoulder, that means that the character’s current starting point is the same as Daredevil’s and Punisher’s.
Credit Where Credit is Due
A lot of my thoughts on this wouldn’t have crystalized without listening to Jianghu Hustle. You should totally be listening to that podcast. They are awesome.