There are multiple hints at potential storylines and future team-ups in Marvel’s The Defenders, few of which are as exciting a prospect to Marvel comics fans as the idea of a Power Man and Iron Fist series – a.k.a. Heroes For Hire. Luke Cage and Danny Rand have a long, treasured history together in comics. They share similar roots as characters, both being riffs on cultural trends of the ’70s – Luke the black-led ‘blaxplotiation’ action movies of the era, and Danny the influx of Chinese and Japanese kung-fu pictures into American cinema. Though each had enjoyable solo adventures, the two as a duo is what really drove their popularity, and bringing them together in live-action was one of the most exciting prospects of The Defenders.
Sure enough, Luke Cage and Danny do develop one of the core relationships of the show… eventually. Though the two have a common enemy in The Hand, the differences in their perspectives creates a considerable amount of animosity. Cage, the street-smart bullet-proof protector of Harlem who wants to clean up his neighbourhood and create more opportunities for the lower class, is skeptical of Rand, the young billionaire who inherited his parents’ company after returning from a years-long mysterious disappearance with mystical powers. To Luke, Danny is nothing more than a rich white boy unaware of his privilege, touting a story of an ancient city that granted him his powers that sounds like abject fantasy, oblivious to the gang violence and corruption the other Defenders are well-versed in.
Their relationship isn’t all that different from that of their comic counter-parts, adjusted slightly to suit the grittier tone of the Marvel-Netflix universe and the contemporary setting. Luke treats Rand like he’s a pretender trying to make himself a hero, with some nonsense about chi and plunging his hand into a dragon’s molten heart to justify him having a weird glowing hand. It all sounds ridiculous, and at the core of it is the idea that being the destined Immortal One is as important a venture as saving the ghettos of New York from corruption. In other words, Luke views this Iron Fist very similarly to the way many viewers did when the Iron Fist series dropped in March.
Regardless of any individual opinion, Iron Fist didn’t work for a lot of its audience for a wide variety of reasons. It says it all that the biggest take-away from the 13 episodes is that Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) should be given her own Daughters of the Dragon series – something that The Defenders quietly laid the groundwork for. If Finn Jones’ Iron Fist is to stick around, he needs some big character adjustments, and a strong partnership could be the best way of developing those.
Iron Fist being one quarter of The Defenders presented a perfect opportunity to evolve the character before his second season. Over the course of a few episodes, Rand’s personality is skewed away from the flat, self-serious delivery from his solo series towards being more playful and self-aware. After enough weird stares and put-downs from his super-peers, he learns that his story actually does sound a bit silly and that je shouldn’t lean on it as much, personally, professionally or otherwise.
Luke is the catalyst for what’s likely to be a big personal journey for Rand – figuring out how he can use his powerful position in his company to be a better hero. Being the CEO of a multi-billion dollar business puts Danny at odds with all of his compatriots, Cage most of all. The Defenders opens with an incarcerated Luke Cage getting released and immediately being plunged into an ongoing investigation into mysterious deaths of young black men. These young people are being given shady opportunities (we later find out by The Hand) that offer them a get-out-of-poverty-free card, and they’re paying for it with their lives. Cage comes from a world in which many black people have very few options if they want to stay alive and out of jail. Someone like Danny, whose money and influence means he’ll never see the inside of a jail cell, is part of the massive and nefarious corporate structure that doesn’t care about all the little people being left behind while it makes a profit.
But Danny wants to be different, and therein lies the secret to how Luke and he can become a powerful team. Through Cage, Danny can learn what it really means to be heroic. Being a part of one’s neighbourhood, earning the respect and admiration of the regular people, not just serving one’s singular personal mission. The glowing fist can help protect more than just the secrets of K’un Lun. With Rand, Luke can fight villains like Black Maria at their own game. He can fight them beyond the streets and bring a grounded viewpoint to how Rand’s company can expand and stimulate change in Hell’s Kitchen and beyond.
Together they can bring out the best in each other, something their respective solo ventures failed to do. Luke Cage suffered from needlessly convoluted plotting, with the lack of a singular, invested villain hurting what was an otherwise immaculately designed show. The presence of Iron Fist would create an interesting disruption to the ghettos Power Man walks, while Luke’s low tolerance for nonsense would be a welcome reprieve to the board-room meetings and mystic jargon Danny is surrounded by.
We do see snippets of the Iron Fist of Marvel canon, the witty, charming master of kung-fu who’s good for a giggle no matter how dour the situation is, in The Defenders. Moments like when the group is hiding out in a Chinese restaurant that Danny buys out by buying everything on the menu several times over. He puts his CEO status to good use and provides some quips that help pace the dialogue. It’s likely not a mistake that one of the most comic book-y shots of the 8-episode season is the pair going full-on Power Man and Iron Fist to the camera as they fight a room of cronies. These are just small moments, but they’re there, and they point towards some exciting prospects ahead, for both the man with bullet-proof skin and the man with the glowing fist.
Currently Iron Fist and Luke Cage are both set to get second seasons of their respective shows, but while there doesn’t appear to be a Heroes For Hire series currently in the works at Marvel TV, it’s definitely something that should be considered for the future of the Defenders mini-verse.
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