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Asian-American Iron Fist & Fighting for Representation in the Badlands of Diversity

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Asian-American Iron Fist & Fighting for Representation in the Badlands of Diversity

Daniel Rand is a Caucasian blond male with looks to die for, and is presently The Iron Fist, one of the Earth’s greatest martial artists within the Marvel Comics Universe.

His first appearance was in 1974’s “Marvel Premiere” #15 from Marvel Comics. Since then, Iron Fist has appeared in multiple volumes of his own series, and various Marvel Comics titles.

In 2016, the “Power Man and Iron Fist” series will return, and Daniel will be one half of the cast, along with Luke Cage, a Black, bulletproof superhuman.

Luke Cage is one of the Marvel characters to appear in his own upcoming television show produced by Marvel Studios and Netflix, and soon after, the same will be said for Iron Fist.

On December 7, news broke that Scott Buck, an alum of “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under” will be the Executive Producer/Showrunner for “Iron Fist.” It is rumored that Buck has chosen the actor who will portray Daniel Rand, and that said actor is White.

REPORT: Marvel Was Considering Asian-American Iron Fist

Therein lies a part of the perceived problem, because even though Daniel Rand is Caucasian, he represents the savior from a society ruled by Asians. A society based in the mythical martial arts, which have become embedded in popular culture in every area of media one can immediately consider.

Daniel Rand is considered to be a reflection of a less progressive time in popular culture. A Caucasian hero empowered by an Asian society at a time when Asian representation is both marginalized and generalized in popular media is considered an obsolete icon.

Keith Chow, Editor-in-Chief of the pop culture blog The Nerds of Color, and co-editor of the Asian American Comics Anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered,” has shared his view on this at great length in various blogs and appearances.

Chow has been the most vocal advocate for Asian representation for the Iron Fist character. He put forth a detailed argument for why Iron Fist should be Asian-American. His argument has become a rallying cry for many who agree, culminating around the #AAIronFist hashtag seen on Twitter.

This site’s Managing Editor, Albert Ching, wrote an editorial on why Iron Fist could be Black or Latino, just as easily as Asian or Caucasian, and was both criticized and supported for his opinion as a result.

Both men represent websites which are considered influencers, so a difference of philosophies took on a greater magnitude as the #AAIronFist hashtag generated even more discussion with creators from Marjorie Liu to Jon Tsuei to Lexi Alexander weighing in and stating their opinions.

Everyone who advocates for diversity should have an opinion on this, because anything which is not Caucasian, heterosexual male with full mobility and good looks is The Other. Fighting different battles which lead to the same destination. Quite frankly, I don’t want an Asian-American Daniel Rand. While his narrative was born from a less progressive time, the story of Daniel Rand has been informed a great deal, and is less of the savior narrative than it was put forth to be. Hell, Danny doesn’t even have his own life together, at this point.

But I do want an Asian Iron Fist. Asian-American or Asian. Unfortunately, I don’t think Marvel Studios is going to give us that today. I don’t think Marvel Comics is publicly ready to give us that today. Because Marvel Comics is getting poised to make a lot of money from the backlist of Iron Fist books.

All those stories being produced within the last 41 years, and the ones just on the horizon, are going to be reprinted, repackaged, rejiggered, remade and reborn for every consumer with a dollar and a willing mind to purchase.

Just as your favorite stores are full of “Alias” product right now starring Jessica Jones from the Netflix show of the same name, Iron Fist-related product will be the same.

Except there’ll be tons more.

All of that product, with the Caucasian, blond-haired Daniel Rand, will not align with an Asian-American Iron Fist from a marketing perspective. Sure, some of it would still sell, but not as much as possible, and Marvel Comics is not interested in selling less than “as much as possible.”

While various people feel that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the pimp, forcing Marvel Comics to put on a dress and some nice pumps to bring more customers to the promised land, that’s not a fair assessment across the board. Granted, that kind of profit may be peanuts to Marvel Studios and parent company Disney, but the comic book industry is one with serious, frequent ebb and flow in sales, so it is set up to exploit opportunities for such. Neither Marvel Studios nor Disney seem to be taking any action which would get in the way of Marvel Comics getting people to buy books.

I want an Asian-American Iron Fist, but I want it for more than a television show. I want it for the source material. I want it soon.

I want us to be able to look back ten, twenty, forty years from now and see a body of work with an Asian Iron Fist that is greater in volume and impact than the Daniel Rand Iron Fist.

The “Iron Fist” show would be more distinctive and daring with an Asian lead, Asian writers and producers, showing a culture that is not distilled through iconography which does not reflect its uniqueness and legacy.

But problems start at home, and sometimes we forget that. We go after the messengers, and not the caretakers, the core influencers, the people at home or headquarters making the donuts.

If you want an Asian-American Iron Fist today, fight for it.

If you want an Asian-America Iron Fist for the next forty years or more, fight just as hard for the source material to follow us into the 21st Century.

Dan Buckley is the President of Marvel Comics. Axel Alonso is the E-I-C of Marvel Comics. Write to them, not around them or away from them. Take it to them. Lay out the argument. Why it must be. What it means. The impact.

If the volume of mail and correspondence to both of those men comes close to the volume of users of the #AAIronFist hashtag, it will not go without notice.

While you’re at it, write Jim Lee and Dan Didio, the Co-Publishers of DC Comics. Ask for more Asian characters. They have more than you’re seeing in print. Ask for some of them to be tackled by Asian creators.

Once you’re done with Marvel and DC Comics, get started on making the new Asian character. Write it. Draw it. Publish it. Promote it. Make it better than good, better than damn good.

Find quality work with Asian characters and buy it. Not out of an obligation, but because you believe in it enough that you’ll support it.

I grew up on Daniel Rand, and I love the character, but the power of The Iron Fist has been passed down through the centuries, to men and women from different cultural backgrounds. Forty-plus years is a good enough run.

Give me an Asian, female Iron Fist. Yes, female. After all, why should one of the greatest warriors in the Marvel Comics universe remain a man?


Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

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