It’s no secret that many critics and viewers believe “Iron Fist” to be the weakest link in Netflix’s chain of Marvel adaptations. Mired in a casting controversy ever since the show was announced, accusations of cultural appropriation and white savior syndrome have tainted perceptions of a show that wasn’t entirely terrible. Truth be told, there were more than a few bright spots in the series, one of them being Jessica Henwick’s standout portrayal of Colleen Wing.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but Henwick’s strong acting and killer martial arts skills got us to thinking: What if Colleen Wing had become the MCU’s version of Iron Fist? If both the actor and the character have the skills and the pedigree, would wielding the power of the Iron Fist be such a stretch? Here are 15 reasons why we think Colleen Wing would have made a great Iron Fist.
SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers ahead for numerous stories created by Marvel Comics for print and TV.
15. WHITE SAVIOR BEGONE
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, right from the get-go. When “Iron Fist” was first announced as Netflix’s fourth Defender, many fans felt it was the perfect opportunity to address and update some of the more dated aspects of the character by casting an Asian actor in the lead role. Whether or not you subscribe to the view that Iron Fist is an example of white savior syndrome or cultural appropriation, the TV series didn’t do enough to address the issue. The show’s depiction of East Asian culture feels cartoonish, embracing the stereotypes found in martial arts movies rather than exploring its rich history and traditions.
While it’s obvious we’re dealing with a fictional world, it’s equally evident that Marvel Studios missed an opportunity to use the platform provided by the series to address the character’s perceived appropriation of another culture. All of this could have been avoided by having Colleen Wing stand in for Danny Rand as Iron Fist. As an actor of mixed Singaporean-Caucasian descent, Henwick’s casting as Iron Fist would have allowed audiences an untainted viewing experience by stepping back from the character’s roots in the exploitation trend of the ‘70s by embracing Asian culture wholeheartedly.
14. STAR POWER
Viewers on this side of the Atlantic might not know it, but Jessica Henwick isn’t without her accolades across the pond in her native United Kingdom. As a teenager, she was cast as the first ever female lead of Asian descent in a major television show, when she was recruited to star in “Spirit Warriors.” Although the series targeted a younger audience, like “Iron Fist,” it was steeped in martial arts adventure and East Asian mythology.
After starring in “Spirit Warriors,” the young actress appeared in a number of TV and radio series but it was her roles in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as Nymeria Sand and in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as pilot Jessika Pava that prepared her for her appearance in a high-profile superhero production. With viewers and critics panning Finn Jones as Danny Rand, we think Henwick’s undeniable screen presence and uniquely appropriate acting pedigree would have made for an intriguing and exciting portrayal of K’un L’un’s fabled living weapon.
13. A BLANK SLATE WITH HISTORY
Created by Doug Moench and Larry Hama, Colleen Wing first appeared in 1974, in the pages of “Marvel Premiere” #19. Born of mixed Chinese and Japanese heritage, she was trained by her maternal grandfather in the ways of the samurai and carries her family’s ancestral katana into battle. Her connection to the wider Marvel Universe comes by way of her association with its other martial arts stars, such as the Sons of the Tiger, Shang-Chi and of course, Danny Rand and Misty Knight.
She’s also had dealings with more traditional superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fearless Defenders and the X-Men. She even showed a romantic interest in Cyclops, when he became available shortly after Jean Grey’s first dirt nap. All of this history is well and good, however it needn’t bog the character down in a live-action series. The beauty of Colleen’s comic book history is that it’s obscure enough to feel new to a TV audience, allowing producers and writers to treat her as blank slate, fleshing out her back story without alienating longtime followers of the comic book version.
12. PERSONALIZED VILLAINS
Although she shares several rogues with Iron Fist, Colleen’s connection to her foes often stems from a more personal and immediate place. We saw this aspect of her character play out to great effect in the TV series, as she was forced to see Bakuto’s branch of the Hand for what it really was: a self-serving cult of criminal assassins intent on recruiting an army of domestic terrorists.
In the comics, her connection to the Hand is even more personal. During the events of “Shadowland,” Colleen discovers her mother was the leader of a Hand splinter group called the Nail. An elite squad of swordswomen, all of the members of the Nail were killed by the Hand’s enemies. Colleen led a new incarnation for a time, but later betrayed the team of assassins. Another potential foe that would have translated well to the small screen is Hong Kong crime boss Emil Vachon, who killed Colleen’s maternal grandfather and later hooked her on heroin, before she escaped with the help of Misty Knight.
11. COMPELLING BACK STORY
When we get right down to it, there’s nothing in Danny Rand’s origin story that hasn’t been done before in comics or the earlier pulp magazines that preceded them. His tale is a familiar one, serving as the bedrock of a variety of heroes from the Shadow to the Golden Age Amazing Man. A young man travels to an exotic land and learns the mysterious ways of its people before returning to the outside world as a paragon of truth, justice and good, old-fashioned Western values (yawwwwn). Colleen Wing, on the other hand, has bonafide connections to both Japanese and Chinese cultures, with a mother who was the founder of the Nail, a splinter group of the Hand featuring a strike team of all-female warriors.
Along with flirting with the darker side of her heritage, Colleen has also successfully dealt with more personal issues, such as heroin addiction, after a creep named Emil Vachon purposefully hooked her on the drug. With her more compelling back story and personal demons, Colleen becomes a much more intriguing character than Danny Rand, who is really only a variation on a longstanding comic book trope.
10. IRON FIST P.I.?
One of the major criticisms reviewers and fans brandished in the wake of “Iron Fist’s” debut was the flimsy plot, specifically Danny Rand’s recklessness and naiveté. Granted the guy had just spent the last 15 years of his life cloistered in a mystical city that only appears on the earthly plane sporadically. And yet, Rand is no stranger to the modern world. It’s not like he doesn’t know what an iPod is, right? Still, Danny’s approach to solving the mystery of his parents’ murder was haphazard and juvenile to say the least.
He could have benefited from a little detective work before running all over the city and later around the world half-cocked. In the comics, Colleen is one half of Knightwing Restorations Ltd., a private investigations firm she runs with her best friend, Misty Knight. Alongside the former police detective, Colleen has picked up numerous detective skills that would have added another weapon in her arsenal if she was given the lead role in the series.
9. STREET CRED
One of the reasons Danny Rand failed to resonate with fans stems from his social standing. As the heir to a vast financial empire virtually unrivalled in the MCU, Danny lives in a world most viewers could only dream of. Sure, he tried to use all of that wealth for good by providing pharmaceuticals at cost to those in need and by shutting down an environmentally harmful factory, but those are grand gestures on a scale unknown to most audiences. Although the show attempted to illustrate how naïve Danny was with regards to the realities of owning a multi-national corporation, it missed the opportunity to explore this aspect of the character, using his inexperience as little more than a minor plot point.
Colleen Wing, on the other hand, comes from a much humbler, more relatable background. Within the confines of the MCU, she is a much more grounded character than Danny, concerned with helping those in need directly rather than from atop a corporate tower. As the sensei of a small dojo in Hell’s Kitchen, she reaches out to young people, teaching them the skills they need to succeed in life using the martial arts, while keeping them off the streets.
8. BYE-BYE MEACHUMS
One of the best parts of “Iron Fist” was the Meachum family. David Wenham was excellent as undying family patriarch Harold, playing him as a sinister, Machiavellian megalomaniac to perfection. Even if Bakuto ended up pulling the strings, it was Harold Meachum who carried on Netflix’s tradition of engaging supervillains. So, why do we want to get rid of it as this entry suggests? For one thing, the Meachum subplot took several episodes to set up and while the payoff was worth the wait, we still can’t help but feel there was a better way to utilize the time.
With Colleen in the title role of Iron Fist, the plot could have been much more streamlined and focused. Rather than sprawling in multiple directions to unravel the Meachum’s labyrinthine schemes, thwart the Hand and deal with survivor’s guilt, the plot could have drilled down into the Iron Fist’s origins. By focusing on Danny’s experiences on the outside world at the expense of his training in K’un L’un, viewers were robbed of an integral part of the character’s history. Colleen as Iron Fist may eliminate the Meachums from the equation but it also potentially illuminates another hidden corner of the MCU.
7. LIVING WEAPON
Anybody who thinks Danny Rand is the only living weapon in the Marvel Universe has another thing coming. Marvel has a large stable of world-class martial artists, including Shang-Chi, Daredevil and Elektra. Colleen has always been a part of that conversation. Trained in numerous martial arts disciplines, Colleen prefers to follow the code of Bushido as a samurai, wielding her signature katana with unparalleled skill and precision.
As we witnessed in the TV show, Colleen isn’t content to simply rest on her laurels by kicking the snot out of her advanced students. She also feels the need to constantly test and improve her abilities by facing opponents far larger and physically stronger than she is. Some of the series’ best fight scenes feature Colleen, taking advantage of Henwick’s previous Wu Shu training from “Spirit Warriors” to drive brutal encounters with several dangerous opponents, including a cage fight against multiple adversaries. Her climactic showdown with Bakuto was choreographed with balletic grace and precision, and was one of the highlights of the series. Truth be told, Henwick looked far more comfortable in “Iron Fist’s” numerous fight sequences than star Finn Jones, a fact not lost on the show’s many detractors.
6. DANNY RAND MAKES A GOOD SIDEKICK
Time for a couple of brutal facts. First, as much as we like Danny Rand, he’s never really had the drawing power to headline his own series. Even when the writing and art are on point, as it was in 2009’s “The Immortal Iron Fist,” by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and David Aja (among others), fan interest seems to fade after an initial increase in popularity. Second, Danny works better as a sidekick. Whether partnered up with Luke Cage or as a team player as a member of the Avengers, Danny Rand is better when he has a friend or two around to hide his blandness.
We would argue that without the work done on the aforementioned solo series, the character might have been relegated to a supporting role in Netflix’s Marvel line of shows. However, Rand in a supporting role a la Orson Randall instantly makes him more interesting. Even with the young Finn Jones cast in the role of mentor, Randall’s pulpier backstory and fractious history with K’un L’un adds more depth and color to a character that is otherwise little more than another rich white dude who decides to use his powers for good.
5. DEFENDING DIVERSITY
Even in the comics, the Defenders have always had a reputation as a team that drew its eclectic cast from across the Marvel Universe. While a majority of the characters were still white, there were also several members who came from different ethnic backgrounds. Luke Cage, Loa, Junta, Black Panther and War Machine all served on various incarnations of the team. A similar focus on ethnic diversity seems to be lacking in Netflix’s “Defenders” line-up. Although the streaming service’s previous Marvel shows boasted ethnically diverse supporting casts, especially “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage,” only the latter featured a person of color in the starring role.
This leaves the live action version of the Defenders feeling a little pasty. With Colleen Wing filling the role of Iron Fist, the street level heroes could have been a little more representative of the communities they’re dedicated to protecting—especially considering how intrinsic East Asian culture is to the overriding plot threading its way through all five TV series. Rather than simply filling the role of villains, Colleen’s presence on the Defenders could have balanced out the line’s depiction of Asian culture.
4. LADY IRON FIST
If you think we’re off our nut for even suggesting a female Iron Fist, never fear! The precedent has already been set in the comics. Created by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and David Aja, Wu Ao-Shi first appeared in “Immortal Iron Fist” #2 and was the first and only woman to defeat the dragon Shou-Lao to claim the power of the Iron Fist. Active as Iron Fist around the mid-1500s, Wu Ao-Shi was a headstrong girl who caught the eye of the Lei Kung the Thunderer, the immortal martial arts master of K’un L’un responsible for training every male student in the city.
Under his tutelage, she became one of the most formidable martial artists of her generation, achieving a mastery of chi beyond that of even Danny Rand and Orson Randall. Capable of extending the power of her chi to weapons such as the bow and arrow, she used her abilities to become the pirate queen of Pinghai Bay. With this precedent already set, it’s not that hard to envision Colleen as the bearer of the Iron Fist, wielding her chi-enhanced katana to make short work of her enemies.
3. MISTY KNIGHT
Ever since the ‘80s, when most of us think of Colleen Wing, we almost immediately think of Misty Knight, too. Over the years the BFFs have worked together in a variety of capacities, usually under the moniker of Daughters of the Dragon or as members of Heroes for Hire. The pair first teamed up in the first issue of Iron Fist’s original ongoing series, opening a private investigation firm called Knightwing Restorations. Although they would part ways several times over their careers, Colleen and Misty have always remained loyal to each other and never seem to be apart for too long.
If Colleen Wing had been tapped to wield the Iron Fist in the Netflix series, it could have opened the door to include Misty Knight, as well. Simone Missick’s portrayal of Knight in “Luke Cage” was spot-on, remaining loyal to the source material, while infusing her relationship to the former Power Man with a simmering romantic tension. Including her in a Colleen Wing-led “Iron Fist” series, would have brought the live action characters closer to comic book roots, satisfying diehard fans, while connecting the show with Netflix’s previous shows in a way that felt organic rather than forced.
2. GIRL POWER
Long ignored—or at least marginalized—for decades, female fans continue to represent a burgeoning demographic in the comics industry. There are more women writing and drawing comics than ever before and that’s a good thing. In fact, we’d go so far as to say, if it weren’t for the ever-growing number of female fans and creators, the comics world would be a much bleaker and less lucrative place. After all, there are only so many 18-35 year old males out there and fewer every day, as comics traditional core audience ages out or dies off.
And let’s be honest: some of the most imaginative and well-crafted comics on the shelves today come from the desks of creators like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Becky Cloonan and Fiona Staples. Similarly, characters like America Chavez, Jessica Jones and Kamala Khan continue to push mainstream comics into new territory, embracing gender equality and more diverse representation. An “Iron Fist” series starring Colleen Wing as the titular character could have built upon the successful outreach to female fans established in “Jessica Jones,” while providing the source material with another strong ethnic heroine.
1. THE MCU NEEDS A FEMALE ACTION HERO
One of the few things lacking in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a female hero strong enough to helm her own solo movie. For whatever reason, Marvel Studios has decided this will never happen for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. This, despite the actor’s undeniable drawing power and the character’s obvious popularity with audiences. Sure, “Captain Marvel,” is in the production pipeline, with Brie Larson in the title role, but the film’s still a ways off and nothing is ever certain in Hollywood.
Colleen Wing as Iron Fist would have allowed Marvel to lead the way in a growing trend towards more diverse casting in the film world. Henwick has the acting chops to pull it off and commands attention on the screen. She has the presence, the necessary skills and a respectable acting C.V. with roles in two major entertainment franchises. Casting an Asian woman in the lead role of a high-profile TV series would have also been in keeping with Marvel’s own move towards more diverse comics, feeling right at home alongside characters like Riri Williams, America Chavez and Kamala Khan.
Do you think Colleen has what it takes to be Iron Fist? Let us know in the Comments.