With Daredevil and Jessica Jones having finished their first seasons and Luke Cage in production, all eyes are toward Marvel and Netflix’s future in Iron Fist. The dominant debate concerning the upcoming series, which features a kung-fu superhero, has been the ethnicity of its prospective star.
Should Danny Rand, who wields mystical powers to become the Iron Fist, be Caucasian (as he has been throughout comic books), or Asian?
Maybe the answer is option C: Forget Iron Fist, and get Shang-Chi.
In the 1970s, Marvel acquired the publishing rights to Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu-Manchu novels. A villainous Chinese mystic that has become an unflattering image by contemporary standards, Fu Manchu was incorporated into the Marvel universe and given a son, Shang-Chi, by writers Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Initially modeled after David Carradine from Kung-Fu before looking more like Bruce Lee in modern depictions, Shang-Chi is an ethnically Chinese superhero and is known as Marvel’s premiere martial artist.
He’s shared adventures with Iron Fist, Captain America, Black Widow, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and others, but typically played third or fourth fiddle. In the Ultimate universe, Shang-Chi emigrated to New York and teamed up with Iron Fist to patrol the streets, often looking after Chinatown and subduing its rampant gang problem.
While Shang-Chi doesn’t possess mystical powers like Iron Fist, he is far more skilled in hand-to-hand combat, a fact recognized within Marvel canon. He is unrealistically adept at various fighting styles and weapons, so in some ways he really is Bruce Lee. Hell, he dresses like him too.
Both of his most recent series, Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu and Masters of Kung-Fu, ran for an all-too brief four issues apiece.
But while Shang-Chi has had an underwhelming presence for comic fans, the Iron Fist series proposes a prime opportunity to flesh him out and add diversity to the MCU. While Danny Rand has to maintain in the spotlight, there’s no reason why Shang-Chi can’t have any room or save the day once or twice or thrice.
Adapting elements of their story in Ultimate Spider-Man where they protect Chinatown sounds perfect for the gritty, sprawling urban environment that has characterized Marvel’s Netflix shows. With Kingpin from Daredevil gone, Madam Gao could be gathering forces in Chinatown. That’s a perfect setup for Iron Fist and Shang-Chi.
Why Iron Fist is currently championed to be played by an Asian actor sprouts at the crossroads where Marvel and TV as a whole have responded to a diversifying audience but Marvel’s own Cinematic Universe is still white. It would fantastic if Marvel made the move to rectify the uncomfortable appropriation inherent to Iron Fist and cast him with an Asian actor, somebody meant to fit the premise of a character like Iron Fist from the start.
But would it be such a terrible thing if Danny Rand stayed a white guy and had Shang-Chi to call a bro and kick ass together? Besides introducing a theme of teamwork that is absent in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, an Iron Fist/Shang-Chi series just means more characters to Marvel to sell. Isn’t selling more stuff the point?
And purely for speculation, consider these totally plausible action stars who can fill in Shang-Chi’s jump-kicking shoes.