Thursday, November 12, 2015

Iron Fist: Asian Heroes and the MCU

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The question was asked recently if Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist, should be played by an Asian-American actor because the character’s whiteness is not important but his Americanness is. I admit that my initial reaction was to assume reverse racism: the martial artist has to be Asian. However, as I thought further it occurred to me that this desire actually comes from a group looking for representation. And I can actually relate to that desire; one of the reasons I like Hawkeye so much is because he’s left-handed! While I still worry that the executives who make these decisions might do it more out of an assumption that any Asian hero has to be a martial artist and any martial arts-based hero must be Asian, I can definitely see the desire by Asian and Asian-American Marvel fans for representation. This writer has written a couple articles arguing in favor of just this point. Rather than rehash his arguments (which are quite valid), I want to look at this issue from a different angle: are Asians underrepresented in Marvel Comics, and (related) are there any other options for Asian heroes? After all, I can’t just say “focus on existing Asian heroes” without offering an alternative!

I’m going to come right out and say there really aren’t too many, at least not heroes whose rights Marvel owns. Most of the heroes I found were mutants, with a number of Iron Fist supporting characters thrown in for good measure. There are a few viable options, however, one of whom is strongly rumored to be appearing in an upcoming movie.

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Mantis is half Vietnamese and half German in the comics. She is rumored to be the new character played by Pom Klementieff in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Mantis has an interesting story, since it involves a Kree cult proclaiming her the “Celestial Madonna,” training her in martial arts, wiping her memory, and setting her loose to become a barmaid and prostitute in a Vietnamese bar (what kind of cult is this?). I wonder how James Gunn is going to work that in, since the movie is about fathers!

Shang Chi

Shang Chi might be one of the biggest Asian heroes who’s not a mutant, and even he isn’t that big. His father is Fu Manchu, a major crime lord in China who had him trained in martial arts so he could take over the family business. Instead, Shang Chi vowed to fight against his father and bring him down.  He does not have any superpowers, but is an excellent martial artist.

He has appeared in a number of stories with Iron Fist and the Heroes for Hire, so I think he could fit in quite well in the Netflix shows, perhaps as a supporting character in Iron Fist who can then be given his own series afterward.

Amadeus Cho

Though he’s really never been a major character before now, Amadeus Cho has been a significant supporting character in the Marvel Comics. His mother Helen played a minor role in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s a brilliant kid, one of the seven smartest men in the world, though he doesn’t have any superpowers himself. He’s a supporting character of the Hulk, Hercules, and a few other heroes. Another, fun fact: Amadeus Cho is the “Totally-Awesome Hulk” in the “All-New, All-Different Marvel,” so that’s cool.  But I doubt it will happen in the MCU.

Considering how young Helen appeared to be in Age of Ultron, however, I don’t know when he’d be able to appear in the MCU if she’s his mother. Of course, it’s entirely possible that she just looks younger than she is and is really in her mid-30s and has a teenaged son.

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Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan)

Kamala Khan is a Muslim Pakistani-American Inhuman teenager with a hero-worship complex, particularly for Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel. Following the Terrigen Bomb detonation, Kamala gains the ability to alter her physiology in a combination of Mister Fantastic’s and Mystique’s abilities. She has basically turned into the Peter Parker of the modern age: a teenager who serves as the audience’s “in” to the world of superheroes. As far as the MCU is concerned, I think it’s a question of “when” we will see her in the movies, not “if.”


Wong is a butler whose family has served the Sorcerers Supreme for centuries. Though he doesn’t possess any superpowers beyond a passing knowledge of magic, Wong   is adept in martial arts, which he uses to protect Doctor Strange. Odds are pretty good that he will appear in Doctor Strange, though I don’t recall any casting announcements for him.

Contest of Champions Heroes

Arabian Knight, Sabra, and Collective Man are three of the heroes selected by the Grandmaster and Death to battle in the Contest of Champions. Arabian Knight is an Iraqi hero who wields a magic scimitar, wears a magic sash, and rides a flying carpet. Sabra is an Israeli Mossad officer with a number of superhuman abilities which may be a product of her being a mutant or may be the result of Super-Soldier experimentation—it’s not clear. Collective Man is/are a Chinese hero(es), five brothers who can merge their strength and abilities together.

Arabian Knight and maybe Sabra could appear in the MCU.  However, Collective Man is/are mutant(s), so he/they is/are probably not owned by Marvel Studios.

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Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is the official hero team of Japan. However, they were adapted into an Asian-fusion-style animated feature last year, so I’m pretty sure they are off the table for the MCU. Also, a few of their members are mutants (Sunfire for one), so they’re off the table to even appear independently of the Big Hero 6 in the MCU.  However, I’m kind of expecting we’ll see a Big Hero 6 sequel sooner or later.


Jubilee, Silver Samurai, X-23, and a bunch of other X-Men and Wolverine supporting characters are all Asian or Asian-American. However, they aren’t owned by Marvel, so it is unlikely that they could appear in the MCU.


This is not exhaustive list, but I tried to hit all the major characters.  Unfortunately, unless I missed someone, I really didn’t find a ton of popular Asian or Asian-American heroes whose rights are owned by Marvel Studios. Shang Chi, Amadeus Cho, Mantis, and Kamala Khan are really the best options for major (or at least somewhat well-known) heroes who can appear in the MCU. Additionally, I think that Arabian Knight and Sabra could fit into Captain America: Civil War quite well as official heroes working for Iraq and Israel respectively and part of a stand-off between the two long-time enemies, but that would only be as minor characters.

This is not to say that the MCU is completely bereft of Asian or Asian-American heroes. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has two in Daisy Johnson (okay, she’s half Chinese-Inhuman, but I think that still counts) and Melinda May. But the MCU can always use more. I think the best avenue for introducing new Asian or Asian-American heroes is the one they used in the comics, but with a small twist. In the comics, they created a number of Asian mutants; in the MCU they can do the same thing with Inhumans. The comics have already introduced a couple of Asian or Asian-American NuHumans (Inhumans transformed by the Terrigen Bomb): Kamala Khan and Dinesh Deol, a.k.a. Grid, are the first two who come to mind. I think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can start the process by introducing some Asian-American Inhumans. Before long I also expect to see new Inhumans appearing in the movies, some of whom could be Asian or Asian-American. I’ve seen some complaints about the idea of just creating more heroes, but you have to remember that all heroes had to be new at some point. It took a combination of a compelling character, good villains, and interesting stories for the characters we have to gain the popularity they now enjoy. The same can hold true for new characters like Kamala Khan. To this end, I wouldn’t be surprised if the All-New Inhumans comic introduces a number of new characters who could jump to the movies and TV series at some point.

To the original question—should Iron Fist be Asian-American in the Netflix series/movie—I don’t see a compelling argument against it. As the aforementioned author points out, Danny’s story of being a fish out of water learning about his father’s heritage and mastering martial arts works just fine whether he’s Caucasian or Asian. It’s not as though he has to be a Greg Cipes-esque surfer dude like in the Ultimate Spider-Man series for that story to make sense. I still think it makes a more-positive statement to emphasize original Asian characters than to cross-racially cast a non-Asian character, but considering the relative dearth of known Asian characters, that’s not much of an option at this point. Hopefully the new Inhumans will provide some compelling new Asian heroes and Marvel will introduce Shang Chi on Netflix as well. But in the mean time, I won’t be upset if they make Iron Fist an Asian-American. “Rand” is an Asian name, right?

Do you know of any Asian or Asian-American Marvel heroes that I missed?  Do you think they should change Iron Fist to be Asian-American?  Which Asian or Asian-American heroes do you want to see join the MCU?  Let me know in the comments!

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