I (who is Asian American) have been having this frustrating and longstanding debate with my boyfriend (who is white) about Danny Rand aka Marvel’s superhero the Iron Fist. This argument comes up every time there are rumors about a Heroes for Hire movie or more recently with Ultimate Spider-man (featuring Iron Fist and Luke Cage, too.)
Here is my (admittedly biased) recap of Iron Fist’s origin story:
Wendell Rand “discovered” the mystical city of K’un-L’un when he was exploring the Himalayas as a young man. (Well, technically the people living in K’un-Lun ‘discovered’ it first, but it only counted when Rand discovered it, I guess, thanks Marvel.)
After he saved the life of Lord Tuan, the ruler of K’un-L’un (what is with the apostrophes?), Lord Tuan adopted Wendell as his adopted son. Wendell had to contend with Lord Tuan’s jealous biological son, Davos, who was not happy with this interloper.
Wendell eventually decided to leave K’un-L’un, go back to New York City, and marry a wealthy socialite, Heather Duncan. (Wendell and Duncan are both white Americans.) They had a son, Daniel “Danny” Rand.
When Danny was around 10, his dad decided to visit K’un-L’un. During the mountain climb, Danny slipped and he and his parents end up hanging off a cliff held up only by their gear. One of the members of their party (Wendell’s business partner and secretly in love with Danny’s mom) decides to ensure that Wendell dies during this accident. Danny’s mom, not down with what happened, decides that she and Danny will journey on alone; she is eaten by wolves, Danny is rescuted by the people of the mystical hidden city of K’un L’un.
True to the mighty whitey trope, Danny is the most gifted student of the martial arts in K’un L’un ever. After killing a big serpent and plunging his hands into its heart he becomes the 66th Iron Fist (a generational mantle conferred on the champion of K’un L’un, like the “Avatar” from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series.)
Essentially, like Snake Eyes from GI-Joe, both generations of Rands (the sole white guy who is completely new to the culture) easily surpass the (Asian) K’un L’un residents who have been spending their entire lives developing their talent, like eventual supervillain Davos the Steel Serpent.
Danny returns to New York where he has a lot of money (think Bruce Wayne) from his parent’s company, Rand International. He eventually works with Luke Cage and starts to date Misty Knight.
The debate with my boyfriend argument goes like this: I argue that the story would be sooo much better and more compelling and diverse and less “culturally appropriative” if Danny Rand were hapa or Asian American…actually related to or even from Kun Lun. My boyfriend argues that this would fundamentally change the story of Iron Fist in a way that is different from black Nick Fury or black Heimdall, doorman to the Asgardians, and that it would make Iron Fist simply a rip off of Shang-Chi The Master of Kung Fu
Here’s my head canon for an “Ultimates” Danny Rand, though…and one that I hope comes to be if there is ever a Marvel Heroes for Hire movie. It’s my attempt to maintain some of the generic fish-out of the water stuff that would come into play with a white Iron Fist while avoiding some of the crappy “resentful Asians can’t handle white man being better than them at stuff” villain motivations.
[The images are of Irish/Chinese actor John Foo]
Daniel “Danny” Rand is the Asian American son of millionaires Wendell (a white American) and Heather (an Asian American immigrant) Rand of Rand International. Before becoming CEO of Rand International, rich playboy Wendell explored the world and almost perished while scaling the Himalayan Mountains. There he discovered K’un L’un, a hidden city deep in the Himalayas (not in random dimensional space world) and started to learn more about the people who lived there. In this head-canon, K’un L’un is hidden for political reasons.
It was there that he met “Heather” (insert generic Asian-ish Marvel name, I guess) who is the daughter of one of the leaders of K’un L’un and also one of the best martial artists of K’un L’un. Eventually, Heather and Wendell fall in love and they decide to move back to the United States, in part because of the turbulent situation in Kun Lun. Together, Wendell and Heather build Rand Industries and they have a son, Daniel.
Young Danny studies martial arts with his mother and other teachers. He grows up learning about her homeland and learning the language from her and other refugees. However, like many Asian parents who have fled from a war torn homeland, Heather is reluctant to bring Danny to visit Kun Lun and Wendell defers to her wishes. Eventually, they decide to charter a small plane out of Hong Kong, but this plane is sabotaged by a rival company (none of this fighting over ownership of Danny’s mom bullshit) and crashes.
Danny is the sole survivor and taken in by the people of Kun Lun. While he is a competent martial artist, it is because he has studied martial arts his entire life under the best teachers with all the money in the world. While the other students resent him, it is not strictly because he is “white” or better than them but because he thinks he is better than them and is clueless about the amount of privilege he has as a millionaire and American, etc.
It’s late and I’m running out of steam so maybe I’ll expand on this tomorrow. I know I would find it exceedingly hilarious, though, if in this alternate universe Davos really was instead the “mighty whitey” trope, as in, he was a white guy with this savior mentality (think Invisible Children/KONY) who stumbled upon Kun Lun and then expected to be the best at everything, and his grudge was based on that instead.
What do you think? Is there a way to salvage Iron Fist? Because I think it’s a damn shame that one of the most Asian-ish heroes in the Marvel pantheon is actually just another white American 1%er. And honestly, who’s heard of poor Shang-Chi.