Writer Roy Thomas co-created the character Iron Fist, a.k.a Danny Rand, over four decades ago, along with artist Gil Kane.* Now that his white guy ninja warrior character is back in the news and has his own show on Netflix, criticisms of the show — which centers around Rand, a white man who goes to Asia and returns with mystical martial-arts abilities — have focused on the story’s cultural appropriation, with many suggesting that an Asian-American actor should play a superhero skilled at mixed martial arts. Thomas is only “vaguely aware” of the controversy surrounding Iron Fist, but he’s not sorry. The comics scribe and onetime Marvel editor-in-chief told Inverse that instead of getting riled up over Danny Rand, critics can make their own characters to meet their moral compasses.
You mentioned before all of the whitewashing controversy that’s been swirling around Iron Fist. Could you expand on that a bit? Yeah, someone made me vaguely aware of that. I try not to think about it too much. I have so little patience for some of the feelings that some people have. I mean, I understand where it’s coming from. You know, cultural appropriation, my god. It’s just an adventure story. Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.
Despite Danny Rand’s race, Thomas said Iron Fist as a character didn’t necessarily have to be white. He would’ve been fine if Netflix and Marvel had decided to introduce a new character for the Iron Fist’s lead.
If they wanted to kill off white Iron Fist and come up with one who wasn’t Caucasian, that wouldn’t have bothered me, but neither am I ashamed for having made up one who was. He wasn’t intended to stand for any race. He was just a man who was indoctrinated into a certain thing… On the other hand, if they had decided to make Iron Fist an Asian, that would have been fine with me, too. I wouldn’t have cared. I didn’t consider myself the safeguard of some kind of Caucasian literary standard or anything like that. But I would have found it easier to write about a Caucasian, so that’s one reason I probably did it. If somebody had suggested, “You want to make it so he’s Asian?” Well, we could have done that too.
Later in the interview Thomas suggested making a trio: “He could have a buddy who was Asian. It could have been a trio … just make up a new character,” he said. As for Rand? “Don’t worry about trashing another one. Just make up a new one.”
*This article has been updated to reflect that Roy Thomas co-created the character with artist Gil Kane.