Iron Fist is white, Captain America became a Nazi, and Magneto, a Holocaust survivor, became a Nazi as well. The Ancient One in Doctor Strange is a white Celtic female instead of a Tibetan old man. Young Ice Man is gay. Wolverine is now a girl. It doesn’t help that half of America doesn’t want Trump as President. Many are offended on both sides due to concerns of diversity and social justice, but should they be?
A while back, people outside of comics hardly knew Iron Man. Captain America is either that guy from that 70s TV show on a motorcycle, or a synonym for a very patriotic American and Thor wasn’t popular outside of Norway. Now, thanks to films, the public are now more familiar with various comic book heroes and villains. The general public knows only as much as films, TV and social media can give them while comic book fans have a wealth of knowledge on their side and are more familiar with superheroes than their high school subjects. This presents a problem when radical changes are made to characters in comics that go counter to what the new fans know and don’t know.
The world was set on fire when news came out that Captain America joined HYDRA in the comics. The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier made films him a household name. Everyone knew that Captain America, Steve Rogers was HYDRA’s worst enemy and embodied the ideals of justice and freedom, but then everyone was up in arms when that comic book frame with him saying ‘HAIL HYDRA’ spread around the Internet. What the heck was Marvel doing to their new beloved character? The non-comic book reading populace was offended with Marvel’s ongoing story that began with Wayward Pines rip-off Avengers Standoff mini-series and set to end with Marvel’s Secret Empire event. In a nutshell, Steve Rogers past was re-written by a cosmic entity so that he believes that HYDRA’s ideals are what’s right. He fights for what he believes in, and his still heroic but covert nature made him qualified for the US Super Soldier Program. Despite all his battles with the Nazis, HYDRA and The Red Skull, everything was still part of some grand plan. Whatever happens, things are sure to return to normal. In short, understanding comes with reading the comics.
Another thing that has many up in arms very recently is news that Magneto is joining Captain America’s HYDRA Secret Empire. But isn’t HYDRA equivalent to Nazism? Didn’t the movies and comics make it clear that Magneto’s motivations come from his being a Holocaust survivor? Even some comics fans are shocked with this development but even if you know him only from the movies, looking back carefully to Captain America: The First Avenger and Winter Soldier, HYDRA isn’t necessarily equal to Nazism. The Red Skull would have disintegrated Hitler if his plan succeeded. In both comics and the Agents of SHIELD TV series, HYDRA has been around far longer than the Nazis, and their ideals are not necessarily the same. Magneto himself is a genocidal fascist whose aim is mutant supremacy over homo sapiens. So if joining HYDRA is a means to an end, he would do so.
Now the Iron Fist mini-series on Netflix is getting a very bad rep because the character, who’s mainly a martial artist is white, in a series steeped in orientalism and martial arts. If you recall this author saying that the best comic book films would do well by sticking to the source material, the Iron Fist series isn’t doing well by doing so. By sticking to the source material, Iron Fist has become the worst rated Netflix Marvel series based on early reviews. Like many Marvel-based Netflix shows, Iron Fist is a slow-burner. That along with the series being ‘white-washed’ made for the bad reviews. The star Finn Jones was forced to quit Twitter because of it, and just maybe, if he couldn’t defend himself on social media, he didn’t understand much about his character either.
Comic book stories are often a reflection of the times. Second-wave feminism gave us Ms. Marvel. The psychedelic 60s gave us Doctor Strange, and the horror-inspired 70s gave us Blade and Morbius. The 70s were also about Blaxploitation, and that’s where Luke Cage came in. Luka Cage and Iron Fist are partners in the comics known as Heroes for Hire. Not ‘that’ sort of partners, though. The 70s also gave us the Martial Arts boom. Now, Iron Fist is apparently Marvel’s answer to David Carradine’s Kung Fu TV series, about a white savior who happens to know Martial Arts. Now it’s not really bad to derive from an idea. It seemed a good idea at the time and given Iron Fist’s origin story, it’s not necessarily a bad idea now. Even before production, the series has gotten the same amount of flak. Many think that it’s about time for Marvel to ‘fix’ the character by re-introducing Iron Fist as an Asian.
But Marvel chose to stick to the source apparently noting that Danny Rand’s origin was very plausible. White family goes on a trip to a hidden Asian city. Trip goes wrong, parents die and child is left alone in the cold icy wilderness and is found by the city’s mystical inhabitants. Child is raised and trained because he is apparently the city’s prophesied white savior. The story is plausible enough, why change it, especially when Marvel has two Asian martial arts heroes in its stable. Colleen Wing is in the Netflix series and it would probably have been good for the series if they also included Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Perhaps he’s in there as I haven’t yet watched the series but this author will, and will soon provide a perspective.
Comics are weird. Characters we know and love can easily be rendered differently if their pasts and present circumstances are tinkered just right. That Cyclops you knew from the X-Men cartoon who believes in Xavier’s dream of human/mutant harmony is now a mutant terrorist. Wonder Woman and Aquaman can become murderous tyrants given the right circumstances. It happened when the Flash messed with the past. If Superman is tricked into killing his wife Lois Lane and unborn child, he becomes a murderous tyrant as well as depicted in the Injustice video game series and comics. Perhaps if an image of Wonder Woman impaling young Billy Batson (Captain Marvel/Shazam) with her sword spread on the internet at the right moment as the Wonder Woman film becomes popular, chaos would probably ensue. Perhaps, in keeping with the times, comic books are reflecting how many view the Trump Administration’s fascist tendencies thus giving us HYDRA Magneto, HYDRA Captain America and his Secret Empire.
This whole thing, explaining the richness or lack thereof of comic book stories is quite important in explaining comic book films and characters. People shouldn’t be up in arms should Wonder Woman do an onscreen kiss with another woman in the upcoming film. Her creator was a very, very liberal person and don’t even think that relationships don’t occur in an all-girls’ school much less an all-girl island. Strange developments in mainstream comic books shouldn’t incur much angry reaction unless they cross some lines that aren’t supposed to be crossed. They’re fictional stories with underlying reasons and setups that often reflect present-day conditions, and if anomalies such as those above occur, they correct themselves over time.