Rob Liefeld says stupid things, draws stupid things, and writes stupid things. He has a history of offending business partners, companies who employed him, and people with eyes who have had to look at his artwork. He has always been a lowest common denominator comic creator, specializing in depicting women with no waist and ample breasts. To add to his demerits, he’s also a racist, as this article confirms:
Rob Liefeld is an idiot. On his art, I solicit no opinion germane to this article, for really, the “bunch of lines make everything look good” school of cartooning does not make someone wrong-headed. Okay, actually, it’s a pretty fair indicator, but I digress; this scribbling is to address Liefeld’s recent boneheaded, racist opinion on Marvel/Netflix’s Iron Fist show, and the many ways in which Mr. Robert Liefeld is so wrong.
Like most modern scholars of our age, Liefeld decided to take the “Social Justice Warriors” (SJW’s, for short, snowflakes!) to school via that fount of idea exchange, Twitter. To be fair, it is possible that condensing his ideas may have resulted in a loss of nuance. Liefeld, after all, is a cartoonist known for thoughtful and subtle assessments in regard to pop culture.
Marvel/Netflix’s latest series, Iron Fist, features a white guy who learned next-level magical martial arts at a hidden Himalayan city. Many found this to be the ultimate in cultural appropriation, and took to various social media outlets to complain. The knee-jerk response from old-school (white) comic nerds was predictable, amounting to “he was white in 1974, what’s the problem?” This counter-argument did nothing to sooth the anger of the modern, more enlightened funny-book fan. Fortunately, the old guard of fandom has Rob Liefeld to defend their interests in regard to fictional characters.
I dig Iron Fist, too, but like it or not, Danny Rand- the rich white boy who was raised in a mythical city in the Himalayas, then mastered all of their martial secrets- is the definition of Orientalism. Iron Fist’s creator, Roy Thomas, was heavily influenced by the sci-fi/fantasy pulps of the 1920s and 1930s, and comic books from the medium’s “Golden Age” (1940s). Thus, Thomas’ major muses devoid of cultural sensitivity. I suspect Thomas, too, was less-than-informed on other cultures in any meaningful way, at least in the early 1970s. At the risk of repeating myself, the problem with Thomas being infatuated with this era’s genre work is that old pulps/comics are insensitive at best, and racist at worst. Iron Fist’s origin was an “homage” to The Shadow and (likely) James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon; both feature an entitled white guy who discovers enlightenment in a mystical Asian city, with The Shadow becoming a proto-superhero. Shadow stories were a product of their time and that time was problematic. In the 1970s, “white guy” was the default race of a superhero. I choose to believe that nobody working in comics in the seventies was particularly wrong-headed and meant no harm, that was 1974. Maybe updating the character to reflect a 21st century sensibility would not have been a bad idea.
I’m not saying Iron Fist NEEDS to be played by an eastern Asian person, in fact, one could make the argument that Iron Fist’s ultimate fate, being teamed-up with Luke Cage, showed a dynamic of two people with different racial backgrounds that thought of each other as friends and equals, which is pretty great. If Rob Liefeld brought this up, I might hate him less. He did not. Danny Rand may not need to be of Asian decent, but there's also no need to defend him being white, either.
To examine issues specific to Rob Liefeld's defense of Iron Fist’s casting choices:
1- quote Liefeld:
“Shang-Chi was published by Marvel at the exact time and was more popular. Your notion does not hold up. I bought them all.”
There’s no solid proof that Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu was ‘more popular' than Iron Fist (or the subsequent title, Power Man and Iron Fist), though Shang-Chi’s title lasted for over 100 issues. However, that a martial arts based hero of Chinese decent was popular in the 1970s does not negate that in 2017, having a white “martial arts superhero” when there are few characters in the MCU of Asian origin would rub some people the wrong way.
2-“Totally and completely disagree? Did you grow up reading these comics?”
Here, Liefeld equates comic book ignorance with cultural sensitivity, suggesting that if one knew the source material, one wouldn't be offended. To read Marvel Premiere #15 does not negate complaints of a lack of representation of Asians in media, while simultaneously appropriating their culture.
3- “Great! Make them as I made CHAPEL and BRIDGE and SENTINEL and KAYO! Comics is a creative haven for new characters!! None better!"
The “create your own characters!” argument is bullshit. The majority of superheroes are white. Many of them have been around for AT LEAST five decades, and have been absorbed into popular culture. Create all the non-white characters you want, it's going to be a long time before they have the cultural currency of Batman, and as the comic industry tended to employ white men from the 1940s to about the 1990s (at least), a million characters of color would have to be created and integrated into existing fictional frameworks in order to depict a representational universe. Rejiggering the back-story of fictional characters to present a more diverse landscape is not a crime against one's childhood; it's a way to make things not part of the “white guy club”. (It's a really sweet club, we get decoder rings and a lifetime 10% off at Starbucks).
There is rarely a solid reason as to why a character has to be white. It was the classic default, and that’s part of our country’s shameful history, but there’s no reason that it has to stay that way. That Liefeld, a fan of a medium that trades in updates, reboots, ret-cons, and history eradication would be so hung up on a something as mundane as blind casting crosses the line from “myopic” to “racist”. In terms of adapting comics to another media, fans have had to slog through so many films where the source material was not respected in anyway, such as The Joker killing the Waynes in Tim Burton’s Batman, or the cinematic abortion that is Catwoman, how is Iron Fist being Asian is a problem? We’re lucky Iron Fist is still kung fu based! Finally, Rob Liefeld decided to represent diversity in comics using Chapel. Chapel!
4-Iron Fist was based on Chuck Norris- what fresh shade of shit is this? Iron Fist is a white guy who punches people. Chuck Norris is a white guy who punches people. This is where the similarities between the two end. Norris did not learn martial arts in a magical city, nor does he have glowing fists (despite rumors to the contrary). Danny Rand was not an American karate champ who guest-starred on an episode of Room 222.
In 1974, Chuck was a minor celebrity, far from a household name. His film career didn't gain real steam until 1977. It's possible Roy Thomas saw Norris on The Flip Wilson Show and thought, “huh-white guys can do this too?” but that's where it ends.
Also... SO WHAT? Being based on Chuck Norris 43 years ago does not make his racial status locked in for eternity.
Why does Rob Liefeld care so much? Would it really have hurt anyone to make Iron Fist Asian? In what way would the character have been ruined? The answer is Rob Liefeld is a racist. In 1991, Liefeld had a sit-down with Eazy-E and starred in a Spike Lee Levi’s commercial, but in 2017, Rob Liefeld complaining that a fictional character is not white is racist. Iron Fist’s racial background does not matter. Having seen the series, perhaps the Asian community lucked out not having adequate representation, but still, an Asian actor portraying Iron Fist means nothing in terms of the source material, except that it may have made a group of people happy. Why is that an issue to so many über-geeks? Why does Liefeld feel he needs to defend Danny Rand’s racial identity so furiously? Sadly, the answer is because nerds who feel a character’s race is set in stone are racist, and Rob Liefeld, choosing to be a champion of this idea is equally racist, and desperately needs to be on the receiving end of a fist, iron or otherwise.