Marvel Studios celebrated Simu Liu’s birthday by giving us all a present: the first trailer for Shang Chi and the Ten Rings. And there’s a lot to get excited about: a ripped Liu kicking several things; some of the best looking fight shots in the MCU to date; Awkwafina being generally delightful.
Watch it here if you haven’t already…
But buried in the middle of the trailer was a very quick flash of something fascinating:
Was that an Iron Fist?
Iron Fist and the MCU
Up until now, the first character who jumps to mind when you think “Marvel martial artists” is likely Danny Rand, the Iron Fist. Rand was part of Marvel’s wave of characters capitalizing on mid-70s pop culture (along with grindhouse-y Ghost Rider, blaxploitation hero Luke Cage, and ironically a few months earlier than Danny’s introduction, martial artist Shang Chi). He was created by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, and Bill Everett, and he had some staying power: he was spun out of Marvel Premiere and into his own title (written by X-Men legend Chris Claremont), and partnered with Cage as the Heroes for Hire, and the pair starred in their series through the mid ‘80s. He floated around the background of the Marvel Universe through the ‘90s and early aughts until 2004, when his title was resurrected by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and David Aja for the groundbreaking classic, The Immortal Iron Fist.
Their run, and Duane Swierczynski and Travel Foreman’s follow ups, introduced a sprawling backstory to the Iron Fist mythos that included the long history of Iron Fists – a title given to the protector of the mythical city of K’un L’un every generation, given that every Iron Fist dies at the age of 33.
Iron Fists (Irons Fist?), in addition to their martial arts prowess, are known for their traditional green and gold outfits, something the filmmakers behind Shang Chi almost certainly knew when they put the fight sequence with a woman in a green and yellow outfit in the middle of this trailer.
Wu Ao-Shi, The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay
That tradition of Iron Fists dying at 33 would seem to indicate that there are any number of possible defenders of K’un L’un who could have appeared in this trailer. However, in the comics, we’ve only seen four women hold the title: two, in borderline nonsensical Avengers stories (Fongji Wu was an Iron Fist and the Phoenix at the same time, and Fan Fei was the Iron Fist of 1,000,000 BC back when Odin and Phoenix were dating and somehow people existed on Earth?), and one from a digital first series that may be out of continuity (Iron Fist: the Living Weapon). The one with the biggest profile: Wu Ao-Shi, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay.
Wu was a K’un L’un prodigy who claimed the mantle of Iron Fist early, defeating the dragon Shou Lao with ease. She abandoned K’un L’un after beating the dragon to join her love, a simple fisherman, on the mortal plane, and after some adventuring as a mercenary, she eventually channeled her chi through flaming arrows and single-handedly defeated an entire flotilla of pirates to liberate Pinghai Bay, settle down with her beloved, and start a family. In the comics, this story is told with stunning economy and grace in the second issue of Brubaker/Fraction/Aja’s run, and it is very likely the moment when that story was cemented as one of the best comics from that era of Marvel.
With that story, Wu was the only woman we saw hold the title of Iron Fist for the first 40 years of the character’s history, and the only adult woman to hold the title that wasn’t tainted by a vague association with an X-Men concept.
This isn’t to say that the mysterious green and yellow martial artist in the Shang Chi trailer is without a doubt Wu. K’un L’un has likely existed in the mythical corners of the MCU for centuries, and even if they don’t adhere to the “every Iron Fist dies at 33” rule that isn’t especially hard and fast in the comics, that still leaves plenty of space for other Iron Fists to exist. But make no mistake: Shang Chi and the Ten Rings is almost certainly plucking Iron Fist out of the Marvel Netflix universe and dropping the characters and the history into the MCU proper.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens on Sept. 3.