After a full year without any MCU goodness, 2021 is delivering 365 days chock-full of your favorite Marvel superheroes. Not only have we had WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but new trailers for Black Widow and now Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have us feeling excited for the future of the franchise. The first trailer for Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi might be the most exciting of all. The idea of a martial arts spectacular Marvel movie is thrilling enough, but we think the trailer might be hiding a huge new character in plain sight.
The Immortal Iron Fist
The words Iron Fist may strike fear into the hearts of Marvel fans everywhere. Not only were the original comics an uneven mix of martial arts-inspired action and racist Asian stereotypes, but the Netflix TV show was widely maligned. The conversation around casting and reimagining the character didn’t reach Jeph Loeb and his Marvel TV cohorts, leading to a white actor with no formal martial arts training being cast in the titular role. Thankfully, the lack of love for that version of the character means the MCU can recast and recontextualize the hero in any light that they see fit. And the Shang-Chi trailer hints that they might be doing just that.
During a sequence in a forest we see two figures fighting. One wears white while the other sports gold and green. If you’re an Iron Fist fan then you’ll know that those are the colors of the hero who carries that mantle. While Iron Fist was originally an American called Danny Rand who trained in the mythical land of K’un-Lun, newer comics have introduced the idea of many historical Iron Fists, with the mantle being a legacy instead of a superhero name. And that could be what we’re seeing here, especially if we look to the 2007 Immortal Iron Fist comic book series.
Reimagining the Iron Fist
The first two issues of that Marvel series introduced historical Iron Fist characters that could definitely have inspired the gold and green clad fighter we see in the trailer. Bei Ming-Tian held the mantle of Iron Fist circa 1227 A.D. His clothing is nearly identical to the mysterious figure we see in the Shang-Chi trailer. But the figure in the trailer is clearly a woman which brings us to our next potential inspiration. Wu Ao-Shi was the Iron Fist circa 1545 A.D. A powerful fighter, she later became known as the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay. From what we’ve seen in the trailer, if the film does introduce a new Iron Fist it’ll likely be a combination of these two characters. Or it will at least take from the idea of historical Iron Fists from years past. And it’s not just the gold and green costume that got us thinking…
In one of the trailer’s most spectacular fight sequences we can see a dragon in the top left hand corner of the screen. Not only is it very evocative of the Iron Fist logo, there’s also a deeper connection. Something interesting to note is that while it seems like the MCU’s Shang-Chi will have some mythical creatures and locales of its own, the hero has generally been a grounded street level hero. But the mythical world of K’un-Lun and the dragon are both key parts of Iron Fist lore, so could the MCU be combining them? In Iron Fist, anyone who wants to wield the mantle has to fight the dragon, Shou-Lao the Undying. So if the film visits K’un-Lun that would explain why there’s a huge dragon in the skies.
Welcome to K’un-Lun?
While Shang-Chi is clearly the hero here, this could be a way to rectify the mistakes made during the Iron Fist series, introducing a new mantle wielder and tying the worlds of K’un-Lun and Shang-Chi together. And it wouldn’t be without precedent. The 2015 Secret Wars comic event featured a version of K’un-Lun as the stage for a huge and historical battle between the Iron Fists and the Ten Rings. With that in mind and what we see in the trailer, that could be a conflict that the film may introduce.
We also get a glimpse at what looks like a Madripoor-set fighting tournament. In the Secret Wars: Battleworld series, the Ten Rings and Iron Fists set up a tournament called the Thirteen Chambers to decide the fate of K’un-Lun. Perhaps we could see a modern version of the fighting competition in Madripoor—like the Bloodsport story arc from Wolverine—that’s replicating the historical fight? That historical version could have also been where we see the original Iron Fist-looking fighter battling a white-robed antagonist… potentially the Ten Rings?
Sorry, what was that?
Of course, like any theory this is just that: a theory. It does seem like Shang-Chi is taking at least some notes from the Battleworld reality. Our final piece of evidence is this: during the trailer Wenwu tells Shang-Chi that he’s been allowed to live on his own for 10 years, but now he has to return. In K’un-Lun, the gates between the mythical world and Earth only open once every 10 years. It could be a coincidence, but we think not. So if you’ve been waiting for news of a new Iron Fist project, maybe Shang-Chi is the story you’ve been waiting for. But we’ll have to wait until September 3 to find out.