Former Marvel Editor-in-Chief and legendary creator Roy Thomas is a busy man. He’s busy collecting paychecks for Marvel’s Iron Fist Netflix show, for instance, even though he hasn’t been invited to get involved in its production. In an interview with Inverse, however, Thomas makes clear one thing that he is too busy for: criticism of Iron Fist centered around cultural appropriation.
“Some people are complaining — as I think they have over the years — about cultural appropriation and crap like that, which just makes me furious,” Thomas said in the interview. “I have so little patience for some of the feelings that some people have. You know, cultural appropriation, my god.”
“It’s just an adventure story,” he went on. “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,” Thomas added, after using it anyway.
Thomas says that Iron Fist was a product of a different time, a time where this sort of thing happened all the time. “You can argue about Tarzan, you can argue about almost any character who came up then is bound to be not quite PC by some later standard or other. Okay, so you can make some adjustments. 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.”
Thomas says that people have “too much time on their hands,” and goes on to add, “They have an infinite capacity for righteous indignation. By and large, that tends to be misplaced quite often because if you’re becoming all upset over things that are just stories, and if you don’t like it, instead of trying to change somebody else’s story, go out and make up your own character and do a good job of it. That’s just fine, but why waste time trying to run down other people’s characters simply because they weren’t created with your standards in mind?”
“Now if something is really racist or degrading to a sex or race, an ethnic group or something like that, that’s something else,” Thomas explained, though he did not specify the qualifications for determining whether something is appropriately racist or degrading enough for Roy Thomas. “But Iron Fist isn’t that and never has been. It’s all about a fictitious race, a fictitious place like a Shangri-La, and one person who happens to be its emissary. There’s no reason why he can’t be Caucasian.”
Thomas boasted, as defenders of Marvel against similar criticisms often do, that Marvel “pioneered” having “people of other races in the comics,” citing Black Panther and Luke Cage. Thomas brings up a group of multi-ethnic super-friends he created back in the day himself. “I made up a concept — I forget if I made up the name — called the Sons of the Tiger. It was three people: one white, one black, one Asian. I turned that over to other people and let them handle it.”
“I figured if that doesn’t hold, people are just too damn particular, they’re just too damn sensitive for their own good or anybody else’s,” Thomas said. “But then I really don’t have much sympathy at all to trigger warnings or any of that crap. I think it’s overdone and nobody but a baby needs it, an intellectual baby.”
Thomas said that he wouldn’t have minded if Marvel wanted to make Iron Fist an Asian back when he was originally created, though he would have found it easier to write about him as a white guy, displaying an ironic understanding of the concept of representation when applied to himself. But Thomas believes there’s a simple solution to the Iron Fist problem that could make all this go away. “He could have a buddy who was Asian. It could have been a trio, like that group I just mentioned. You know, just make up a new character. Don’t worry about trashing another one. Just make up a new one.”
When it comes down to it, to Thomas, it’s all about the difference between creators and critics. Roy Thomas is a classic guy, and he falls back on that classic creator outlook on criticism we’ve heard so many times before: “It’s always better to be creative than to be a critic. It’s a perfectly respectable thing, but I think you should try to put yourself in [the creator’s] shoes instead of constantly complaining because they didn’t do exactly what you think they should have done. Rather than having that, you should go out and do it yourself.”
Read the full interview with Thomas, where he also goes into creators’ rights and what he’d like to see from the Netflix show, at Inverse.