The New Iron Man Will Be a Young Black Woman

new iron man

The greatest trick that superhero comics ever pulled was convincing the reader that everything they do would actually last. In the comic book realm, death isn’t permanent. Shattered friendships will always be restored. Major revelations will be swept under the rug if necessary. Even if it takes a few years, the status quo always returns at some point. Everything always resets.

So why not have some fun with a fictional universe as you bend it and break it? Why not try something completely different and brave and bold? Why not have Tony Stark step away from the Iron Man suit and replace him with a black teenager named Riri Williams later this year? Because that’s happening now.

The seeds of this stoyline were planted earlier this year in Invincible Iron Man #7, which revealed that Riri, a student at M.I.T., had built her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room. More importantly, Tony Stark was aware of her existence. And most importantly, Tony is currently embroiled in the events of the Civil War II miniseries (where he’s clashing with Captain Marvel over using psychic predetermination to battle villains before they act) and that conflict is wearing him down in a big way. He may yet survive the events of the series, but it may be time to give the man a break and let someone a bit younger take on the gig for awhile.

Although Riri Williams was created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mike Deodato in the current volume of Invincible Iron Man, the character will take center stage when the series relaunches this Fall with Bendis scripting and Stefano Caselli on art duties. Here’s the first cover:

riri williams

Bendis has been on of Marvel’s go-to writers for years now and he’s been responsible for helping create popular characters like Jessica Jones and Miles Morales, both of whom helped open the door to a more diverse and reader-friendly Marvel Universe. A female black Iron Man (she’s apparently keeping that name) makes sense in a world where Thor is a woman, one of the two Captain Americas is black, and New Jersey is protected by a Muslim teenager with shapeshifting powers (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel). Many companies and creative entities pay lip service to the importance of diversity in entreatment, but Marvel is actually putting its money where its mouth is.

Speaking with Time Magazine, Bendis explained the origin of Riri Williams:

One of the things that stuck with me when I was working in Chicago a couple of years ago on a TV show that didn’t end up airing was the amount of chaos and violence. And this story of this brilliant, young woman whose life was marred by tragedy that could have easily ended her life—just random street violence—and went off to college was very inspiring to me. I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard. And I sat with it for awhile until I had the right character and the right place.

Bendis also explained that by creating characters who actually reflect the diversity of the real world, modern comic creators are widening the audience for their books and telling better stories:

Talking to any of the older creators, it’s the thing they said they wish they’d done more of—reflecting the world around them. It just wasn’t where the world was at at that time. Now, when you have a young woman come up to you at a signing and say how happy she is to be represented in his universe, you know you’re moving in the right direction.

I’m very fortunate to shop at a local comic store that employs as many women as men, has a shelf reserved for LGBT comics, and caters to customers of every age and race. There is larger audience for this kind of stuff. They exist. I’ve seen them. As much as some fans want to keep comics where they are and are perfectly happy with the (white, male) status quo, this stuff matters. It’s not about being “politically correct” and it’s not about diversity for diversity’s sake – it’s about creating entertainment that is inclusive and honest about the kind of people who actually inhabit our world.

Tony Stark will return. Eventually. But I hope Riri Williams and kicks ass and I hope she sticks around for a long time.

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