Meet Marvel’s New Iron Man, Black Teen Genius Riri Williams!
The next character to join the Marvel Comics “Iron Man” franchise will be Riri Williams, a 15-year-old genius who built a red suit of armor in her dorm room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Riri, who poses on an illustration of “Invincible Iron Man” with natural hair and a helmet on her hip, is the latest character to be introduced to an increasingly diverse slate of heroes at Marvel Comics.
He told the magazine that Riri will join Iron Man after her homemade suit catches the attention of Tony Stark, the billionaire engineer and consummate capitalist who first turned up in Marvel pages in the 1960s and was portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. in the “Iron Man” and “Avengers” films.
It is unclear if Riri will be called Iron Man. As Time suggested, she’s working on a name for herself.
“That’s stressful for a character who is wired the way Tony is wired and has dependency issues the way Tony does,” Bendis told Time, adding, “Tony is also a master at not paying attention to the thing that’s most important and distracting himself with Avengers stuff. How that all shakes out such that Tony is no longer in the armor? You’ll have to wait to find out for the end of Civil War II. But it does create a path for Riri Williams, who Tony will know wand will be interacting with very shortly in the comics.”
Bendis also elaborates on the inspiration for the character, whose intellect and engineering prowess is already on track to surpassing Tony’s.
“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,” he said. “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 place.”
Marvel is still being coy about Stark’s fate in the aftermath of Civil War II (Bendis assures readers that Riri’s presence isn’t a giveaway for the series’ ending), but a teaser for the publisher’s fall slate showed two divided groups of heroes and villains with Stark notably absent. Victor Von Doom holds the Iron Man face plate while on the opposite side, Riri stands front and center.
Still, the publisher’s behind-the-scenes representation remains a sore spot in its ongoing efforts to diversify. Most of Marvel’s titles starring women or people of color are still written by white men, while literal databases of untapped talent of color exist. This month alone, female creators published all of eight series in total—while, for example, Bendis wrote six.
That isn’t to say that creators should only write stories starring people who look like them. But looking at the impact that black writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates have brought to titles like Black Panther, or that Muslim writer G. Willow Wilson has brought to Ms. Marvel,it’s hard to deny the storytelling benefits (not to mention monetary gains—both those titles have been bestsellers) of hiring writers of diverse backgrounds.
Marvel’s push for change by introducing characters like Riri Williams is a laudable step in the right direction. There’s still much more to be done, but if any publisher is capable of embracing positive change, it’s the House of Ideas.