Robert Downey Jr. might have the Marvel Cinematic Universe iteration of Iron Man nailed down for the foreseeable future but over in the comic world, things couldn’t be more different. Back in July, Marvel announced that original Iron Man, Tony Stark, would be relinquishing his superhero mantle and bestowing it upon a 15-year-old girl named Riri Williams. With the Iron Man name now somewhat redundant, it has been announced that Riri’s superhero moniker will be Ironheart.
MIT prodigy Williams first comes to Stark’s attention in Invincible Iron Man #12 where she reverse engineers an old Iron Man suit and uses it to quell a prison break. Having proven herself a worthy pilot of the iconic armor, Tony drops in on Riri and recognizes certain attributes and qualities in the young girl that remind him of himself.
Now, as reported by Time, Marvel and Invincible Iron Man scribe Brian Michael Bendis have unveiled more of Riri’s backstory and a further glimpse of her Iron-armor. Bendis says:
“She’s smarter than Tony… As we say in the story: high intellects, out of frustration, can sometimes retreat into their own world. This young woman has had that burden but she also has a grounded parent who helped her get to this point. But she also has had terrible tragedy that has informed her more than anything… Some of the intellectual characters at Marvel get to the point where they want to conquer the world and make it over in their own image, the fact that Riri, even after all she has been through, does not makes her mother the hero of this story. And we need to celebrate that kind of thing more anyhow.”
The excerpts depict a flashback of Riri at age five and her parents being informed of their child’s super-genius intellect. The parents are warned that such geniuses have a tendency to retreat into their own minds and lose their ability to empathize with others, and are reminded that it’s their job to ensure Riri doesn’t fall into that trap. The final page shows clearly that the parents, and in particular Riri’s mother, succeeded, with the new superhero joyously piloting her Ironheart suit.
Marvel Comics have taken considerable steps in recent years to diversify their characters, with a female taking over as Thor, Union Jack coming out as homosexual and an increasingly varied racial diversity thanks to characters such as Miles Morales and Kamala Khan, as well as the popularization of older characters such as Black Panther and Luke Cage. However, shifting Iron Man from a white, middle-aged man to an African-American teenage girl is perhaps the biggest risk yet from the company, especially considering the title Iron Man specifies the gender in the name itself.
Many Marvel fans will likely be receptive to the changes and will hopefully judge Riri Williams’ stint as Ironheart purely on the strength of her character and story line, rather than race, gender or the fact that it just isn’t Tony Stark. By diversifying their roster, Marvel is practicing the qualities of acceptance and inclusion that are so often preached by the heroes in their comics and even if the new run isn’t successful, that should be commended.
The Invincible Iron Man series is currently running, the latest issue #14 is out now.