Comic books have had a huge impact on superhero movies. We really wouldn’t have the Marvel Cinematic Universe without them. But just as they have an impact on the big screen, they can also bring out social and progressive change. In recent years we’ve seen Marvel pull in to express diversity in gender and race. Sam Wilson became Captain America, and Jane Foster became Thor. Both were significant (and very welcomed) changes for the comics. But with comics, nothing is ever permanent. Characters who died can come back to life. Enemies are now allies. And revelations are sometimes controversial, like when Captain America and Hydra controversy, which was then resolved a few weeks later.
Now Marvel is taking another step forward in the right direction. This time with Iron Man. In a recent interview, Brian Michael Bendis said the mantle of the Iron Man name will be going to a 15-year-old black girl named Riri Williams. More on the story below.
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 speaks as though he is creating these characters not only to reflect on the diversity of our times but our social situations. We often hear inspiring stories of the youth who rise above the troubled situations they are forced to live with to become something more than a product of the environment.
“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 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.”
So, who is Riri Williams? Well, like what Tony Stark did for Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War, the Tony Stark of the comics is aware of Riri’s existence. The 15-year-old prodigy is a student at M.I.T who built her own Iron Man suit. With Civil War II (this time he is at odds with Captain Marvel over the use of psychic predetermination to battle villains before they act – think Minority Report but with superheroes) currently going on, Stark needs some downtime and hands over the name of Iron Man to Riri.
As aforementioned, this kind of change is a welcomed one, especially since it is a positive reflection of our current times. Not only has Marvel changed the way we see race and gender, but now they have taken that idea further by exploring ageism. Don’t worry, Stark will always be Iron Man, and he will probably come back to don the suit of armor. Hopefully his down time will give enough time for Riri to establish herself. It should be interesting to see how much of this change will have an impact on how we will see the MCU in future years. Could we ever see a young black woman become Iron Man? I really do hope so.