On Wednesday, Riri Williams — a female, black Iron Man — finally debuted in her own Marvel Comics series, “Invincible Iron Man,” both in print and digitally.
After the character was announced in July, it was clear the days of a unanimously positive reaction to a new hero of color were over. Social media has given voice to a socially aware comic-book-reading community that will ask questions of a new hero of color just as quickly as it offers praise.
The problem to some was that her series wouldn’t feature a writer and artist of color. Co-creator Brian Michael Bendis, who is white, once again finds himself writing a new Marvel character of color — he also co-created the half African American, half Puerto Rican Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who debuted in 2011.
Morales hasn’t done much of anything that is overtly black or Puerto Rican — with the exception of an issue that featured him defending his “Hispanic” heritage when a social media video revealed the skin under his damaged Spider-Man suit to be brown and he was dubbed a “black” Spider-Man online. He’s just kind of there being a superhero. Bendis probably realizes he’s perhaps not the writer to dive into the racial identity of Morales too much. But he has turned Miles into a key player in the Marvel comic book world.
Morales is one of the most popular comic book characters Marvel has — he’s even recently been an Avenger. What Morales has had is staying power. It will be interesting to see if Bendis can do the same thing with Riri Williams. If that happens, maybe characters such as Morales and Williams can be passed on to writers that can better identify with who they are culturally.
Then there was the issue of those who felt the images coming out of Riri Williams were overly sexualized — the first image, by artist Jeff Dekal, featured Williams in a red, midriff-revealing shirt. Many felt she looked much older than someone who was supposed to be 15. An alternative cover (below) that was supposed to coincide with the series debut this week and was illustrated by artist J. Scott Campbell was eventually canceled by Marvel when fans online again said Williams looked more like an adult woman than a teenage girl. (Campbell would later illustrate a new, less controversial image.)
Stefano Caselli, the artist on “Invincible Iron Man,” has no such problems. His Riri Williams won’t be mistaken for an adult despite her super-genius IQ (which is a major plot point in the initial story line) in an issue that is beautifully illustrated.
Now, after putting those controversies aside, how does Riri Williams’s first solo issue hold up?
Once you get past a spoiler that gives hints to the still-not-complete but should-have-been-completed-by-now “Civil War II” (also written by Bendis), we get a close look at events that have made Riri Williams who she is today. We see the alienation that set in when Williams was revealed to be a super-genius at the age of 5, making it difficult for her parents to connect with her.
Riri’s intelligence can’t protect her from the violence that has at times taken a grip on the city of Chicago, her home town. That violence has taken away one of the few people she’s allowed to get close to her, and it should have lingering effects as the series goes on.
Don’t expect that fancy new iron suit that graces the cover of issue No. 1 of “Invincible Iron Man.” For now, Riri is still operating a very large and slightly clunky iron suit (let’s not forget the original Iron Man’s suit was more Model-T Ford than Ferrari — Rome wasn’t built in a day). But smoother iron-designs are on the horizon, and the reason for such an upgrade is one of “Invincible Iron Man” No. 1’s biggest plot twists.
“Invincible Iron Man’s” first issue also reveals that Riri Williams’s father is actually her stepfather, though it doesn’t focus too much time on that. For now, Riri isn’t asking any questions about him. We also don’t yet know if she actually knows who her biological father is. Could this mystery man in the Marvel universe possibly be the key to her super-intelligence?
She’s not on her way to Avenger status just yet — she may have to save the world a few times first — but introducing a new young hero with lots of storytelling potential is all Marvel could have asked for.