Tony Stark is set to relinquish his Iron Man suit in Marvel’s Civil War II comic series, and a 15-year-old female Black genius will step into the role. Wiz kid Riri Williams comes to Stark’s attention when she builds her own Iron Man suit in her dorm at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Brian Michael Bendis, creator and writer of Iron Man, spoke to Time magazine about the development of the character. He said the inspiration came from his time in Chicago while working on a failed TV show about a young Black woman attending college who uses her smarts to rise up from the city’s violence.
“I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard,” Bendis said. “And I sat with it for awhile until I had the right character and the right place.”
The writer – who is white – reveals the heroine created the suit by reverse engineering one of Iron Man’s old ones. He also gives his take on internet reaction to Marvel introducing new diverse characters.
“Some of the comments online, I don’t think people even realize how racist they sound,” he said. “I’m not saying if you criticize you’re a racist, but if someone writes, ‘Why do we need Riri Williams we already have Miles?’ that’s a weird thing to say. They’re individuals just like Captain America and Cyclops are individuals. All I can do is state my case for the character, and maybe they’ll realize over time that that’s not the most progressive thinking.”
Criticism of Williams’ addition, who becomes known to Stark in the last issue of Iron Man, has already begun.
Twitter user Aven Fauzi stated he had “nothing against superficial diversity,” but seemed to be unsupportive of the 15-year-old Black superhero.
I have nothing against superficial diversity but 15yo black girl Iron man? C’mon. pic.twitter.com/nzQ8jjtJwK
— aven fauzi △⃒⃘ (@avenseenafauzi) July 6, 2016
@CaliMac24 took specific issue with Iron Man’s incarnation as a female and thought writers should make new heroes, not “ruin old ones.”
Iron MAN is a lil girl now.. Writers are stupid. Make new heroes don't ruin old ones.
— Mac2427 (@CaliMac24) July 6, 2016
However, Sonar Jose pointed out the character’s literal biological makeup is “Fe Male,” referring to iron’s element symbol.
To be fair, Iron Man's biological classification is literally "Fe Male".
— Sonar Jose (@SonarJose) July 6, 2016
Many have welcomed the new incarnation.
Happy to hear about the new Iron Man being a woman of color! Some much needed diversity in the comic book realm! pic.twitter.com/bajAhnBlcE
— Jeff (@writinggeeky) July 6, 2016
Yes, please. ^_^ https://t.co/NaFkHAtnNr
— Hayleigh-Anne L Post (@SubjugatorEmma) July 6, 2016
But Black Twitter was left wondering about the lack of Black representation behind the scenes at Marvel.
Son of Baldwin warned others to “beware” of Bendis, who has two adopted Black daughters, according to USA Today.
Whenever you have a white writer who says, essentially, because he has adopted black children he is an expert of Blackness, BEWARE. #IronMan
— Son of Baldwin (@SonofBaldwin) July 6, 2016
Rickey Galletti questioned why two Marvel comics have Black male writers – like Ta-Nehisi Coates for Black Panther – but Bendis is in charge of writing about the Black female hero.
G. Willow Wilson writes Ms. Marvel, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes Black Panther.. But no female POC writer on the new Iron Man?! Shame on u Marvel
— Ricky Galletti (@rickys_a_geek) July 6, 2016
Rebecca Theodore remarked about the “many talented Black women writers” whom Marvel should hire for comics like Riri Williams’ own.
@ira this is a problem. So many talented Black women writers – Marvel needs to do better in hiring them.
— Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC) July 6, 2016
Bendis maintains diverse characters are not developed based on need but on inspiration from those around him.
“I think what’s most important is that the character is created in an organic setting,” he told Time. “We never had a meeting saying, ‘We need to create this character.’ It’s inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture.”