Riri Williams as Iron Man continues Marvel’s identity crisis

Riri Williams is latest minority to take over established identity

News dropped today that Marvel Comics is replacing Tony Stark as Iron Man with a black woman named Riri Williams. That’s a bold move. I can already hear the racist comments, but I’m intrigued.

Brian Michael Bendis discussed the news exclusively with Time Magazine speaking about the science genius who enrolled in MIT at 15 and builds her own Iron Man suit.

I have issues with how a lot of Bendis’ characters all sound alike, but I admire his dedication to diversifying the Marvel Universe.

I think what’s most important is that the character is created in an organic setting. 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.

riri williams invicible iron man

Marvel has taken tremendous strides lately in making its comics more reflective of society. I dig it. Now at the risk of being greedier Marvel needs to create more diverse heroes with their own identity. Having black, Middle Eastern, Korean heroes are great, but it’d be even better if they weren’t assuming the identity of long-term characters.

Currently, Captain America, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man and now Iron Man have a more diverse counterpart or straight up replacement.

While this wouldn’t be a cure-all for everything, coming up with new names would probably fix a lot of the dull-minded criticism. There’s just inherent blowback in one character replacing another. And it’s not necessarily a race thing. Kyle Rayner never fully got accepted by Green Lantern fans until Hal Jordan returned. Kamala Khan wouldn’t be any less interesting if she was called Changer or Shifter, but it certainly wouldn’t make people feel like she’s replacing a beloved older character.

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Bendis mentions some of the more ignorant comments he’s seen in the past.

Some of the comments online, I don’t think people even realize how racist they sound. 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.

But increasingly we see less and less of that. Once Miles hit, and Kamala Khan hit and female Thor hit—there was a part of an audience crawling through the desert looking for an oasis when it came to representation, and now that it’s here, you’ll go online and be greeted with this wave of love.

This isn’t a new thing for Marvel. Back when I first really started getting into Marvel Comics beyond GI Joe, Iron Man and Captain Marvel were part of the Avengers team in Secret Wars. I didn’t know at the time that James Rhodes was filling in for Tony Stark while Monica Rambeau assumed the identity of a dead Avenger. Rambeau has a bit of an identity crisis as she’s continually had various names to establish her as a different character. Having Carol Danvers running around as Captain Marvel makes that a necessary change especially since they’re on the same Ultimates team.

Still, Marvel’s overhaul of its universe is working for me. I’m a huge fan of Captain America Sam Wilson even though I would have happily read a Falcon book featuring Sam in a more patriotic costume. I had little interest in reading the latest adventures of Tony Stark. But Riri Williams? That’s a character I want to read about and get to know better.

Image Credit: Marvel Comics

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