You've probably heard that Tony Stark, the original Iron Man, will no longer serve as the man behind the armor for reasons that will become apparent at the climax of Marvel's on-going Civil War II event. Though with Tony Stark left to deal with the death of his best friend and partner, James Rhodes (War Machine), the reveal of his biological mother and the second Civil War itself, it's little wonder that Iron-Man might be retiring his armor.
Although, what surprised most of us was who would be replacing him. 15-year-old Riri Williams, a talented student at M.I.T. is a character that is still very new to the Marvel Universe. Having only been teased at the start of the Civil War II event, she is first seen building her own Iron Man-inspired armor.
A Welcome Addition To A Growing Diverse Cast
So like a whole bunch of other core Marvel characters as of late, Iron Man is being re-branded, and similarly to the introduction of the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan (a teenage Pakistani-American), Riri Williams represents a long overdue need for more portrayals of young African-American women in comic books.
To further illustrate my point I propose we play a little game. The rules are simple: all you have to do is name three mainstream Marvel Superheroes who are black women, excluding Storm from the X-Men (or any alternative version of the character). I'll give you a moment.
Did I hear somebody say Monica Rambeau, a.k.a. The Spectrum? Did that particular somebody have to cheat and google that character and was that somebody me? (yes and yes, but I doubt you did much better than me). Despite being the first African-American woman on the Avengers roster (and the second Captain Marvel), I would not be surprised if you were unfamiliar with the character.
However, do not go and think that this issue is exclusive to Marvel, the superhero world is in dire need of positive representations of African American women. For example, play the same game again but this time include DC Comics — the results likely aren't much better.
Riri Has Some Big Shoes To Fill
The extent of Tony Stark's absence as Iron Man is currently unknown, whether Tony will be completely out of the picture or whether Tony will become just the "man" in Iron Man, one thing that we know for sure is that Riri Williams will at some point don a version of the iconic red and gold armor (while under a new and currently unknown superhero name).
Changes like this where a character is replaced (even if it's likely to be a temporary measure), are often met with a level of cynicism from readers, especially with Iron Man being a core Marvel character. A similar situation can be seen in the curious case of Miles Morales way back in 2011 when the character was first announced. Morales was set to replace a dead Peter Parker and this change drew some criticism (ignoring the ones who had an issue with the characters skin tone).
However, when the first issue debuted, Morales's character was met with good reception from the readers, based on the quality of the writing and the portrayal of his character and personality. So before some of you declare Riri Williams as dead on arrival, at least wait until we see the character fully debut. After all, Marvel looks as though they are set on playing the long game, so expect Riri Williams to be around for a while.
What Happens When Stark Returns?
It is an inevitability that Tony Stark will eventually return to the Iron Man role, but what would this mean for Riri? Well, the worst case scenario would be that Riri is relegated to the being the new War Machine and thus the new African American character to replace the deceased African American James Rhodes.
Fortunately, based on how dual roles have been handled by Marvel so far, that seems unlikely. When a de-powered Steve Rogers (Captain America) handed his shield and the moniker over to long-time ally, Sam Wilson (The Falcon), only to then regain his powers later, Steve did not take back the shield, much to the surprise of many.
In fact, Marvel had both characters retain the role of Captain America. The same happened to the Spider-Men Miles Morales and Peter Parker, the former becomes a protégé to the latter, but with both retaining the Spider-Man name. So there is no reason that Riri and Stark can't co-exist as two separate Iron Men (or Woman rather, in Riri's case), and there is certainly plenty of room right now in the Marvel pages, for a new black superheroine.
What are your thoughts on the new Iron Woman?