Point-counterpoint: How do comic book fans respond to the new Iron Man?

Big changes are happening for the character of Iron Man in the Marvel comics.

Front cover of an Iron Man comic featuring Riri Williams
Promotional art by Jeff Dekal for the new Invincible Iron Man, featuring Riri Williams.
Credit: 
Marvel

Big changes are happening for the character of Iron Man in the Marvel comics, written by Brian Michael Bendis. 

Earlier this month Marvel Comics announced a new development in their Invincible Iron Man series. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, will be replaced by Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black girl, who attends M.I.T. 

So far only a few details about the change have been released, but it’s been met with controversy, as some readers believe this to be more of a PR stunt than a progression in the comic. 

We asked two members of Queen’s Comic Book Legion to weigh in on the subject.

Readers need to realize potential and attempt to see Riri through

 Joseph Gilpin, SSW ’18

Fans have criticized Marvel on the creation of Riri Williams, for being a ploy to cause controversy between readers and ultimately sell more books.

However, Riri was not created with the purpose of simply stirring up readers — her character was developed by
the current writer for Marvel’s Iron Man comics, Brian Michael Bendis. 

Readers need to keep an open mind to changes like Riri. She’s not a publicity stunt.

Bendis is known for being inspired by real life events and Riri is no exception. While he was working on a TV show a few years back, a story about a bright young woman who was a victim of street violence and, overcoming that adversity, went on to do well in college stuck with Bendis.

Bendis sat on the idea for years, and only recently chose the Iron Man series as a way to introduce Riri. This isn’t the first time this has happened. 

When creating Peter Parker in the 60s, Stan Lee was told to scrap the idea because it was a common argument that teenagers couldn’t be super heroes. Spider-Man has since gone on to be one of their most beloved heroes. 

Lee went on to create Marvel’s first female superhero, Invisible Woman, and later the first ever African American superhero, Black Panther. 

The last five years has seen a lot of change in the comic book universe. 

There’s been the introduction of new and diverse characters such as a female Thor, a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a black Captain America, and probably most famously, Miles Morales who is a half Hispanic and half black Spider-Man. 

The recent reaction to changes in the Iron Man character is very similar to that of Miles Morales — who was also created by Bendis. At the time, people claimed that there was no way Miles could ever live up to the iconic Spider-Man; that the character was just created to make controversy in the press and was too mysterious and underdeveloped.

Yet, here we are five years later and the character has been fleshed out and proven worthy of the Spider-Man title, becoming a big player in Marvel stories and a fan favorite. 

If Miles was given a chance, there should be no reason for Riri to be treated any differently. Riri has only been in two issues of Iron Man, only making small cameos so far, which hasn’t allowed Bendis to fully develop the character. From Marvel previews, we only know a few things about her.

Unlike Tony, who inherited his wealth, Riri worked her way to a scholarship and built her own Iron Man suit with spare parts, giving her a different perspective. 

Tony isn’t going anywhere, he’s just not in the suit. He sees Riri’s potential and works with her as a mentor, placing Tony on a sort of indefinite hiatus. 

This is nothing new for Marvel and there is no harm being done to the mythos.

She is a new and welcome character, and like Miles, I think she’ll become a fan favorite once we get to know her better.

Joseph Gilpin is a Social Service Worker student at St. Lawrence College.

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Make diverse characters, but not at the expense of interesting ones

Phoenix Tapley, ArtSci ’18 

The controversy surrounding the announcement of Riri Williams isn’t about her race, age or gender; it’s about poor character development at the expense of an already good character.

Riri Williams is part of a recent trend in Marvel’s comic books to bring more and more diversity to their lineup. This trend, while having its merits, also suffers from its fair share of problems. 

Characters like these are great for continuing what Marvel has always done over the course of their history: creating a diverse universe of characters that appeal to people from all walks of life.

For 50-plus years, Marvel has brought us some of the most unique and timeless characters, from young Peter Parker (Spider-Man), to King T’Challa  (Black Panther). 

Marvel has written characters of different races and genders as established heroes and in leadership roles, such as
Colonel James Rhodes (War Machine), a black male, becoming Iron Man and Ororo Munroe (Storm), a black female, assuming the leadership of the X-Men. 

Trends of diverse characters continue to this day, an example being Steve Roger’s partner Sam Wilson (The Falcon), a black male, donning the mantle of Captain America. 

However, some of the more recent additions to Marvel’s diverse cast, such as Riri Williams, are nowhere near as endearing or as interesting as the already established heroes.

Riri Williams, as she has been presented thus far, is a brash teenager who thinks all it takes to be Iron Man is building a suit of armour. She has no combat training or battle experience to speak of, leaving us to wonder why an intelligent character like Tony Stark would choose a teenager such as Riri to take control of the Iron Man technology. 

Other character introductions similar to Riri have been better executed and written to prove that the new characters have earned their respective titles.

A writer must demonstrate that a new character is well thought out and interesting enough to be worthy of succeeding the original hero. 

So far, the series writer, Brian Michael Bendis, has not done so with Riri Williams. 

Comic book fans are well aware of this and the declining sales of the Invincible Iron Man title prove readers’ distaste for uninteresting characters like Riri. 

According to Diamond Comic Distributors — the largest comic distribution company in North America — sales of the Invincible Iron Man barely stayed in the top 50 since Riri Williams was introduced.  

When someone writes a character that doesn’t hold readers’ interest, they stop buying the comic. 

If Bendis doesn’t start to develop this character’s depth, sales for the title will continue to go down and Riri Williams might only be remembered as a character for the sake of diversity. 

Ultimately, while it’s good that Marvel’s writers continue to create diverse and unique characters, it should not be at the expense of interest and likability.

Time will tell if Riri Williams will prove me wrong. Unfortunately, I’m not hopeful.

Phoenix Tapley is a third year Philosophy major.

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