Looks like Tony Stark, the rich, white man, is being replaced by a science genius black woman. Do you think the switch is a political statement or just an epic story line? Give us your thoughts below.
There’s a new Iron Man. Well, Iron Man for now. She’s still working on the name. The events at the end of the comic book event series Civil War II will result in Tony Stark stepping out of the Iron Man suit and a new character, Riri Williams, taking over, Marvel tells TIME. (Note: Tony’s departure doesn’t mean you know the end to Civil War II yet.)
Riri is a science genius who enrolls in MIT at the age of 15. She comes to the attention of Tony when she builds her own Iron Man suit in her dorm. Creator and Iron Man writer Brian Michael Bendis spoke exclusively to TIME about the creation of Riri Williams with book artist Stefano Caselli and Marvel’s increasingly diverse cast of characters.
TIME: How did you come up with the character of Riri Williams?
Bendis: One of the things that stuck with me when I was working in Chicago a couple of years ago on a TV show that didn’t end up airing was the amount of chaos and violence. And this story of this brilliant, young woman whose life was marred by tragedy that could have easily ended her life—just random street violence—and went off to college was very inspiring to me. I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard. And I sat with it for awhile until I had the right character and the right place.
As we’ve been slowly and hopefully very organically adding all these new characters to the Marvel Universe, it just seemed that sort of violence inspiring a young hero to rise up and act, and using her science acumen, her natural born abilities that are still raw but so ahead of where even Tony Stark was at that age, was very exciting to me.
What have we seen of her so far in the Iron Man comics?
In the latest issue of Iron Man, Tony is in a lab talking to himself, and he’s already aware that there’s some student at M.I.T. that’s reverse-engineered one of his old armors all by herself in her dorm room. He’s aware of her immediately.
What’s been the reception of the character so far (before this announcement)?
Thankfully because of my involvement in the creation of Miles Morales andJessica Jones and some other characters, it’s getting the benefit of the doubt from even the most surly fans. There are fans who say, “Show us the new stuff,” and then there are fans who say, “Don’t do anything different from when I was a kid.” So when you’re introducing new characters, you’re always going to have people getting paranoid about us ruining their childhood.
I’ve been down this road with Miles Morales, Jessica Jones, Maria Hill. I knew I was in good hands with Mike Deodato and other artists who are helping visualize Riri.
Marvel Comics’ diverse new cast has stirred some controversy among a subset of fans.
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.