Marvel’s new Iron Man is a 15-year-old black girl

Katie Rogers

The next character to join the Marvel Comics "Iron Man" franchise will be Riri Williams, a 15-year-old genius who built a red suit of armor in her dorm room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And, as some Marvel fans have enthusiastically observed, she is black.

Riri, who poses on an illustration of "Invincible Iron Man" with natural hair and a helmet on her hip, is the latest character to be introduced to an increasingly diverse slate of heroes at Marvel Comics.

New Character Riri Williams Dons Iron Man Armor For Marvel
Jeff Dekal | Marvel

The news was reported by Time magazine on Tuesday based on an interview with Brian Michael Bendis, a veteran Marvel writer who is white.

He told the magazine that Riri will join Iron Man after her homemade suit catches the attention of Tony Stark, the billionaire engineer and consummate capitalist who first turned up in Marvel pages in the 1960s and was portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. in the "Iron Man" and "Avengers" films.

It is unclear if Riri will be called Iron Man. As Time suggested, she's working on a name for herself.

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Mr. Bendis has recently written "Uncanny X-Men," which features Iceman, a gay mutant, and "Ultimate Spider-Man," in which the titular character, Miles Morales, is of black and Hispanic descent.

Mr. Bendis told the magazine that he developed the character after working on a TV show in Chicago. He said he was inspired by the story of a young black woman, whom he didn't name, who faced random street violence and made it to college.

"I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard," he said. "And I sat with it for a while until I had the right character and the right place."

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The development of Riri's character reflects a comics industry that has made strides to expand its default superhero archetype — that of a straight, white male — to reflect broader diversity in race, gender and sexuality.

In June, Marvel announced the creation of Morris Sackett, or Mosaic, a black basketball player who is given mysterious powers after an encounter with an otherworldly vapor.

Last year, Marvel introduced a female Thor and the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was commissioned to reintroduce the Black Panther to fans.

And last month, AfterShock Comics announced that it would debut Chalis, after a fan had asked the writer, Paul Jenkins, for a transgender superhero. A teenage Muslim heroine from New Jersey, Ms. Marvel, has been popular since her introduction in 2013.


But aside from Storm, the white-haired mutant featured in "X-Men" in 1975, the Marvel world has lacked black female characters who are central to a story.

Even so, Mr. Bendis told Time that some fans were dismayed at the creation of another character of color.

"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," he said.

While the move to create Riri has drawn praise for making steps to greater inclusion, some writers and illustrators used the development to spotlight the need for more female writers of color in an industry known for a lack of diversity.

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Last year, Adam Sorice, a writer for the pop culture blog The Mary Sue, analyzed the number of Marvel's female illustrators and writers, finding 8 women among 81 men.

"Diversity has been used as a marketing strategy to engage with female readers first and foremost, but this commitment to representation is yet to carry over to the company's hiring processes," Mr. Sorice wrote.

Jamie Broadnax, the editor of the pop culture website Black Girl Nerds, was among those who took to Twitter to discuss the issue underlying the introduction of Riri: a lack of black female creators.

Ms. Broadnax wrote that she was happy to see a black female lead in a comic, "but really wish the publisher would give black women a chance to write them."

And Mildred Louis, an illustrator who lives near Boston, rejected the idea that a black character should be the work of a white writer.

"Our lives and experiences aren't a thought exercise," Ms. Louis wrote on Twitter. "We don't exist so you can 'get better at writing.' "