Black teen joins Iron Man

NEW YORK • The next character to join the Iron Man franchise will be Riri Williams, a 15-year-old genius who built a red suit of armour in her dormitory 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.

The news was reported by Time magazine on Tuesday, based on an interview with veteran Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, who is white. He said Riri will join Iron Man after her suit catches the attention of Tony Stark, the billionaire inventor who 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 is working on a name for herself.

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. He told Time that he was inspired to create Riri by a young black woman, whom he did not name, who faced street violence and made it to college.

The cover of comic book Invincible Iron Man, which features Riri Williams, an African- American who developed her own Iron Man suit as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student at age 15. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Riri's character reflects a comics industry that has made strides to reflect broader diversity in race, gender and sexuality.

Marvel has announced Mosaic, a black basketball player with mysterious powers. It has introduced a female Thor and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was commissioned to reintroduce Black Panther. Last month, AfterShock Comics said it would debut Chalice after a fan asked for a transgender superhero. Teenage Muslim heroine Ms Marvel has been popular since 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, Bendis told Time that some fans were dismayed at the creation of another character of colour.

Ms Jamie Broadnax, editor of the pop culture website Black Girl Nerds, was among those who took to Twitter to discuss an issue underlying the introduction of Riri: a lack of black female creators. She wrote that she is happy to see a black female lead in a comic, "but really wish(es) the publisher would give black women a chance to write them".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Black teen joins Iron Man'. Print Edition | Subscribe