Comic book character Tony Stark—arguably the most privileged superhero in the Marvel Universe—is preparing to pass on the mantle of Iron Man to a black, teenage girl from Chicago.
Events in the comic book event series Civil War II will soon prompt Stark to take off the armor. And newcomer Riri Williams, a 15-year-old student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will don the suit in his place when the Invincible Iron Man series relaunches this fall, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis revealed in an interview with Time.
The Iron Man reboot is the latest in a series of character shifts that have introduced new alter egos for some of Marvel’s best-known superheroes. Miles Morales, a kid from Brooklyn whose father is African American and mother is Puerto Rican, took up the mantle of Spider-Man in 2011. And, in 2014, Pakistani American character Kamala Khan became the new alter ego of Ms. Marvel. The same year, a woman picked up Thor’s hammer.
As Iron Man (er, Iron Woman? She’s working on the name.) Williams will be stepping into the boots of one of the most powerful men in the Marvel Universe. But what’s truly exciting about Williams is that she’s an engineer.
Possessing more than superhuman abilities, some of the biggest and boldest Marvel heroes including Stark, Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Bruce Banner, Henry McCoy, and Peter Parker were also brainiacs that built technology that changed the world, all the while defending it from crime, corruption, and other-worldly forces. But, as that list demonstrates, the major characters in these STEM-driven roles have been solidly white men.
There are, of course, exceptions. T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, is a renowned inventor and one of the eight smartest men on the planet, as is Korean-American character Amadeus Cho, who became the Hulk. The X-Men’s Kitty Pryde is also a computer whiz, and in the Ultimate Universe, Sue Storm is a scientist.
But it’s inspiring to see a clever, black female character like Williams take on a major role where her intellect and engineering skills are as important, if not more important, than her physical abilities. Williams, like Stark, presumably has no super powers.
Bendis describes Williams as a “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.” Not just any college. She earns a scholarship to one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the US at the age of 15.
When we meet her in Invincible Iron Man #7 and #9, we learn that she reverse-engineered her own Iron Man suit from scratch in her college dorm room. And, Bendis said, Stark will realize that her mind may even be sharper than his.
Her character has the potential to be a real role model for young girls.