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Iron Man: In Defense of Riri Williams

Last week, Marvel Comics announced that Riri Williams is going to be the next Iron Man. She is a young African-American woman from Chicago who was first introduced in Invincible Iron Man #7. The fan community was divided after the announcement. The majority of fans like this idea, while traditionalists are against it.

This is not unlike when Miles Morales became the new Ultimate Spider-Man, or when Michael B. Jordan was cast as the Human Torch in the last Fantastic Four movie.

It’s 2016, but fans are still complaining about diversity in comic books. We forget that flipping race roles has been a thing since the 1971. We also seem to forget that swapping gender roles has been a thing since 1940. So why, in 2016, are we upset when both of these elements are combined together?

Here are five counter arguments to the anti-Riri Williams movement:

5. James Rhodes

Twitter explodes most probably.

Anyone who is against an African-American Iron Man forgets that James Rhodes was Iron Man three different times. In Iron Man #167, Tony Stark’s alcoholism went out of control forcing Rhodes to take over as Iron Man. It wasn’t like Rhodes wasn’t involved in anything important either. He was in the original Secret Wars, the most influential comic book crossover in Marvel history. Eventually Stark retook the role of Iron Man in Iron Man #200.

Years later when Tony Stark faked his death (he does that a lot) Rhodes took up the mantle if Iron Man again in Iron Man #284. This only lasted until Iron Man #289 when Rhodes discovered that Stark was still alive and wasn’t happy about it. Also, let’s not forget when Rhodes was Iron Man 2.0, and when he recently took on the role in Invincible Iron Man.

So anyone who has an issue with an African-American person being Iron Man clearly hasn’t been keeping up with the comics over the past 30+ years.

4. Pepper Potts

My eyes are up here

If you’ve got issues with a woman being Iron Man you also forget about Pepper Pots. She is Tony Stark’s long-time secretary/love interest/confidant. Throughout her career, she has practically run the company for Tony many times. She also wore the armor. Although she adopted the code name “Rescue”, as seen in Invincible Iron Man #3, Pepper’s road to becoming Rescue has a very similar origin story as Tony Stark.

Pepper was an effective “Iron Man.” She succeeded in rebooting Tony’s mind in Invincible Iron Man #19. She also stood her ground when Tony became an amoral jerk following the events of AXIS. Pepper took her former employer down, as demonstrated in Superior Iron Man #9, and she did so through corporate guile instead of her fists.

Pepper proved that not only can a strong female character fill the role of Iron Man, but also do it even better than Stark could.

She can also handle her liquor.

3. Female Versions are Nothing New

People constantly claim that creating female versions of male superheroes is a relatively new practice. It’s totally not. It’s a practice that’s happened since the 1940s. But hey, I’ll play your game, let’s just take a look at Marvel Comics and ignore the Distinguished Competition.

Interestingly, nobody has a problem with this character.
Interestingly, nobody has a problem with this character. Probably the claws. Hard to argue with.

Marvel, even back when it was Timely and Atlas Comics, always tried to appeal to female readers. For the most part, this was done through romance and teen comedy comics, but it also bled into the super-hero genre. In 1947 Timely introduced Namora in Marvel Mystery Comics #82. Billed as Namor’s cousin, she was basically a female version of the Sub-Mariner. They tried to repeat this success with female sidekicks for the original Human Torch and Captain America by introducing Sun Girl and Golden Girl respectively.

You better believe the misogyny letters page was polite and well written back in your grandfathers day.

This was also in practice in the 1970s when they created Spider-Woman and the She-Hulk.

This all said, the anger over the sudden decisions to a make a female Thor, and more female Spider-Men, is absurd. It’s all been done before. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.

2. The Status Quo Always Comes Back

The fact that change, any change, in comic books shock people is ridiculous. Regardless of how earth-shattering the next “big change” is, things eventually go back to the status quo.

Look at Spider-Man: three years ago in Amazing Spider-Man #700 his body was taken over by Doctor Octopus. Fans cried over the “death” of Peter Parker through the entire 31 issue run of Superior Spider-Man. Instead of enjoying the brilliant story written by Dan Slott, the internet couldn’t focus on anything but the change. If you bothered reading anything at all during that run you knew that eventually Peter would be back.

If you got mad any of this one of your hobbies must be wasting energy.
If you got mad any of this, one of your hobbies must be wasting energy.

Look at Captain America: killed in Captain America #25 (2007) and replaced by Bucky, only to be resurrected again in Captain America: Reborn #6. He’s later turned into an old man in Captain America #21 (2014) and replaced with the Falcon. Then, wouldn’t you know it, Steve Rogers returned recently in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1.

It’s no surprise that, particularly with Captain America, Steve Roger’s return coincided with the release of a Marvel movie that featured Captain America.

If you reacted to this, you need anger management.

Five gets you ten that Tony Stark will be back front and center no later than May 2018, just in time for Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1.

1. It’s All About Marketing

The internet chatter over the Riri Williams controversy has all suggested that this was all about marketing and use that as the basis of being against this character. That the character is somehow disingenuous because they are being used to sell more units.

marvel-and-dc-film-profits-budgets_50291a6c9b148

This is clearly the opinion of someone who doesn’t understand how a comic company works: Every character they create is all about marketing. The entertainment industry is about appealing to the largest audience possible. The whole point of a business is to maximize profits. They can’t bank on long-time fans for money all the time, they need to keep fresh and new.

All of the female characters I listed above? All marketing, but not in the way you’re thinking.

According to Stan Lee the creation of Spider-Woman was all about securing the rights to the name before someone else beat them to the punch.  The She-Hulk was to prevent someone else from creating a female version of the Hulk without Marvel’s involvement.

Of course, they blamed a woman.

What it all boils down to at the end of the day is this: All of these female characters are a double-edged sword. Part of this is increasing profitability, but it’s also there to prevent someone else from gender-swapping their concepts.

However, just because there are dollar signs attached to an idea doesn’t mean the creative talents behind these characters aren’t going to do the character justice. If you’ve read any interviews with Brian Michael Bendis on the subject, you can tell that he is serious about the character.

Prediction

A lot of people are asking “why is the character still being called Iron Man when it’s a woman?” I think the answer is pretty self-evident actually. I think this is a precursor before Marvel starts rolling out characters who are transgendered and you better get used to it.

You have a female character who identifies as male when they are dressed as a super-hero; I think this is just the start of a new and exciting future for inclusivism in comics. However, if my prediction is right it looks like Marvel is slowly easing into the subject.

There’s precedence for this. All you need do is look into the history of the character Northstar, Marvel’s first openly gay character. Writer John Byrne intended for Northstar to be gay and attempted to write it into Alpha Flight #7. However, editorial interference and the Comics Code Authority blocked this. But if you squint enough you can see it…

Subtle.

It wasn’t until Alpha Flight #106 that Northstar was finally identified as gay. The character has come a long way since then, getting married to his boyfriend Kyle Jinadu in Astonishing X-Men #51.

Sadly, transgender rights are still a divisive issue, particularly in the United States. My suspicions are that this is the start of something big. The introduction of female versions of traditionally male characters like Iron Man and Thor is just the beginning. I think Marvel is working up to introducing a trans character and it will be huge. I think the only thing that’s stopping them right now is word from upper management (much like the Northstar issue) for fear of a backlash. Right now it’s all a matter of writers biding their time before they get the green light.


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