Sorry Robert Downey Jr., you’re not the man in the iron mask anymore.
Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis announced Wednesday that at the close of Civil War II, the limited series that serves as the sequel to the comic series and latest installment in the Marvel movie universe, that the billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist will hand over the reigns to Riri Williams, a black woman. Similar to Peter Parker’s entrance into the Avengers in this summer’s superhero blockbuster, Stark takes an interest in Williams, a science prodigy who enrolls in MIT at 15—the same age that he started at the same school! But she doesn’t sit around waiting for him to hand over the suit, instead choosing to reverse engineer one of her own in her dorm. Now that’s taking extra credit to the next level!
Bendis, who is also the writer behind Jessica Jones, was inspired to create the savvy scientist by a real Chicago teen. “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,” he told Time, noting that Stark and Williams haven’t officially met, but he’s already impressed with her insight. “[Tony’s] aware that this young woman is flying by him in terms of how quickly she’s doing it. Her brain is maybe a little better than his. She looks at things from a different perspective that makes the armor unique. He can’t help but go maybe I should buy her out.”
The comic creator didn’t shy away from the backlash that has come about with the recent wave of diverse casting either, stating, “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.”
A similar sentiment was shared earlier this summer as comics author Mark Miller (you probably know him from Sin City, Wanted, and Kingsmen: The Secret Service, just to name a few) has shaken up one of his own universes by casting a black woman to mask up as Kick-Ass. “Comics is not short of white males aged around 30; that demographic seems pretty well catered for in popular culture,” Millar told The Hollywood Reporter in June. “I don’t think many blonde white guys around 30 feel under-represented when they pick up comic or watch a movie. Being older or younger or female or African-American just seems more interesting to me as a writer because this character is quite unique and opens up story possibilities that haven’t been tried in almost eighty years of superhero fiction. This woman has a completely different take on Kick-Ass.”
Though the details on the upcoming character are currently under wraps, it’s set to be a full top-to-bottom remix with a different city and supporting characters alongside the new lead. Moreover, Millar said the superhero moniker will be a legacy similar to how we’ve seen James Bond change over the years with more focus on the story rather than the man or woman behind the mask. “Every four volumes or so I want a different person in the mask. Sometimes it might even only last a single volume or even a single issue,” he said.
But there is one caveat to both of these developments: both Bendis and Millar are white. As Refinery29 writer Arianna Davis pointed out, no matter how creative the pair are, they won’t be able to bring the authenticity needed to portray these new heroes accurately. She also noted that there is no shortage of great black writers, including “Erika Alexander (you might recognize her as an actress from Living Single and The Cosby Show), who created the series Concrete Park; Juliana “Jewels” Smith, the writer behind (H)Afrocentric; and Miz Caramel Vixen, who launched Black Comic Month in January of last year. And actress Amandla Stenberg (a superhero in her own right, in my opinion) even released a coming-of-age series called Niobe: She Is Life last year,” as well as Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is currently writing the new Black Panther series.
Within the past few years, fans have seen a major shift where women and minorities have moved to the forefront of the superhero genre, on newsstands more so than on-screen with Muslim teen Kamala Khan taking over the role of Ms. Marvel; Sam Wilson stepping behind Captain America’s iconic shield; Asian-American Amadeus Cho inheriting the Hulk’s abilities; as well as Miles Morales becoming one of the most popular web slingers as the new Spider-Man. Plus I’ve honestly been hoping for news like this, as I and many others regularly imagine what a genderswapped Tony Stark would entail, how differently she’d be portrayed compared to the likes of RDJ and his iconic comic counterpart, as well as who would play her should she ever come to life onscreen. While Lena Heady and Lana Parilla are currently the fandom’s frontrunners, the choices are sure to change with this new and exciting development.
With these changes becoming a major movement, whose the next superhero that should receive the genderswap treatment? Who would you cast as Riri Williams for the big screen? Let me know in the comments below.