Last week, news broke that, at least in the comics, Iron Man would no longer be a moniker worn by Tony Stark. Now, while this isn’t particularly noteworthy on it’s own since it’s not the first time Tony Stark has given up the role (his long time friend Rhodey has filled in previously), nor is it the first time a flagship character within Marvel has given up their superhero identity (Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc). What IS noteworthy about this change is that Iron “Man” will now be a woman underneath the suit, a black woman at that. That’s right, Riri Williams, a black girl with natural hair will now be Iron Man. Not only that, but she’s reportedly smarter than her predecessor.
This change isn’t TOO shocking given how Marvel has recently been replacing their predominantly white male heroes with minority versions. Spider-Man is currently a half black, half latino kid named Miles Morales (Peter Parker is still active but…research it yourself, lol), Captain America is now Sam Wilson (aka Falcon), Thor is now Jane Foster and Hulk is now an asian male named Amadeus Cho (also a genius). I, being a resident nerd, have fielded a lot of questions about my feelings on this change, along with the others and, at first, I was against it. Not because I am against diversity in comics, but because I am for the creation of new, black heroes.
For the longest time, I was against the passing of a superhero identity from a white character to a black character because it felt like a hand-me-down. Comics regularly swap out the existing face of a hero to a temporary stand-in to create a buzz and a sense of missing the original and most of the time, the stand-in is relegated to a background character or footnote on Wikipedia once the original returns. However, my stance has changed and it’s in large part to the recent happenings around race in America. Representation matters, not only to those who lack it, but to those of a different group that only see negative portrayals of minorities.
Sadly, a new, black character won’t get the chance to shine under their own identity because those titles typically don’t sell to black or white kids. While I would love to see Riri Williams shine under her own moniker with her own history, it’s unlikely the numbers would back her getting an ongoing series. Putting her as Iron Man, however, will. It not only is drawing a buzz to the title that will pick up new readers, but hopefully, it will also change how some of the existing readers view a black woman. I know, race relations won’t ever be solved by a comic book, but it can’t hurt, right? Sure, the 20-30 year old reader probably won’t change their view, but a kid that’s grown up reading Miles Morales as Spider-Man and Sam Wilson as Cap? That kid might have their world view altered ever so slightly by having a diverse array of comic book heroes to read. If nothing else, it’ll give the next gen of Blerds a group of heroes they can identify with, something I didn’t have growing up.
In short, black characters matter, we have always known that, but let’s not scoff at what Marvel is doing. It honestly should be applauded. They are finding a way to diversify their roster without sacrificing their sales too much and we can’t ask for much more. Not to mention, these characters may find their way to the MCU and we can’t ask for much more than that. So, go buy comics with black characters, there are plenty on the stands as you read this. Give them a reason to keep representing us in a positive light.