Marvel's most powerful superheroes are currently locked in an ideological civil war over whether they have the authority to act on crimes before they actually happen. Over in Massachusetts, though, Riri Williams, a 15-year-old student at MIT, is busy reverse-engineering one of Tony Stark's old Iron Man suits in her dorm room.
In a new interview with Time, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis revealed that once the Civil War event wraps up at the end of the summer, Riri won't just be tinkering with Stark's old armor—she'll replace him as the new Iron Man.
"In the latest issue of Iron Man, Tony is in a lab talking to himself, and he’s already aware that there’s some student at MIT that’s reverse-engineered one of his old armors all by herself in her dorm room," Bendis said. "He’s aware of her immediately."
After cobbling together a makeshift suit of old Iron Man parts and stolen technology, Williams is confronted by campus police, prompting her to put on her suit for the first time.
Williams catches Stark's interest not only because she managed to hack her way into his tech, but because by his own approximation, she's thinking and experimenting at a much more advanced level than he was at her age.
"He’s also 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," said Bendis. "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."
Williams' introduction in Marvel's sprawling universe of superheroes is the latest instance of the publisher creating a new character of color to take up the mantle of a traditionally white, male legacy hero.
In 2011, Bendis also created Miles Morales, an Afro-Puerto Rican teenager who became the new Spider-Man in the wake of Peter Parker's death. While Morales has gone on to become a fan-favorite and the most visible example of Marvel's commitment to a character diversity, many have taken issue with the fact that many of Marvel's new characters of color happen to be written by white men.
In a recent issue of Spider-Man, Morales balks when the public learns that he has brown skin and begins to think of him as the "black Spider-Man." Some black readers felt as if Bendis, a white man with an adopted black child, didn't really know what it meant for a black person to struggle with embracing their race while also pushing back against the assumption that race defined every aspect of who they are.
Bendis says he, like Mark Millar, came to the decision to create a black, female character after taking a look at the world around him and realizing that there are still types of people that are underrepresented on Marvel's pages.
Despite some early backlash from trolls who've asked why the world needs Riri when it already has Miles, Bendis is confident that readers will bond with the character when she debuts this fall.
"I think what’s most important is that the character is created in an organic setting," Bendis said. We never had a meeting saying, 'we need to create this character.' [She's] inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture."