Say one thing for Marvel Comics as a publisher: They’ve committed to the idea of keeping things different in the new post-Secret Wars continuity. One of the biggest shakeups of the new Marvel Universe continuum has been the news that newcomer Riri Williams, a 15 year old MIT prodigy, would be taking over the mantle of Iron Man from Tony Stark in the upcoming relaunch of that series. This news came as a surprise both because Iron Man is arguably the company’s most popular character thanks to the films starring Robert Downey Jr., and because of the obvious differences between the middle-aged Stark and a black female teenager.
Now, the two characters have finally met face to face – but that’s not the end of the story.
As revealed in this week’s Invincible Iron Man #12, unveiled by CBR, Williams comes to Stark’s attention following her DIY-rebuilding and customization of an old suit of Iron Man armor and subsequent piloting of the suit to help stop a prison break in New Mexico. In typical Stark fashion, the billionaire superhero casually intrudes on a conversation between Riri and her mother about the dangers of superheroics and, recognizing Riri as a kindred spirit (a child genius and college dropout with a dead father) as well as someone who probably isn’t going to be talked out of the lifestyle, offers to take the two women out to dinner in order to discuss the issue further – the seeming implication being that he intends to mentor Riri’s superhero ascendancy.
However, Stark takes another meeting in the issue – one which ends much more abruptly: Interrupted himself mid-conversation with new post-Secret Wars ally Mary-Jane Watson and a contingent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents under Maria Hill, Stark finds himself being teleported away “explanation pending”-style by Victor Von Doom, aka the one-time dictator of Latveria “Doctor Doom.” What this means is anyone’s guess, though it will likely tie into the eventual reasoning for not only Riri becoming the official new Iron Man but also explain what Doom is up to with his own armor in the recently-announced concurrent series Infamous Iron Man.
While it remains to be seen how the series will be received long term, thus far the new direction for Iron Man has proved divisive and controversial for many fans. While there has been plenty of enthusiastic support from readers, industry professionals, the comics press and even Robert Downey Jr. himself, a vocal minority of readers have responded with anger and vitriol (particular on internet forums and comments sections) over what some see as a “politically-motivated” decision to abandon the traditional version of a longtime character – though one who has handed off his armor many times before.
Thus far, Marvel has maintained that the push to incorporate younger and more diverse characters into the mantles of older and established heroes is part of a broader strategy overall to appeal to ever-changing readership demographics and create a more inclusive Universe overall. Thus far, this push has included moving “Ultimate” Spider-Man Miles Morales into mainstream continuity, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel and Amadeus Cho as the new Korean-American Hulk.
Invincible Iron Man #12 is available now, and #13 is expected to hit stores September 7th, 2016.