The Marvel Cinematic Universe won early allegiance from skeptical fans by demonstrating a strong adherence to the widely-known depictions of Marvel comic book superheroes in terms of their characterization, costuming and aesthetic. That approach is one that the filmmaking side of the Marvel machinery has largely been reluctant to deviate from, since the first Iron Man was released in 2008.
Meanwhile, in the pages of Marvel Comics, the status quo has been in the midst of a broad upheaval for several years – one focused on telling fresh stories and bringing greater diversity to the Marvel Comics Universe and set to be driven even harder than ever by the fallout from Civil War II. This upheaval will reach into the Iron Man comics too, as Tony Stark will soon hand over the Iron Man identity to an entirely new (and very different) character.
Time Magazine broke the news that the immediate post-Civil War II storyline of the Invincible Iron Man series (currently written by Brian Michael Bendis) will involve Tony Stark stepping away from his role as the titular hero and passing the mantle to Riri Williams, a young Black woman said to be enrolled at MIT since the age of 15 thanks her remarkable scientific ability. The full circumstances of this change have not yet been revealed, but Bendis is quick to point out that knowing Tony Stark will soon cease to be Iron Man is not necessarily a spoiler regarding who “wins” Civil War II:
“More people are going to be upset that they think they know the ending to Civil War II now than anything we just talked about. But I can tell you just because we’re hearing what we’re saying doesn’t know you mean how Civil War II ends. We’re not telling you the end, at all.
“Tony is also a master at not paying attention to the thing that’s most important and distracting himself with Avengers stuff. How that all shakes out such that Tony is no longer in the armor? You’ll have to wait to find out for the end of Civil War II. But it does create a path or Riri Williams, who Tony will know and will be interacting with very shortly in the comics.”
Understandably, much of the storyline is being held back to avoid unnecessary spoilers, but it has been confirmed that Riri Williams will first come to Stark’s attention when he learns of an MIT student who is believed to have reverse-engineered her own suit of armor out of an old Iron Man unit in her dorm room. A cover and teaser-image for the storyline (see below) features Williams wearing a T-shirt with an arc-reactor glow emanating from underneath and holding a redesigned Iron Man helmet.
The news comes one day after Marvel made similar news by announcing the formation of a new Champions team comprised largely of diverse Millennial-aged fan-favorite characters like Miles Morales, Kamala Khan and Amaeus “Totally Awesome Hulk” Cho. Asked by Time whether he still worries about the reactions from a contingent of fans who are not enthused about the publisher’s continued push toward remaking its character roster to reflect rising demographics and a changing world, Bendis reaffirmed his own commitment:
“Some of the comments online, I don’t think people even realize how racist they sound. 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.”
While persons other than Tony Stark have adopted the Iron Man mantle (most notably James Rhodes, subsequently becoming War Machine), most of those stories were told before the character was one of Marvel’s most popular figures thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s performance in the MCU films. It’s possible (though in no way confirmed) that this bold change in character’s comic scenario could be a test case for how to handle the eventual (inevitable) need to recast the role in the MCU.
A launch date for the beginning of Riri Williams’ tenure in Invincible Iron Man has not yet been announced.