[Warning: contains SPOILERS for Invincible Iron Man #2.]
Life hasn’t always been particularly wonderful or easy for Iron Man’s hand-picked successor, Riri Williams. Although a brilliant if frustrated young woman, raised by a loving mother, her childhood was beset by tragedy from the beginning. Losing her father to violence at an early age, she managed to stay focused thanks to her drive, the help of her best friend. and her supportive if often-perplexed family.
As Invincible Iron Man #2 reveals, most of her support system was cut out from under her once again, leaving Riri with just her mother and her engineering wizardry. She pours herself into being the best person she can be, perhaps even someone who in future could save the day for others. After building her own mechanized armor and finding a corporate sponsor and mentor in Tony Stark, Riri is well on her way to realizing her dreams. The only trouble is, with the training wheels barely off her suit of armor, Tony Stark has vanished from the radar.
Iron Man Lives?
Although unconfirmed via the final issue of Civil War 2, it’s pretty much a given that Tony Stark is either dead or in a very bad way. But when you’re a multimillionaire super-genius superhero, death isn’t the same curse it once was. It seems Tony managed to condense his essence into an algorithm and encode it into his artificial intelligence system, giving him an extra player in the game of life. His continued existence also allows him the opportunity to further groom Riri Williams (as Ironheart) to look after a world he can now mostly just haunt.
So far, Riri’s heroic efforts have been successful, if rough around the edges. She’s scored a couple of victories in her homemade armor but has a long way to go before securing a spot in the superhero hall of fame (is there such a thing?). Fortunately, she’s got a little help from the still sort-of living Tony Stark. Intense in semi-death as he was in life, Tony isn’t going to take it easy on Riri either.
How does the former Iron Man train his heir apparent? He lines up a cadre of iron suits over Lake Michigan and attacks the hell out of the young Ironheart as Chicago watches. Despite her quip about child abuse, Tony is deadly serious about Riri's need for thorough instruction, since it's vital to her well-being as a superhero and her ability to minimize collateral damage. Yet for all the paces AI Tony runs her through, the young heroine in progress has already learned some of her most brutal lessons well before the battle.
Before her super-suit was more than a twinkle in her eye, Riri faced two horrific deaths in one day, as a drive-by shooting mowed down her best friend Natalie and her step-father. One of the book's most heartbreaking moments comes as she and her mother try to describe the getaway car to a detective. She asks the officer “why Natalie and not me,” and in one scene fully conveys the burden she carries inside her, as well as reminding readers the hardships many people face on a daily basis. Her young life experiences already outstrip the metal-suit-on-metal-suit punishment meted out by Tony, which is not to say that she doesn't need some serious instruction.
However, the young woman is resilient and refuses to bow to her circumstances. She faces down her demons while battling a brigade of remote-controlled Iron Men – until she's literally sunk.
Does it Hold Water?
Much like her sudden transition from genius teen to superhero, Tony Stark’s training is designed to really push her buttons, discovering her strengths and weaknesses on the fly. When one of the iron suits dunks her under the harbor, her armor's seals spring a leak, which writer Brian Michael Bendis compares to her own psychological armor. Not to be outdone, though, even by super-intelligent CG-Tony, Riri escapes the drink and keeps his suit army scrambling after her, buying just enough time to infect the super suits with a computer virus that knocks them out.
As it turns out, her face-time with Tony Stark’s iron cadre is opportunely timed, because trouble is percolating in the Far East. Footage of her fending off the suits reaches a recent foe of Tony’s, the Inhuman techno-mancer Tomoe, who just happens to possess her own Techno Golem suit. It seems Riri Williams is about to face her first serious threat since Civil War II, one which will challenge her new skill set and her clarity of vision.
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Two issues in, Bendis and his team of Stefano Caselli (on pencils) and Marte Gracia (on colors) have done an impressive job placing Riri in the Marvel Universe. Not only is she an identifiable Golden Avenger (in a blue and gray suit), but she can match wits with Tony Stark, AI or otherwise. Invincible Iron Man #2 continues to show off a character Bendis clearly put a great deal of thought and love into (he is a virtuoso when it comes to character development). He also made his young protagonist a nuanced individual: wistful, brilliant, and troubled on levels most of us can understand, and some can only imagine. Her continued adventures are inspirational, humorous, and offer up a hero with a great deal to prove to herself (and to Marvel devotees), as well as a great deal of potential.
Invincible Iron Man #2 is currently available in print and online.
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