[Contains SPOILERS for Invincible Iron Man #4.]
Since Riri Williams first hoisted the Iron Man (or Ironheart) mantle from a grievously injured Tony Stark, it's meant huge changes for the young woman. A tragedy-tinged childhood hasn't made life easy, but after losing her best friend and stepfather to random violence, focusing on something positive seems to have helped her deal with her demons. Plus, putting her incredible brain to use and completing her own set of mobile armor gave her a confidence boost. Still, taking on a heroic role in the Marvel Universe also comes with some big responsibilities...and puts her in harm’s way.
Fortunately, Riri has some help. Extensive training from AI Tony Stark put her through dozens of battle simulations and contingency plans, vastly improving her practical superhero skills. In addition, she recently met one of her personal heroes, Tony Stark’s former CEO Pepper Potts, a.k.a. Rescue. Before they could exchange more than a few words, though, both of their armored shells were ripped away, thanks to one of Iron Man’s modern foes, a Nuhuman (or new Inhuman) named Tomoe.
In Invincible Iron Man #4, Riri faces her first real super-villian, which promises to test Ironheart's newfound hero abilities, without the padding of a hard metal shell.
Stripped of Their Defenses
At the close of Invincible Iron Man #3, Riri and Pepper found themselves suddenly relieved their super suits, as well as AI Tony Stark's company. Now, the classic MU heroine and the upstart come face to faceplate with Tomoe, the Techno Golem (a nickname she apparently doesn’t care for). While her Inhuman abilities allow her to re-appropriate other people’s technology, she also brought an army of cyber-ninjas with her as a fail-safe, after all, what good villain doesn't have a hench-army. Pepper, a veteran of many battles, asks young Riri if she's been in any actual fights, to which she admits she hasn't. Due to her inexperience, Pepper tells the young woman to take cover as the brouhaha begins.
Far from prepared for hand-to-laser sword combat, Riri bids a hasty retreat, deciding her mental arsenal would better serve the battle. She stumbles upon a young man working on his homework and borrows his computer to reconnect with Tony Stark (as a tiny window on a “crappy laptop”). Together, they assess the situation, realizing that Tony’s covert trip to Japan several months ago had a few benefits: while there, he formulated a theoretical virus to disrupt Tomoe's abilities. Now, it’s time to put the hypothetical hack to the test, but they need to work fast. Pepper can’t face down an army of ninjas and a mecha-Inhuman forever.
Pepper Potts Superhero Evolution Continues
The character of Virginia “Pepper” Potts has enjoyed a transformative arc over the years. Starting life as Tony Stark’s secretary in Tales of Suspense #45 (1963), the plucky if two-dimensional character slowly developed over her years in Marvel Comics. In the past couple of decades, she’s grown into the CEO of Stark (and later Resilient), in addition to becoming Stark’s partner, moral compass, and a badass superhero in her own right. Pepper’s evolution is on full display here, as she puts her life in great peril to help and protect a young woman she’s just met.
She also proves once and for all that she’s no longer in Tony Stark’s shadow (even though they’ll always have some baggage). As Riri works to unravel the Techno Golem, Pepper kicks, slashes, dives, and dodges a battalion of ninjas and the mobile weapons platform that is Tomoe – who apparently respects her accomplishments, if not her continued existence. She holds her own against the assault until a partially deflected energy blast incapacitates her. Now, it’s up to Riri (and Tony) to keep her from winding up the recipient of a star-studded funeral.
Corrupting the Techno Golem
As Riri and Tony put their viral assault through its paces, she figures out a way to transmit their bug-in-progress, asking Tony to send over another suit of armor. Upon arrival, she assumes (correctly) that the Inhuman tech whiz will integrate its components into her growing mechanized arsenal, hence integrating the virus into her own subroutines. Time is running out, though, as Riri confronts several ninjas, blinding them with a fire extinguisher. More are headed her way, though, and Tomoe is about put an end to Pepper. Everything hinges on the random young man hitting “enter” when Tony Stark gives the order, but for some reason he doesn’t...to be determined.
Over the years, writer Brian Michael Bendis has taken some heat for his reinvention of characters and playing fast and loose with history (which often finds itself retconned anyway), some of which aren’t truly at his discretion, since the editors have final approval over everything. Be that as it may, his work on Invincible Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man, proves, if nothing else, his ability to weave a tense tale, while simultaneously adding new elements to the classic Iron Man mythos. Both Pepper and Riri have an opportunity to shine as tough, resilient characters, while AI Tony becomes a key supporting player in the story – something which should please all but the crankiest Iron Man fans.
At the same time, keeping Tony around has the potential to steal thunder from Riri Williams, minimizing her role in her own story. Thankfully, Bendis blends Tony's presence into Ironheart's unfolding adventures. Bendis is also, as evidenced by Jessica Jones, capable of writing powerful women well, without turning them into male superhero cliches. As he hooks readers with his evolving story arc, Stefano Caselli also continues to impress with his expressive characters and gorgeous backgrounds, while Marte Gracia’s lush palette rounds out a truly engaging run for Riri Williams. It's becoming ever more difficult to see her as just a legacy character.
Invincible Iron Man #4 is currently available online and in print.