Riri Williams: Ironheart #1

The wait is over! This week, Riri Williams: Ironheart #1 arrived on shelves. Sociologist and author, Eve L. Ewing takes the helm as writer– I have not had a chance to pick up any of her work but I’m going to ask for Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closing’s On Chicago’s Southside for Christmas. Kevin Libranda and Luciano Vecchio bring Riri’s world to life and Matt Milla adds a unique vibrancy.

If you’re unfamiliar with Riri Williams, a little rundown. Created by the wonderful Brian Michael Bendis as way for his black daughters to see themselves represented in the wider world of heroics. Hailing from the south-side of Chicago, Riri was diagnosed as a ‘super genius’ as a young child. Before graduating from high school, she loses both her biological and step father to separate incidents of gun violence. Living with her mother, Riri struggles to find a place among her peer group. When Tony Stark goes M.I.A. during the events of Civil War II, Riri comes to the assistance of the Avengers. In the subsequent months, she assumes the Invincible Iron-Man mantle and the run follows her adventures.

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Much to my dismay, her run was cut short in favor of the reemergence of Tony Stark (Tony Stark: Iron-Man #1). For the majority of 2018, Riri appeared only in monthly issues of the Champions— If you’re not reading, then you should be. Up until a recent battle with Thanos, Riri’s armor mimicked Tony’s classic red and yellow design as closely as possible. Laughing, the Mad Titan crushes her armor without breaking a sweat. Through sheer luck, her and the other Champions are able to escape, but the trauma lingers. In her grief, Riri devises a new suit of armor, an upgrade…

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**From this point on there will be SPOILERS.**

We drop in on Riri, en route to  Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It seems Clayton Cole (Clash) has taken a group of world leaders hostage in an effort to prove his worth to the legendary Ten Rings syndicate. There’s not a whole lot to Clash that we haven’t seen in the likes of Ulysses Klaw or Wonderman, but it’s a solid showcase of Ironheart’s new abilities for those not following The Champions. I wasn’t sold on her new armor the first few times I saw it, but I’ll admit it has grown on me. Initially, I was resistant because I loved (still do) the idea of a black woman taking over the mantle of Iron-Man, colors and all. If we’re being real though, Riri will probably build a plethora of suits, given the time and issues.

Riri thwarting the half-baked schemes of a low-level villain are secondary for me in this debut issue. Ewing sprinkles in loads of little details that color Riri’s life and personality.

What we learn:

  • A copy of Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ and a Sherlock Holmes Compendium sit atop her desk.
  • She snacks on ‘Hot’ Cheetos, Nutella, and orange soda.
  • She’s a huge Trekkie. “I like The Next Generation because of Geordi but have you ever watched Deep Space Nine?”
  • Not only does Riri cosplay, she makes her own costumes because, of course.

The crux of the issue is Riri’s disassociation with everything outside her laboratory– friends, family, human contact. This seems predictable for a debut issue featuring a teenage protagonist but it didn’t line up for me, since if you’ve read any recent issue of Champions, you’ll know Riri has supportive peer group in Brawn, Nova, Viv Vision, Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, and so on. It was sort of weird that they weren’t mentioned at all but I understand wanting to give Riri a moment to thrive on her own. It gives us a chance to get to know Xavier, a lifelong friend of Riri’s from their old neighborhood. The two bond over pop-culture and music, and we see Riri open up a little.

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The issue concludes with a surprise. As we’ve all come to learn how much Tony Stark depends on JARVIS, so too will Riri need her own A.I. For a brief period of the Invincible Iron-Man run, Tony’s downloaded consciousness was gifted to Riri (from Tony himself) to work as her A.I. system but it was eventually claimed by the Stark Corporation as their ‘rightful’ property. I couldn’t have thought of a more perfect mentor/A.I. to start off with… Then we meet Natalie.

Ironheart #1 is a slowburn. Personally, in the age of multiple Civil, Secret, and Infinity Wars, a simple drop in on the life of a hero is what I’m craving. We’ve seen enough apocalyptic excitement, recently. I want to get to know Riri and I want for her, the space to play, learn, and grow. Marvel has scant loyalty to their black characters. Last year, ‘World of Wakanda’ authored by the immensely talented Roxanne Gay, was canceled before it’s third issue was released. ‘Black Panther and the Crew,’ written by Ta-Nehisi Coates was canceled shortly after the release of it’s first issue. Mind you, both of these titles were dropped because of ‘poor sale’ just months before the Black Panther film breezed past the BILLION dollar mark in box office returns. Gizmodo published a great piece on the cancellation (read here).

While Riri is a technically an updated version of an old hero, her being black, a woman, a victim of gun violence, and (NOT) super-rich opens the door for all kinds of fresh and relevant story lines. Pick up Ironheart #1 if you’re looking the new classic.

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Art by Jen Bartel

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