Though she’s only been around for about two years, Riri Williams has made tidal waves in the Marvel Universe. Brian Michael Bendis took a huge risk introducing this new character, but it paid off tenfold. She practically came out of nowhere, but Riri quickly became a fan-favorite character. As Ironheart, Riri has completely changed the storytelling dynamic of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.

But what is it that makes Riri Williams so awesome? What sets Ironheart apart from Iron Man? Well, just about everything, really. Other than the fact that they’re both geniuses, Riri Williams and Tony Stark couldn’t be further apart as characters. Their backgrounds are polar opposites and they both think very differently. Not to mention, one of them is a teenage girl, and the other is a middle-aged man.

Though Tony Stark may have a life’s worth of experience being Iron Man, Riri Williams has proven to be a quick learner. She’s shown she knows how to handle herself. And not only is Riri super smart, she’s got tons of spunk, too. Her youthful charm is infectious. Reading about her just makes you feel good. Riri’s got the guts to stand up for the things she believes in, even in the face of overwhelming adversity. She brings a refreshing spin to the youthful roster of Marvel. And, ultimately, Riri Williams is a bigger part of Marvel’s future than you may have realized.

So, let’s show some appreciation for Riri Williams and take a look at how she’s helping to build a better future for the Marvel Universe.

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Who is Riri Williams?

First and foremost, we need to really understand who Riri Williams is. Riri first appeared in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #7, written by Brian Michael Bendis, though this was a very brief appearance. Her first full appearance came two issues later in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #9.

Riri Williams
Cover to INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #9 (2015). Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Riri Williams attends MIT, and she’s only 15 years old. On a dare to herself, she builds a suit of armor. Immediately, we see that she’s intelligent, tenacious, and driven. We also see that she’s not perfect, given that she has “borrowed” a bunch of MIT tech to create her suit. This gives her character a valid flaw: hubris. Riri’s drive sometimes causes her to be less self-aware. She can be so caught up in her own intelligence that she may be blind to what she’s doing wrong. This is a nice flaw that helps make her a more balanced character.

All of this information about Riri Williams came across in the span of three pages.

Riri Williams
When school just isn’t cutting it for you anymore. From INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #9 (2015). Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Later on, in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #12, Bendis establishes a legitimate connection between Riri and Tony, making her feel less like a character who sprouted from nowhere. It helps her blend in better with the bigger picture. The initial meeting between Riri and Tony is a nice, heartfelt moment, as Tony is very understanding and supportive of what Riri is doing. This moment establishes their connection as people, and not just iron-themed heroes. It also gives us a great introduction to Riri’s mom (another great character).

“Riri Williams is Ironheart”

Then, of course, with the conclusion of CIVIL WAR II, Tony was taken out of commission, and it was time for Riri Williams to take center stage.

Riri Williams
Cover to INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1 (2016). Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Riri’s story essentially picks up from where we last saw her in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #12. But now, we start to really delve into her history.

At an early age, Riri was tested and classified as a genius. This led to Riri essentially growing up as an introvert. Friends didn’t come easily for her, save for her best (and only) friend, Natalie. Though we only see these two together for a short time during flashbacks, it’s evident that this was a special friendship.

Unfortunately, tragedy hit Riri hard. During a picnic, both Natalie and Riri’s stepfather were caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. It’s a sincerely heartbreaking scene. Riri lost not one, but two extremely vital people in her life. Bendis took a huge risk including this drastically emotional toll in Riri’s story, but it’s certainly paid off in making her a more inspiring character. If this doesn’t make you feel something for Riri, then I don’t know what will.

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Afterwards, Riri’s history essentially jumps to the present day. She builds her first suit, begins being a hero, and eventually gets her Tony Stark A.I. This, of course, leads to the creation of her newer, sleeker armor. And, after a montage of heroic antics, the Tony A.I. drops the bomb: Ironheart.

ironheart
Never has a superhero name been more fitting. From INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #3 (2016). Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Of course, Riri Williams’ story is still being told. But, by now, you should have a pretty good idea of who she is. She’s a highly intelligent, extremely ambitious, and insanely brave girl. She’s got a vision for a better world, and she’s not afraid to fight for it. That’s who Riri Williams is.

Riri Williams/Ironheart is Infinitely More Than an Iron Man Copy

So, now that we know who she is, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what makes Riri Williams so freaking awesome, and why you should be paying attention to her.

If it isn’t already obvious, Riri Williams is not just a replacement for Tony Stark. She’s different from Tony Stark/Iron Man in almost every way, shape, and form. Riri and Tony are, fundamentally, very different characters.

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For starters, Riri definitely has a stronger moral compass than Tony Stark. That’s not to say Tony’s a bad guy, but let’s face it: his record is far from squeaky clean. Riri, on the other hand, is practically a straight ace. Other than initially stealing some things to make her first suit, Riri hasn’t really done anything questionable yet. And, actually, the stealing bit might not track anymore; in INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #597, MIT basically approved of Riri using their tech.

So, yeah, Riri’s pretty clean, to say the least.

Riri Makes up for the Lack of Fighting Experience

She also has a different physicality than Iron Man. Riri doesn’t really have that much fighting experience, but she can easily get away with that. That’s what the suit’s for, after all. But that doesn’t mean she can’t also use more intellectual methods to take down bad guys. In the early issues of her series, during her fight with Tomoe, aka the Techno Golem, and the Biohack Ninjas, Riri peels off from the actual fight to employ a more technical method of dropping the baddies. This little altercation helps show off Riri’s ingenuity and fearlessness.

By the end of this battle, Riri is actually ready to stand and fight against Tomoe, despite her lack of fighting skills. Luckily, she doesn’t have to, but she is still willing to take the risk. Like I said earlier, Riri’s got spunk, and she’s not afraid of a fight, no matter the odds.

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Riri Williams’ Background is Far Removed from Tony Stark’s 

Though Riri may be a relatively young character (both in terms of how long she’s been around and her actual character age), she already has a definitively different story than the long history of Tony Stark.

The most obvious storytelling difference between these two is their backgrounds. Of course, they’re both geniuses, but Tony Stark grew up as a rich white boy who was practically spoon-fed the means by which he could achieve his success. That’s not to say he didn’t work hard (he’s been through absolute hell), but things were probably easier for him growing up than they still are for Riri.

Riri is from urban Chicago. She’s not rich and she doesn’t have her name up in the spotlight. What she does have are her brains and supportive mother. She has achieved her spot as Ironheart with rigorous work ethic. She attended MIT at 15 years old, she’s into robotics, and she’s Ironheart. It’s not often that people associate urban Chicago with a lot of the things that define Riri Williams. Nearly everything about Riri is a positive portrayal for people of color, regardless of age.

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Riri’s Got Youth on Her Side

Although, to once again call back to that youthful energy, Riri feels a lot more enthusiastic than Tony. This probably comes from a lack of life experience that would cause her to don a semi-dour outlook on life. That’s a good thing, mind you. Riri’s young. It’s appropriate for her to be a positive person. It wouldn’t feel right if she was spouting self-revelatory monologues or preaching about big world problems every other issue.

But that doesn’t mean Riri is unaware of her surroundings. She’s quite the opposite, actually. I mean, hello, she waltzed into Latveria at one point and said, “Yeah, I’m taking over, and I’m going to make things better.” And it actually worked, believe it or not. She’s great at fixating her focus on a task like that and getting it done.

GENERATIONS Hints Towards A Bigger Future for Riri Williams

Following the iron-themed issue of GENERATIONS, Riri shifts her focus in a really big way. After visiting the “far-flung future,” she realizes she has to keep her eyes forward and stay focused on creating the better future she has witnessed. She has to make sure it happens. Talk about a great way to gain some perspective on life.

This issue of GENERATIONS makes the fate of the future feel centered on Riri. Of course, everyone can work towards a better future, but Riri is clearly going to have a pivotal role in the world moving forward. That’s awesome. She deserves that honor. In such a short time, she’s already put a lot of hard work into making the world a better place. I have no doubt she’ll move on to do even greater things in the future.

Riri Williams
From GENERATIONS: IRON MAN AND IRONHEART. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Thank You, Brian Michael Bendis

But what would the character be without her creator? Thanks to Brian Michael Bendis, we have an absolutely phenomenal character in Riri Williams.

It’s important to give credit where credit is due. Not only has Bendis managed to create such a meaningful character, but he did so in just a little over a year’s time. Talk about good writing. It can take years to build up truly great characters. Bendis managed to introduce so much detail and depth to Riri in a relatively short span of time.

It’s not even like Bendis took the easiest route with writing her. He just managed to succinctly write an outstanding character with an incredible story. And, hey, I’ll be the first to admit that Bendis can be a very hit or miss kind of writer, but when he gets something right, he really gets it right. Riri Williams is certainly no exception to this rule. As Bendis’ successes go, Riri Williams is one of his greatest.

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There’s Space to Grow

That’s another awesome thing about Riri. We’ve already learned so much about her and seen her partake in some pretty heroic adventures. But there’s still space for her to grow. Riri Williams has only scratched the surface of her potential. Just imagine seeing her rise through the ranks and maybe one day joining up with the Avengers? How awesome would that be?!

Even though Bendis is leaving, Marvel has to be willing to keep her around. They’ve been doing a great job lately of building up new characters. Unfortunately, they’ve also been quickly falling back on the older core characters, rather than letting the new ones shine and pave their own way forward. This kind of storytelling model cannot fall upon Riri Williams. She’s probably one of their greatest new characters in recent years, and she deserves to stay in the spotlight.

Riri Williams needs to stick around in the spotlight. It’s already clear she’s going to be vastly important to the Marvel Universe’s future. So, let’s see that happen, then. I want to see what the future has in store for Riri, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this desire.

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So Where Does Riri Williams Go from Here?

GENERATIONS alluded to many opportunities for Riri. Her far future seems pretty bright. But what about her immediate future? What happens after Brian Michael Bendis finishes his run on INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, and Tony Stark returns? What happens to Riri Williams then?

Well, provided Marvel intends to keep her around, there are a few of options. The most obvious (and the best) would be to give Riri her own series. The new, upcoming Iron Man series from writer Dan Slott is titled TONY STARK: IRON MAN. This leads me to believe they may do what they did with Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers for their separate Captain America stories. It would be easy to apply the same layout here.

I want to see a RIRI WILLIAMS: IRONHEART series! Miles Morales and Kamala Khan have their own series, separated from their legacy counterparts. Why shouldn’t Riri Williams? Make it happen, Marvel!

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But, if it does happen, it can’t be in the shadow of Tony Stark. Riri Williams/Ironheart, a female hero, is currently the focus of a series titled INVINCIBLE IRON MAN. We all see the logical problem with that, right? It was understandable to keep Riri attached to the brand when she first showed up, but she doesn’t need that anymore. Let her story be all her own, without the drama of Tony Stark in the background.

An alternative to this would be to just continue with Riri’s incorporation in the core Iron Man series. Frankly, though, that would be a huge waste of her character. It’s a viable option, but still a waste. It wouldn’t do her character justice to just keep her in the background. She belongs in the spotlight. Marvel needs to make sure she stays in it.

Being a Team Player

Let’s not forget, though, that coming up soon, Ironheart will be officially joining up with the Champions! Since it was first hinted that she might join the team, I was eager to see it actually happen. With writer Jim Zub and artist Sean Izaakse taking over CHAMPIONS, we’ll finally see Ironheart (and the new Wasp) join the team!

Riri Williams
Cover to CHAMPIONS #19. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

This will undoubtedly be great for Riri. Her previous interactions with other heroes have been entertaining to watch, especially during SECRET EMPIRE. Seeing her act as a member of a team should create a ton of fun storytelling and character building moments for her. It’ll also really help Riri push towards her goal of making the world a better place. After all, that’s the whole goal of the Champions.

Not to mention, including Riri in another book — a team book, no less — exposes her to a wider audience. Though the story of CHAMPIONS may not always be specifically about her, this will still spread her image to other readers. Thus, more people will read her solo series, should she get one. It will also further incorporate her into the larger Marvel Universe, which is great for a character of her obvious importance.

Riri Williams Depicts a Bright Future for Marvel

Introducing new characters to an already lush world can be difficult. It probably scares the crap out of even the most experienced writers, from time to time. Brian Michael Bendis took a chance by introducing Riri Williams to the world of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN. I think it’s safe to say she’s a big win.

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Riri Williams has drastically changed the storytelling angle of the Iron Man franchise. She’s brought new life to what was already a very energetic story. The story of Riri Williams is one that readers can easily get behind. She comes from a recognizable background, which helps her shine as a role model for people of color. Riri didn’t need millions of dollars to get to where she is. All she needed was her ingenuity and passion.

I know there are people that probably disagree with the idea of Riri being anything more than an Iron Man copycat. To them, I say open your freaking eyes. They couldn’t be further apart as characters. Sure, they share a fashion sense, and they’re both brainy, but that’s just about where the similarities end. If you can’t get past that, then you’re just purposely missing out on an incredible character, one of Marvel’s best.

Riri Williams is helping to build a bright, optimistic future for the Marvel Universe. I’m excited as hell to see where other creators take her next. Her adventures have only just begun, and she’s got a long and, quite likely, treacherous road ahead of her. I’m not worried, though. Riri’s got the right stuff to handle just about anything thrown her way. And, no matter what, she’ll always be a part of Marvel’s future.

2 Comments

  1. Dyoni

    May 16, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    I don’t think this author has read the comic, The last thing she is is a ‘good example for people of color’. She shows signs of being sociopathic, she is so obsessed with being a victim that when she was told she could be anything she wanted by her teacher, she essentially threw it back in her face and insisted that she be told that she ‘couldn’t ‘ just so she could prove something out of pure spite(the only reason she even made the armor was the teacher said out of exasperation ‘you’ll never be Tony Stark’), that is not the actions of someone with a ‘strong moral compass, nor a good example for anyone to follow.

    Reply

  2. Kool

    March 26, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Yay Riri Williams! The next big character at Marvel, no in all of comics!

    Reply

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