Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart. Vol. 2: Choices (2018)
Brian Michael Bendis
Riri Williams’ Ironheart joins Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel and the new Thor in the continued re-imagining of superheroes in the Marvel universe, resulting in an increasingly female-superhero-heavy lineup. It’s interesting to compare her character and arcs to other women superheroes in the current pantheon.
Like Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Riri Williams is a teenager of color. Having an African American superhero allows the authors to explore racial tensions in our society, through their influence on the attitudes and interactions of the superhero community. Having Riri Williams at odds with S.H.I.E.L.D., a superhero police force, for example, echoes the conflicts between police and African Americans that led to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Ironheart series also gently criticizes the prevailing Marvel trend to include female designation as part of superhero names (like She Hulk or Ms. Marvel). There is a running joke throughout the first two volumes where other characters keep calling Riri “Iron Woman” or other similarly gendered names. But she’s unapologetically feminist in her choice, Ironheart. She even rebukes the villainous “Lady Octopus” that she fights in issue #8; when asked who she is, she replies: “Someone with enough self-worth to not have to qualify myself with ‘Lady’. Seriously? Lady Octopus?”
But leaving aside questions of race or gender, the Ironheart series also offers a compelling bildungsroman, with teen questions of identity and self-discovery writ large and dramatic. Finding her support system is often literally a question of life or death. Negotiating the social ins-and-outs of superhero fame leaves her alienated from most teens her age, and questioning where she belongs. Riri even contends with choosing an educational path (though in her case it’s not standard college applications, but deciding between M.I.T. and Iron Man’s private industrial lab). It’s a pleasure watching Riri grow; and Stefano Caselli’s fantastic art makes watching Riri’s facial expressions during the process a pleasure to view, as well.
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Review by Deborah Tomaras.