As most of you in the comic book world know, this week Marvel announced that Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man will be replaced with a young African-American girl named Riri Williams. I applaud Marvel’s efforts to give another black female character her own comic. Riri joins the ranks of Lunella Lafayette of Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur and Anwen Bakian as Nova along with veteran Storm of the X Men as black female characters recently having their own comic book series. However, I am not as excited as I originally was when I first heard the news, as there are no black women involved with the creation or shaping of this character.
This is going to be a bit long, but I ask you to hear me out.
Riri Williams’ turn as Iron Man will officially begin in October, but since May of this year, she has actually been featured in The Invincible Iron Man Vol 2 starting in Issue #7. She is a young genius attending MIT (just like Tony Stark was) and basically created her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room from scraps she pilfered from MIT’s labs and her own ingenuity. When security finds out what she’s up to she ends up making an escape in said suit. If it sounds familiar, that’s because part of Stark’s origin story is that he originally escaped from Wong-Chu forces in the Mark I made from scraps that he and fellow captive Ho Yinsen cobbled together. Only Riri did it alone, with more time, sans the heart condition and terrorist organization after her. She also manages to save a few lives in the process. (For a detailed explanation of Riri’s origins please see this article by Evan Narcisse). Personally, I think it’s amazing that a little girl who looks like me can now read a comic with a genius, natural-haired, dark-skinned sister in it. That is definitely a step in the right direction for a mainstream company like Marvel, but, I have many questions:
Why does a black man always die or get maimed near the beginning of a Marvel Civil War? In the original Civil War comic it was Goliath (Bill Foster) and this time it’s War Machine (James “Rhodey” Rhodes) in CWII, and even in the MCU Rhodey’s paralyzed. Why was Riri the choice for the “new” Iron Man as opposed to Misty Knight, whose arm was personally created for her by Stark? Or even Rhodes’ genius niece Lila, (I’m referring to the Earth-616 version) who helped maintain Rhodey’s War Machine armor? Clearly she would know something about how the suit works, right?
Why does Marvel keep “re-skinning” original characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine and Thor? Why not just make new ones? Or at least bring back old ones (Isaiah Bradley, Josiah X or the Patriot?) And how come Riri won’t be called Iron Maiden, or Iron Girl or even Iron Woman (Earth-3490) like Natasha Stark was?
Hey, here’s a thought, call her War Machine. (Since Rhodey clearly won’t be needing the title.)
In addition, most of the current reiterations of characters were brought on when a mainstream character was either dead or depowered (Captain America, Spider Man, Thor, Wolverine), But now both “versions” of the characters are existing in the Marvel lineup. Are they just waiting for Trump to win office so that they can “Rhodey” the POC versions? (that’s a thing now). Or are trying to create multiple characters with the same titles and powers just different ethnicities, orientations and genders to keep everyone happy? Why are there now more black female characters in the Marvel universe than black male ones, but still no black female writers? Why did they go out of their way to include a Korean-American to write Amadeus Cho as the Hulk (Greg Pak), a Muslim woman to write for Muslim female character, Kamala Khan Ms Marvel (G. Willow Wilson) and black men to write both Black Panther (Ta-nehisi Coates) and Power Man and Iron Fist (David Walker) but they couldn’t find a single black woman to write Moongirl, Nova and now Iron Man? While we’re on the subject, why has neither Marvel or DC EVER hired a black female staff writer?
Edit 8/01/16: Update: Since this original posting, Marvel has hired it’s first Black female writer, Roxane Gay to pen World of Wakanda. They have also hired poet Yona Harvey to pen another spinoff of the series.Edit 7/25/16: DC hired freelance writer Felicia D. Henderson to write for several issues of Teen Titans during 2009 and Static Shock – 2011. DC also hired Angela Robinson the same year to write The Web. Yes, there have been black characters and POC characters in comics for a long time. All of which of which (with the exception of Milestone) were originally created by white men. Even the Black Panther that everyone is so excited about was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I don’t care how many of you were told that Magneto was inspired by Malcolm X, Magneto’s character was never black and neither were its creators (also Lee and Kirby). Social media banter and indie sales dictate that African Americans do buy a lot of comics, but we seem to have a hard time proving that because buyer fragmentation, comic book shop gatekeeping and uneven distribution don’t provide accurate numbers, and Diamond’s not sharing those numbers with us anyway.
And please don’t tell me that black women don’t read comics. Not only do we read them, I talk to fellow blerdgurls ALL THE TIME who are reading, reviewing, tweeting and BUYING them.
The interesting thing about “the whole diversity thing” in comics (and one of the reasons why I started this blog) is that there are plenty of indie artists out there that are creating some amazing diverse characters of color, and have been doing so for YEARS. And in addition to some mainstream titles, that is the work that I like to read and continue to support. What kind of indie comics am I referring to? Feel free to search the comics here on my site, my tumblr, twitter, facebook or IG and you’ll find quite a few.
Please do not take any part of this post as an attack on either Brian Michael Bendis or new Invincible Iron Man artist Stefano Caselli. Bendis might have created Riri’s story, but he is a staff writer, and that’s what he gets paid to do. He’s not in charge of hiring new writers or scouting out new talent. My issue is not with him. But Marvel (and DC) will continue to take our money because they know we’ll give it freely, especially if they create a character that looks like us, because they have the money and the resources to get the images out into the mainstream market faster and more efficiently than the indie comic book creator does. They also know, that the image of a smart black girl will sell as seen with the success of Moongirl and Nova.
Let’s be clear, my idea of diversity does NOT mean asking Marvel to hire black female writers to just write black female characters, just as I can’t expect Marvel to force all the white male writers to just write for white male characters. But there are NO BLACK WOMEN writing at Marvel right now, so that’s not even an issue until they hire some. My mother always used to tell me “When you ask for something, be specific.” So Marvel, listen up, I’m going to be VERY specific here:
Start hiring Black female writers to write for any and all characters at Marvel NOW*. And don’t just hire one either.
And for those of you who don’t believe that there are any black women out there actually writing comics, (I get this question at least once a week) I invite you to check out the list below.
I’ve got over 60 reasons why you’re out of excuses.
Current Indie Black Female Comic and Webcomic Writers
This list is comprised of Black women that I am currently aware of have written comics or webcomics that were printed or released digitally within the past few years. I will update with their links to their sites as soon as time allows. This list does NOT include anyone that is currently working on their first project that is not out yet. I will be adding this list to a larger database that I am putting together so please let me know if I have missed anyone. (EDIT: 7/9/16 4PM EST) A BIG thank you to Regine Sawyer of the Women in Comics Collective NY International for help curating this list!
Ashley A. Woods
C. Spike Trotman
Cheryl Lynn Eaton
Christina Steenz Stewart
Neeka Neeks (Taneka Stotts)
Shauna J. Grant
Shawnee and Shawnelle Gibbs
You’re 100% correct.
Thank you! And thanks for commenting!
This was beautiful.
Marvel nor DC Comics will hire black women and that
is a shame.
And odd to, when they want to be diverse.
i dig where you are coming from.. if only stan lee were active in the development of characters.. unfortunately as we see in hollywood with reboots and remakes that the imagination and ingenuity of the studios and companies is at all time lows and since they are even less in touch with other groups than white males it shows. great article.
Marvel and DC have a this thing where they only like hiring new talent with already large internet visability. Though alot female creators in general have forged their path , now that they have the visiabilty prefered arent, understandably, excited to give up the freedom they’ve erned to work for place s like marvel. But there defiantly could be more of an effort. As fan of bendis im glad hes the one who introduced this.
I agree. Numbers and reach mean everything to businesses these days. Thanks for commenting!
Why not organize a digital petition with a few thousand names on it ask them to hire.
I honestly wonder if that would work. But thanks for commenting!
I’m not saying you’re incorrect about anything in this article, I’m just attempting to share thoughts on specifics, and ask questions so hopefully this won’t read as me being a jerk, but it probably will because I’m an overall poor communicator.
Let me start by saying none of this challenges the main point I think you’re making, which is that the big two has a lot of options in regards to talented people of all backgrounds but still mostly employ people who could mostly be categorized as white men and that limits their potential both in content diversity and market appeal. I totally agree.
I think that Civil War II deciding to kill another black hero was uncomfortable, but I honestly think Rhodey was the only character that was available to create the dynamic they wanted. Tony Stark going from generally opposed to completely emotionally invested. The only other person that could have filled a similar role, and been recognizable to mainstream audiences outside of normal fandom would have maybe been Pepper. I have a hard time picturing her joining the fight of that scale or working her into a similar situation (I also honestly can’t remember her current status). Plus I think if she died we’d be having the women in refrigerators convo. Maybe it is lazy writing or easy to throw in a death as an inciting incident…. but i honestly think the lazier writing was in the original where Goliath seemed to be a random character picked from a hat to die. I could be very wrong though.
the other part, I don’t understand why Greg Pak writing Cho as Hulk was Marvel going out of their way. Was there a contract dispute I’m unaware of? I think Pak created Cho, along with writing Planet Hulk, WWH, and the Hercules book that took over Incredible Hulk which heavily featured Cho. When I saw this Totally Awesome Hulk, I assumed it was naturally Pak’s pitch after DC decided to go another way with their Superman line. That’s an unresearched thought tho. If you know more or have links i’d really dig reading up on it.
I guess my final thought would be that maybe Bendis created and pitched the character because he wanted to write her. I know he’s Marvel’s main guy, but he speaks about his work there like he’s his own company that contracts his work to Marvel. He’s not the editorial, so it’d be lame if he pitched a character he wanted to write and Marvel was like “ok, lets see if we can find a black woman to write it.” I’d be like “no…. when I finish, thats cool, but dont take my characters before i get to explore them. Anyone can be a character factory.”
I’m not trying to be reductive, but I think Bendis runs into the problem a lot of white creative types do. We grow up surrounded by various cultures, and want to reflect our world, but then each minority character (black, asian, latino, female, lgbt, whatever we may be can appear to be labeled as “not”) can be misconstrued as our comment or opinion on that race/sex/sexual identity. Or an act of appropriation. Especially if any character flaw also happens to coincide with a stereo type. I know this isn’t the worst problem to have, just expressing my own anxieties here.
None of this was intended to be snarky, just honest thoughts. I really appreciate your article (its the first of yours I’ve read) and thanks for reading these ramblings if you did
Thanks for reading the post. 🙂 I can see where you were coming from with Rhodey, but I agree Goliath was just blatant and because I remember that, Rhodey just felt wrong to me. Yeah fridging Pepper would have been a whole other problem.The point I was making with Amadeus Cho was that Marvel made a VERY big deal about the Hulk being Korean and in the media releases pointed out repeatedly that both Greg Pak and Frank Cho were of Korean descent, (even though Pak has years of history on Hulk and Cho has years of history in the biz) so that’s why I believe it was either a calculated move or capitalizing on their ethnicities to support Amadeus’ character. Bendi’s has actually been quoted as saying that Riri is based on a real-life African American woman that he met (see this article) As I mentioned, Bendis is not responsible for hiring anyone so I definitely don’t blame him for that and I think that he’ll do some very interesting things with the character. I also understand that the term appropriation gets tossed around a lot, and actually, I don’t think that this is that type of situation. It still doesn’t excuse the fact, that in 75 years not one Black woman has written for them, I’m sorry.
I’m not to fund of her taking the place of the original Iron man they should had did something new with here but that’s been marvels problem for years they just have a hard time with new stuff they hold fast to the old stories that’s but yes i agree as well ^^
Why doesn’t Marvel create new characters instead of “reskinning” older ones? Unfortunately, the answer is that any creator with half a brain has now seen decades of exploitation by DC and Marvel of characters created by writers and artists who almost never saw a decent cut of the BILLIONS they’ve made for the companies. Creating a new character for DC and Marvel is basically an invitation to give up potentially huge profits for a pittance. So if you’re hired to create a new character for DC or Marvel, your only real option is to create something that derives directly from those particular universes.
Any creator who somehow sold Marvel on a brand new character, Awesome Girl, who was somehow given her own new book right out of the bat, and who saw that character become a smash hit, is *inevitably* going to sit by helplessly years later as she’s shut out of profits for the Awesome Girl movie. Why give yourself that grief when a company like Image will let you keep the rights? (And while the degree to which the Big Two have exploited creators has varied, revolving corporate leadership guarantees that even if you’re getting a good deal NOW you’re likely to be out of luck years later, when the real money starts to roll in.)
VERY good point. and also one of the reasons why I read a lot of Image. Thanks for commenting!
Brilliant article. Informative and fair, with progressive criticisms. Thank you for this.
My only problem with Riri is that this character already existed — Lila Rhodes, aka Iron Patriot.
I completely agree. Lila helped maintain Rhodey’s suit already and she’ been verified as a genius as well. Thank for commenting!
The thing is, Marvel and DC tend not to hire Indie writers regardless of their identity. Indie writers traditionally go down that route because they value their creative integrity and want to produce their comics without interference. As a result, these writers never get into the larger companies. At best, they’ll end up at Dark Horse, Image, IDW or 2000AD where they can create new characters and stories without having to deal with massive corporate continuity. These writers don’t actually want to write for Marvel and DC, at least not as a means of creating their own characters.
So, yes there are plenty of black female writers and artists producing Indie comics, but those people more than likely don’t want to have Marvel and DC telling them how to write their comics. They’ve shown that simply by going the Indie route, or going to the likes of Dark Horse, Image, IDW or 2000AD in order to get their work published. These are companies that allow mini-series about original characters and stories, but they also provide a proper gateway into the mainstream Marvel and DC industry because they are still relatively large publishing houses.
Writers that go down the Indie comic route don’t want to work for corporations like Marvel and DC. Writers that go to the other smaller companies are more open to the idea and are trying to get their work noticed so that they can eventually work for Marvel and DC.
I appreciate what you are saying, and yes, Marvel and DC are known to only chose from indie artists that have been published at one of the smaller houses, but I disagree. Although many of the women that are on the list have been published at Dark Horse and Image. Some at DC as well. That doesn’t excuse 75 years of Marvel not hiring even one. Also, you are insinuating that the majority of black female writers aren’t being hired at the big two simply because they don’t want to be.
You are 1000% on the spot with this article! Until black women are writing from their perspectives [that only they can understand and transmit to other readers accurately], fused with their creative imaginations to roam freely is when diversity in its TRUE essence will be realized.
Besides, what better realm than comics to connect and help readers understand black women’s perspectives or any person of color? It’s one of the single places where creativity and imagination unite like-minded people, a perfect vehicle to foster understanding and acceptance.
THANK YOU for sparking this illuminating conversation. Always enjoy reading from your brilliant mind!!
Thank you! And thanks for commenting!
You’re welcome!!! Looking forward to reading more from you!!
Wait. Somebody, anybody ACTUALLY says “Black women don’t read comics” with a straight face?
Good job, Karama! Keep up the good work. We need you.
Great article! I 100% agree that there should be black women writing black women in comics and that they should be original not re-skinned as you put it. Then again I’d like that for everyone. That doesn’t mean black people can’t write other characters or white people can’t write for black characters but I would like to see new diverse characters created and nourished with diverse writers attached that can gives characters life and difference experiences and stories.
On thing I’ll correct about your article is,
“Yes, there have been black characters and POC characters in comics for a long time. All of which of which (with the exception of Milestone) were originally created by white men.”
Static Shock was created by Dwayne McDuffie who was a black man and contributed a lot to the DC Animated Universe.
I think you misunderstood. Dwayne Mcduffie was one of the founders of Milestone. Milestone created Static Shock. Therefore “with the exception of Milestone” covers that. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!
In my opinion as being a fan of DC since the 1978 I have come to an understanding that’s it’s obvious that a good part of DC fans are either racist and/or just do not like change. As a fan of the Teen Titans I was witness to all of the hate on the message board when Felicia was hired to write that book. Maybe some was deserved for the poor quality but I have got to say that a good portion of that hate was not deserved.
So from my point of view you can’t place the blame solely on DC because they have tried but the majority of the fans (of all races) are just not excited about Black Superheroes for whatever reason.
Still DC need to make more of an effort to hire Black writers an artists. You can probably count on one hand the number of Black creators that have created Black characters at DC comics which is a shame.
what if none of them were the best writer for the job? should they still have been hired?
Of course not. I also don’t think that a black woman has to write a black character. As is evidenced by Ngozi Ukazu’s “Check Please!” But in 76 years, you really think that they not a SINGLE black woman was qualified? Really?
Well done–both your initial op-ed & your interaction with the feedback. (An aside: Dwayne–along with Ernie Colón–created “Damage Control” for Marvel. Since “DC” isn’t a frontline title, this fact does nothing to undercut your argument. Every once in a while there are rumblings about “DC” in other media. If this happens, you’ll happily be able to update your list to an overwhelming “one.”)
When I found out about Riri Williams becoming Iron Man the first thing I thought was: “Here we go again.” My issue with Riri (in addition to her name; an obvious mashup of Rihanna and Serena Williams) was that I just saw this move as yet another one of Marvel’s lazy attempts to prove how progressive Marvel is when it comes to diversity. If they really want to be inclusive and show that they truly believe in diversity, why not hire Black female writers. Marvel’s stance on hiring Black writers reminds me of Matt Damon’s feelings and response to Effie Brown’s statement on the need for more Black directors and producers. Regarding the re-skinning of characters, I can’t stand the fact that Marvel continues to do this. I don’t need a female Thor, I need a new character. Once 15-year-old Riri Williams becomes Iron Man the character’s no longer Iron Man, it’s Iron Girl. I will only accept Tony Stark as Iron Man, because he IS Iron Man. Tony Stark makes the character! Thank you. This is a great article.
Kudos for this article!
Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, etc., need to make deliberate efforts to get more women of color involved as staffers in various editorial/production/promotions roles at their companies. So many of these people who work at these companies are used to their own social circles being exclusively or near-exclusively Caucasian, they are functionally clueless as to the talent pools involving people of color and black folks in particular.
I have an addition for the list of black female creative: Detroit based Kelly Guillory of Ashur Collective-
[…] story. An original work by first-time comic book creator Dorphise Jean, (who I also listed in my post about black women comic writers) she says that she wanted to create a Haitian-American superhero that was not associated with […]
Thanks for this article, literally the kind of writing I was looking for and you covered all arguments and reflected my views too. Such as creating new black/brown characters and not just re-colouring the old ones, hiring black women to write for characters and not just one. Also we have to appreciate the Indy artists who’ve been doing this for years. And give the black characters their own series/ more show as they mainly still fall on the backdrop. I loved your article, you slay blerdgurl
I believe Marvel and other studios are using these demographic modifications to familiar characters as a distraction from their creative drought. They seem to think changing a certain facet of a character’s identity will suffice to please activists instead of going to the trouble of creating whole new characters or even promoting some of the lesser-known characters they’ve already made. It stinks of halfhearted cynicism on their part.
[…] and MKF (which garnered her the McDuffie Award) are pretty well known. (She was also on my list of Black female writers that should be working in comics). According to Heidi MacDonald of the Beat, (who broke the story), what makes this particular […]
[…] However, there are some aspects of this character choice that have given some fans and critics pause, which I’d like to discuss here – three in particular. I’m very interested in your input. (Edited to add: Here is a post with similar critique from black writer Son of Baldwin, Here is another from black female nerd BlerdGurl.) […]
Great read! (I know I’m mad late to the party)
I’m on the fence a little about the re-skinning of characters to be minorities and been wanting to have this conversation recently. On one end I am like “can’t we just get some new characters?” It would be nice if we can just have characters that are as original and unique as we are as a people, rather than just having them step in the shoes of an established one to I guess give them a boost or whatever.
On the other end I love Miles Morales’ Spider-Man and am enjoying this RiRi Ironman series thus far. Major hero’s get re-skinned from time to time (even if only temporarily), so why do some trip so hard when it turns out to be a minority?
Lately, I keep coming across videos about how Marvel’s diversity is bad and etc. etc. and one of the major complaints they have is about re-skinning. Granted I agree to a degree, I tend to get a little offended by them since all the one’s I’ve seen are coming from white guys.
Also, was not aware of Eve Bakian, I’ll have to look her up some more. So thank you for that!
Correction to my previous comment, I realize I used re-skinned a couple of times in the wrong way. What I meant was that many heroes in general have had other folks take up the mantle, so I feel some type of way when folks get all up in arms about it being a minority character. But those feelings might be a bit misguided.
I agree with you on how Marvel just reimage already established characters, but I don’t think the fix is hiring more Black women unless they are great writers I think Marvel’s problem is hiring better writers if they are Black women then so be it, just being a black woman don’t make you a qualified writer just like being black doesn’t make us qualified writers. Their comics suck right now because of forces diversity and won’t get better because of it. I just would like better comics I don’t care who writes it.
Sorry that I am commenting so late, I just came across this page. Thanks for writing this and sharing your perspective! You make some really good points here and I hope that the industry moves in the direction suggested.
Thank you! No worries. And I’m happy to say some changes have been made. There are so many good stories out there and talented creators!
I liked reading this, but so tired of hearing complaint after complaint about how Black representation isn’t fined tuned in nuance and details exactly how it’s wanted, when Latinos, Asians, Pacific-Islanders, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t generic White and Black continue to get next to no representation. You raise some great points, and maybe it’s not your passion or your fight, but I’d love to see more Black writers of your skill to take advantage of this time when Black representation is skyrocketing and use your influence to advocate for and lift up some other groups instead of dissecting and retooling the excess of representation currently happening. Not at all saying you’re guilty of this, but when the only people of color Black creatives are supporting and advocating are also Black, how long before it’s the same in-group/out-group mentality everyone is trying to break in White-American cultures?
Love your writing.