Maybe you’ve heard: In Marvel Comics’ reboot of “The Invincible Iron Man” (in stores now), Iron Man is a female African-American teenage genius from Chicago. Tony Stark, exhausted from yet another superhero civil war and having faked his death, has passed the mantle to resourceful Riri Williams. She’s a 15-year-old genius from the South Side of Chicago who just dropped out of MIT to become Ironheart.
Riri is written by superstar author Brian Michael Bendis, who spoke by phone about building a Chicago superhero. The following is an excerpt from the conversation.
Q: What are the conversations like with Marvel while you’re creating a character like this?
A: She was in the initial pitch document that I gave Marvel for Iron Man. We were opening the doors to reconsider all of his relationships, and as we were weighing the pros and cons for the future of Tony, it just seemed obvious, because of the events in our “Civil War II” story line, she could jump in and take the mantle. Someone told me, “If you’re replacing M&Ms, you’d better have something better than M&Ms,” and that’s how I saw it.
Q: How did you pick the name Ironheart?
A: Iron Woman sounded old-fashioned. The sex qualifier for a superhero name, like She-Hulk, is starting to feel weird. My daughter — and this was the final straw on Iron Woman — asked why the Oscars have separate categories for best actor and actress. And she’s 14. And she’s right.
Q: There’s an exchange between Riri’s parents and her school about the nurturing of her — not her intellectual stimulation, but her emotional life. Why?
A: Your job as a parent is to reassure, every single day. Having gone through this for years, when certain revelations occur to a child, it’s a special thing to see someone struggling with their thoughts and to be there for them. Because of the circles we are in, we know a lot of children who have dealt with loss.
Q: Riri witnesses a shooting in Marquette Park.
A: It’s her Uncle Ben [“Spider-Man”] moment, and it provides her with what she needs to go forward as Ironheart. Her stepfather, who was killed, is the source of encouragement — he was there for her, telling her, “Today’s a great day” every day. And that starts to haunt her. I’m fascinated by how people handle loss and find myself in admiration for people who use it to be a better version of themselves.
Q: Did Marvel question the use of Chicago?
A: I came off a nine-year run on “Avengers” and must have knocked down New York’s buildings 400 times. Once you start thinking about that, you realize that we should spread this thing out. Besides, if you’re a supervillain, why would you live in New York? With Riri taking the mantle, she will be bringing a lot of supervillain heat to the city of Chicago. I promise.