Flat Origin Story Doesn’t Allow Ironheart to Thrive As Much as She Could

 

By Janaya Greene

Though Riri Williams is continuing Tony Starks’ superhero work as Ironheart, she is undoubtedly creating a legacy of her own. Invincible Iron Man Volume 3 introduces us to Riri Williams, a 15-year-old girl from Chicago. A flashback reveals that at five years old, Riri’s family learned she was a super genius when she was “acting up out of boredom,” in school. At as early as ten years old, Riri worked hard to create devices that could help superheroes. She met her best friend, Natalie Washington, around this time, too.

 

Throughout Volume 3, we find Ironheart challenging herself to fight villains all over the United States, while still trying to perfect her armor. At the end of issue 1, Tony Starks’ “consciousness” steps in to give Riri the artificial intelligence she’d been working hard to create. Throughout their training, the young heroine is faced with technical and battle-related challenges that lead her to reminisce about difficult times in her past—a few being the murder of her father, and watching the killings of her stepfather and best friend Natalie.

While battling replicas of Ironman in training, Starks’ Artificial Intelligence tells Riri that she must stop running from her attackers because running would make the training more difficult; later even implying that Riri does this in her personal life, as she hasn’t had a best friend, or even an acquaintance, since Natalie’s death.

Once Tomoe, the Techno Golem, learns there is a new Ironheart, she and her ninjas come to Chicago to defeat the heroine. But it wasn’t easy with Pepper Pots fighting alongside Riri, and fighting Tomoe as Riri uploaded a virus to the suit Tomoe acquired, which later led them to victory.

 

As Riri Williams learns about challenging herself and dealing with the triumphs of her newfound role, she suits it with pride and humor; her development as Ironheart is captivating and pure fun, but Riri’s origin story proves to be quite disappointing. As earlier stated, Riri is a native Chicagoan and her character development is affected by the murder of three people in her life: her father, stepfather and best friend. As a Chicagoan from the south side, I can identify with losing people close to me from gun violence, but there are people from all over the United States who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

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The south side of Chicago is regularly portrayed monolithically, with stories that only tell of death, drugs and poverty. The stories about middle-class south siders are never told. Stories about south-side children in two-parent homes are rarely told. Stories about Black children thriving in STEM fields and finishing college aren’t told, and frankly, stories about Black families bonding and having a great time are never allowed to be; they’re almost always interrupted with violence that doesn’t speak to the full experience of citizens on Chicago’s south side, where people like Michelle Obama, Nichelle Nichols and Chance the Rapper were all raised. Gun violence in Chicago is an issue, but it’s an issue everywhere. Not all Chicagoans on the south side grow up in “the hood,” and all underprivileged areas do not experience the same rates of gun violence. As further discussed on Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro podcast hosted by Jamie Broadnax and Stephanie Williams, it would have been more effective if Riri Williams were allowed to exist without an extremely stereotypical and flat tragedy as a basis of her personality.

Overall, Invincible Iron Man is complex in its display of Riri’s strengths and weaknesses, but it lacks in sharing a nuanced story of the 15-year-old teenager’s background. Moving forward, if this volume could hone in on how Riri’s super genius abilities could hurt and or help her become a more refined heroine, it’d be more worthy of a read.

Janaya Greene, a girl of the south side of Chicago (as former President Barack Obama would say), is a writer, journalist, and photographer dedicated to sharing stories and creating in any way that she can. Her work has appeared in MTV News’ website, VICE and more. Janaya’s short film, Veracity, is also showing on Showtime Networks. Read more of her writing at janayagenise.com and find her on social media at @janayagr.

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  • While you were listing off the people in Riri’s life who died, I just thought, “Damn, do you want to get her dog too?” They seem to really lay on the tragedy of death thick; to the point where it’s almost comical. Having not read the issue yet, I’m worried that the impact that any one of these deaths could have will be diminished by reading all of them in close succession. Still, I’m excited to see more black women as prominent superheroes!

    I will just say, though, that it’s really disappointing to have Riri lose her best friend right out of the gate. There are so few representations of just a typical friendship between two black women in media, and it feels like a massive missed opportunity not to have that here. Hopefully, creators will expand her supporting cast to include more friends.

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