The new black female Iron Man and five other diversity surprises

Jul 7, 2016

From a female Thor to a Muslim Ms Marvel - via a gay Green Lantern - how the comic books have welcomed change

In the world of Marvel comics, Tony Stark is hanging up his Iron Man suit and a new character is taking over: Riri Williams, a black female teenager.

Riri is a 15-year-old MIT student who has reverse-engineered one of Tony's old armours.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis, who revealed the plans in a Time magazine interview yesterday, spoke about how difficult it was to introduce new characters in the comic world as "you're always going to have people getting paranoid about us ruining their childhood".

Riri is by no means the first time comic-book writers have strayed away from the straight, white, male superhero.

Marvel faced a round of abuse a couple of years ago, after it announced Thor would become a woman. Accusations of political correctness flooded Twitter, along with some misogynistic slurs. 

But Bendis says: "When you have a young woman come up to you at a signing and say how happy she is to be represented in his universe, you know you're moving in the right direction."

Here are five other characters helping to make the comic-book universe more diverse:

Female Thor

Many Tweeting comic-book fans decried Thor's gender-switch as "political correctness gone mad" when it was first announced in July 2014, while a few others were also outraged that Norse mythology had been gravely subverted. But there were those who argued it was a reasonable change as Thor's power is embedded in his hammer, Mjolnir, which can be possessed by whosoever is "worthy". In the past, this has included the Hulk, Superman and even Storm and Wonder Woman. The New Statesman points out that Thor has also been replaced by an alien space-horse and a frog in the past, so why not a woman?

Black Captain America

Just as the news of female Thor had begun to settle – POW – Marvel announced the mantle of Captain America would be taken on by the black character Falcon, firing up the debate once again. It revealed that the current Captain America, Steve Rogers, would pass his star-spangled shield on to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon. With just 24 hours to digest Thor's new gender, some fans refused to accept the change, taking to Twitter to denounce it as "ridiculous", along with an outpouring of jokes about which characters would be next to undergo the diversity treatment. But the Washington Post insisted Sam Wilson was a "top choice" – not because he is black, but because he is Captain America's long-time partner and "one of his most trusted allies".

Muslim Ms Marvel

In November 2013, Marvel introduced a new Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan, the 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in New Jersey. Created by Muslim-convert G Willow Wilson, Khan replaced Carol Danvers, the original blond-haired, blue-eyed Ms Marvel. Some critics branded it a cheap marketing ploy; others worried it might reinforce cultural stereotypes with storylines about Khan's conservative parents. Nevertheless, Khan received positive reviews, including Comic Vine's summary that she made a "delightful debut, showing confidence and heart".

Gay Green Lantern

DC Comics outed Alan Scott's Green Lantern as gay in 2012, with the Earth 2 comic showing him kissing his boyfriend. It prompted a backlash from some Christian-based conservative groups, who threatened to boycott the series. Author James Robinson said the decision was signed off by his bosses "without hesitation" and told the New York Post: "He's very much the character he was. He's still the pinnacle of bravery and idealism. He's also gay."

Black Hispanic Spider-Man

There was uproar when Marvel announced Miles Morales, a black Hispanic teenager, would take on the alter ego of Spider-Man in 2011. Mostly this was because people mistakenly thought Peter Parker had been completely replaced, which was not the case – Miles was part of a separate series offering a fresh take on Marvel characters. Miles's series did not sell as many copies as the traditional Spider-Man comic, but Axel Alonso, the editor-in-chief of Marvel Entertainment, said the character had helped bring in new readers. He told the New York Times: "When you see Spider-Man strip down his mask and he looks like you, you are more inspired to pick up that book."

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