Iron Man Will Be a Black Woman. Will Marvel Ever Hire One?

Diversity on the page is good, but there’s still a lot of work to be done behind the scenes

Let's get this out of the way: It's pretty exciting that Riri Williams, a black woman who has the nickname of an international pop star for a real name, will be donning the Iron Man suit in Marvel Comics. In an interview with Time, writer Brian Michael Bendis describes how Riri will be introduced to the Marvel universe: "In the latest issue of Iron Man, Tony is in a lab talking to himself, and he’s already aware that there’s some student at MIT that’s reverse-engineered one of his old armors all by herself in her dorm room." A black female scientist who's 15 years old and will eventually take over for Tony Stark in the pages of Iron Man is the epitome of cool. Of course, there's the question of whether it's really necessary — why not create an entirely new character for her like Marvel did with Falcon, who first debuted in September 1969's Captain America #117? Regardless, Riri is a welcome addition to Marvel comics, and she'll fight right alongside Storm, Misty Knight, Spectrum, and other black female superheroes.

The only problem? There's not a single black woman at Marvel to write for her. Brian Michael Bendis is an exceptional writer who previously created the half-black, half–Puerto Rican Spider-Man named Miles Morales, but he also faced backlash for attempting to strip away Miles's status as a black cultural icon. Instead of a discussion about how Miles feels as a hero who exists in both black and Latino culture, he gives the flippant response, “I don’t want to be the black Spider-Man. I want to be Spider-Man." There's no conversation to be had about how in America today, racism is predominantly about anti-blackness, and other races are defined by their proximity to blackness. Miles doesn't want to be the black Spider-Man, but how does he feel about being stopped and frisked like a black man in New York? How did Eric Garner's death affect him? These are issues that will never get tackled due to some attempt to create a harmonious post-racial world that never addresses social issues (which the pages of Spider-Man famously did in the '70s).

Furthermore, the idea of being post-racial is bullshit when, as far as I'm able to find, Marvel has never employed a black woman as a writer. Since Marvel's founding in 1939, it appears that not a single black woman has penned a comic for it. That is insane.

There's always the outcry that "the best man gets the job" whenever people bring up racist hiring practices, but I'm pretty sure there's no way to excuse not ever having had a black woman write a single one of your comics, let alone one of your comics starring black women, in nearly 80 years of operation. As of May, Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther was the top-selling comic of the year. Black people will say it until they die, but if you're black, you have to be twice as good to get half as much as white people. Coates has won a MacArthur Genius Grant. Do we need to produce a black woman who's also a MacArthur genius with an interest in comics to finally get hired by Marvel? Or is a black woman with an interest in comics and exemplary writing skills not good enough for Marvel to seek out?

It took till the year 2000 for Marvel Comics to hire its first black woman to draw a comic. Ironically enough, Alitha E. Martinez's first work was on Iron Man. How much longer until they let a black woman write Riri, Storm, Misty Knight, or literally any other character in the Marvel universe? When Bendis talks about how Marvel is moving in the right direction with Riri, he says, "Talking to any of the older creators, it’s the thing they said they wish they’d done more of — reflecting the world around them. It just wasn’t where the world was at at that time. Now, 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." If only Marvel's staff of writers reflected the world around them.