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Goodbye Tony Stark, Hello Riri Williams

The end of comic book event series Civil War II results in Tony Stark hanging up his iron boots and Riri Williams taking over the position. Whoa.

Riris’ backstory was inspired by a failed TV show Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis was working on a couple of years ago. It focused on the true story of a young woman who had a tragic life growing up, but instead of falling into the street violence that surrounded her, she overcame the difficulties and went to college.

The character was officially introduced a few months ago in Invincible Iron Man No. 7 and will headline the series later this year for the Marvel NOW! relaunch. Before she can even vote, 15-year-old Riri’s a science genius enrolled at MIT, where Tony takes notice of her when after hearing of a young girl who built her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room.

Bendis has been very hush about the reason for Tony’s departure and says this doesn’t predict the ending for Civil War II. Yesterday’s eleventh issue of the series shows Riri taking her homemade armour for a test drive, which you can sample below.

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African-American with gorgeous chocolate skin and big, curly hair, Riri speaks to a generation of young girls that always wanted to dress up as a superhero for Halloween, but only had Halle Berry’s Catwoman and X-Men’s Storm (also portrayed by Halle Berry on the big screen—how resourceful) as inspiration.

As a young black woman who can look to Riri Williams and see myself, I know this will bring a lot of new fans to the Marvel universe. For once, many other young girls (myself included) can open a comic book and see features like ours staring back at us. The fact that Riri came from a world of chaos to becoming a student at MIT before she could even drive a car speaks to the confidence of young black girls everywhere. It says to us: “You can be smart, beautiful, kick some supervillain ass and do it all with a fabulous afro.”

This is another step in Marvel’s increasingly diverse universe, as they try to move away from the “macho Caucasian dudes” archetype. Last year, Marvel introduced an African-American/Puerto Rican Spider-Man, a female Thor has held the hammer since 2014, Ms.Marvel is a Muslim teen, Hulk is a Korean super genius, and Captain America is African American.  Though this diversity has brought mixed reactions from longtime fans, Bendis believes in Marvel’s progressive thinking: “There was a part of an audience crawling through the desert looking for an oasis when it came to representation,” he told Time. “And now that it’s here, you’ll go online and be greeted with this wave of love.”

Other cultures are finally being illustrated in a medium that has been around for nearly a century, but will this diversity be translated to the movie franchise? As the Black Panther film begins production, we can only hope Marvel keeps up the momentum to provide a super voice for those who just want to see equal representation in mainstream media.

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