Marvel have done it again, comic book fans around the world have been gifted a new super heroine that embodies the diversity of the 21st century. Introducing Riri Williams, a 15 year old, female African American, MIT genius and heir to Tony Stark’s mantle as Iron Man. Regardless of their motives Marvel must be congratulated for transforming the Avengers from a team of mostly white dudes into a diverse array of characters hailing from different cultures and ethnicities. However, there is one glaring downside to Marvel’s approach eloquently expressed in a series of tweets by writer Thaddeus Howze asking Marvel why they don’t just create new characters.
Howze makes a very interesting point, while the Marvel’s line up of heroes is beginning to look more diverse they aren’t actually bringing much new to the table. Instead Marvel are rehashing and recycling preexisting content and this completely goes against the spirit of creativity. Most of the avengers have existed for decades so how many renditions of these characters must we see until every possible angle has been explored? If the plan is to transition into a more diverse cast of characters isn’t this the perfect time to bring in new superheros?
Black Panther is probably the most popular black superheros in the world today and a lot of this is due to the sheer novelty and innovation behind the character and his background. Black Panther is not the second coming of any preexisting hero but an original character in his own right. Beyond this the Black Panther’s background is truly fascinating. He is the king of an afrofuturist nation called Wakanda, the most technologically advanced country on earth! Of course all superheroes share certain similarities and are based on mythological archetypes but taking all of this into consideration I can honestly that the Black Panther narrative is unlike any other superhero story that I’ve come across. However, I cannot say the same for Riri Wiliam’s Iron man and there in lies the problem.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect every new superhero of color to be completely new and original however, it they are to stand any chance of becoming as iconic as the likes of Superman and Captain America then originality is a prerequisite. In many ways it feels as though ethnic minorities across the western world have been starved for so long that we are now more than happy to feed on scraps. However, there are independent creators across the world that are cooking up bountiful feasts for us.
We have the Pack by Paul Louise Julie which follows a group of renegade Nubian and Egyptian werewolves wreaking havoc across ancient Egypt. Nigerian based publisher, Comic Republic are re-imagining the superhero genre through an African lens, my personal favorite from their roster is Eru, where the spirit of fear tries to live alongside humankind and struggles to temper his vindictive nature while also while also trying to uphold justice. Upcoming titles include Tuskeegee Heirs, a futuristic sci-fi adventure inspired by the Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II, the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. Tuskeegee Heirs, follows a squadron of young, gifted aviators who are forced to become Earth’s last line of defense against a race of malevolent artificially intelligent beings.
One thing to note with many of these indie titles is that the teams behind them are just as diverse as the characters in each their respective stories and this is something that Marvel is sorely lacking. The vast majority of Marvel writers are white men including Brian Micheal Bendis, the brains behind Riri Williams. Although we’re only three issues in the ongoing Black Panther series written by Tanehisi Coates has beeen extremely successful so it’s a puzzle as to why Marvel haven’t reproduced this model with other characters.
Ultimately if it’s a choice between creativity and diversity then I choose neither. These two things need not be mutually exclusive in fact I would go as far as to say they are mutually reinforcing. By exploring different cultures we’re inevitably exposed to new stories and points of view so diversity actually enriches creativity. To be fair Marvel are at least taking (baby) steps in the right direction both in the comic and movies especially when compared to the other comic book publisher that will not be named cough! cough! DC.