Invincible Iron Man #1 (2016) Review

8 Dec

TL:DR – A bland story that is largely unremarkable.

The problem with Marvel’s current push to ‘diversify’ it’s roster of comic book heroes with ‘characters of colour’ and different genders is that it is, too often, a gimmick. Attention is paid to the skin colour and gender of the characters, like modern filmmakers are more interested in special FX, rather than developing the characters as fully independent beings in their own right. Indeed, as more focus is placed on ‘diversity,’ everything else is steadily frozen out.

This has produced some odd characters. James Rhodes (War Machine) is a developed character, but one who dates back to the days before ‘diversity’ became an issue. (One may also argue this is true of Luke Cage.) By contrast, Black Panther is little more than racial pandering that is often strikingly racist – and not always in the direction you might expect. Of all the newer characters, the only one who really stand out as a being is Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel). The others simply lack – pardon the expression – colour.

[An interesting exception to this is Alex Wilder of Runaways, although technically he was a villain. Still, he was a developed character who could easily handle a redemption arc.]

Why does this happen? To paraphrase Heinlein, writers are writing ‘diversity’ characters – not characters who happen to be diverse.

And now we have a young black teenage girl taking the role of Iron Man.

Her first issue – I understand this isn’t her first appearance, but I haven’t read the other comics – is surprisingly bland. The story features Riri Williams taking her homemade suit of armour out for a test drive against a mutant supervillain, interposed with flashbacks to her early life as a genius and tragedy when her father is gunned down in a drive-by shooting that leaves her covered in blood. And it ends with the introduction of a computer module with the recorded personality of Tony Stark.

There’s very little meat here, which is part of the problem. On one hand, her background is remarkably decent (Marvel was obviously trying to avoid controversy); on the other hand, there’s seemingly little room for conflict. A warning about the dangers of allowing Riri to get bored, from a psychologist, is barely mentioned, even though this should provide fodder for interesting stories. There simply isn’t the room, in the first issue, to develop her properly. Ms. Marvel does a far better job.

It would be churlish to complain about Riri being a teenage genius who puts a battlesuit together in the garage. Marvel has quite a few characters who fit that description; Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Reed Richards, etc. If Riri is unrealistic, then so too are those iconic characters. (Mind you, this also raises the question of why she couldn’t invent something that would make her and her family rich.)

The problem here is so fundamental that it took me several days to put my finger on it. Riri is Tony (Toni?) Stark, only black, female and teenage. In appearance, they couldn’t be more dissimilar; in personality and abilities, they’re very much alike. The Marvel Universe has (apparently) lost one Iron Man, only to gain another. (Not to mention the Stark personality matrix whatever.) It’s possible that her personality will grow in different directions as she moves into her superhero career, but I tend to doubt it when the comic echoes the original so closely.

If you consider War Machine, you’ll see he actually compliments Iron Man. Tony Stark is a ‘genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist;’ James Rhodes is a soldier, with different skills and training that make the team stronger. This is best shown, in my opinion, in Iron Man II, when Rhodes unhesitatingly takes command and Stark follows his lead. Rhodes isn’t Tony Stark and the setting is all the stronger for it.

In some ways, this is true of Kamala Khan too. Although Kamala adopted the mantle of the ‘missing’ Captain Marvel, whom she adored, she is a very different person. She blazes her own path right from the start, forging a different personality. Her powers are different, her sense of the world around her is different … she’s different. And the series does not sugar-coat the problems that growing up in an ethnic minority household can cause for both Kamala and her brother.

The problem with reboots in general is that you have to appeal to both the old fans, who will provide the original customer base, and your prospective new fans. This isn’t easy – and while updating one’s characters is a way to do it, you run the risk of alienating the old fans. And while it is very tempting to scream RACIST or SEXIST or whatever whenever anyone objects to a black Iron Man or a Muslim Ms. Marvel or female Ghostbusters, it merely buries the true issue – that the rebooted version is so different that the original and the reboot might as well be completely separate.

That was an issue with the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. None of the rebooted characters bears much resemblance to the old characters (and a number of completely new ones have been added) while the background story has changed completely. Fans of the old series were largely disappointed because the series was, in the end, Battlestar in name only. And while I think the new series had many great moments, it lacked the easy charm of the original and ran straight off the rails in season three. What does racism or sexism or whatever have to do with this?

(And, remarkably for its day, the original Battlestar had two black male characters (and earned a NAACP nomination for Fire In Space). Save for a single Asian woman, there are no non-white leads in the reboot.)

A rebooted character must live up to the original. IDW’s rebooted MASK features a race-bent Matt Tracker. This isn’t a bad thing. But what is a bad thing is that there is very little of the original Matt in the reboot. The confident proto-Bruce Wayne (right down to the ‘rich idiot with no day job’ secret ID) has been replaced by a unsure team leader, someone who simply isn’t qualified (yet) to serve. His skin colour doesn’t matter. His personality does.

In this case, with Invincible Iron Man, everything has changed, but everything remains the same. As such, the comic is instantly forgettable and a serious disappointment to everyone who was hoping that Riri Williams would develop a voice of her own.

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17 Responses to “Invincible Iron Man #1 (2016) Review”

  1. Richard Parks December 9, 2016 at 1:29 am #

    Chris, I am an old comic book reader, emphasis on the old. The Black Panther is a character in Marvel comics from the late 60’s early 70’s. From what I have seen the new iteration follows the old story line very closely.
    Marvel was very ahead of the times in character development.

    • George Zolin December 9, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

      Correct…. The black panther’s first appearance was in 1966 (I forget the FF issue # but before 60.) Luke Cage first appeared in Hero for Hire (1972). I don’t think James Rhodes actually appeared until 79? 80? (People think he appeared earlier because of flashback scenes with him in Vietnam I think)

  2. PhilippeO December 9, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    “Why does this happen? To paraphrase Heinlein, writers are writing ‘diversity’ characters – not characters who happen to be diverse. ”

    Agree on this. too many attempt by company to make ‘diversity’ or ‘green’ are simply cosmetic. Simply changing one attribute of character often failed to interest reader.

    “The problem with reboots in general is that you have to appeal to both the old fans, who will provide the original customer base, and your prospective new fans.

    A rebooted character must live up to the original. ”

    Disagree with this. Character rebooted when the original no longer ‘financially successful / marketable’. The Reboot is attempt to recycle some hopefully useful old stuff into new stuff that hopefully will be more marketable.

    Why burden is higher for reboot character than original character ?

    Creating new character (diversity or not) to fulfill some old brand (say IRON MAN), should not have higher standard than creating entirely new character (say CHROME GIRL). Why create additional difficulty ? If CHROME GIRL and IRON MAN fulfill same niche (powered armor) then nothing wrong to simple recycle older character title/appearance/symbol/power to make it easier for fans.

    would you demand sports team rename themselves every time they move to another city and replace entire roster ? even individual athlete (Boxer/Pitcher) occasionally have recycled title given by press.

    ” .And while it is very tempting to scream RACIST or SEXIST or whatever whenever anyone objects to a black Iron Man or a Muslim Ms. Marvel or female Ghostbusters, it merely buries the true issue – that the rebooted version is so different that the original and the reboot might as well be completely separate. ”

    RACIST and SEXIST is thrown about because comic book/ film fans do not howl in protest when rebooted WHITE MALE replace the old position, despite major difference.

    if fans did not howl in protest about many change in Green Lantern and Robin, but only protest when race/religion/sex changed, then racist and sexist accusation is certainly true.

    Every Reboot character change, and it always carry risk that new character failed to fulfill the old shoes. Unless you fanatic who insist that only Dick Grayson is ‘real Robin’ then any reboot might change something: personality, background, morality of character. Changing character from ex-military man to cartoon drawers (one of Green Lantern reboot) also carry risk, changing character from male to female, or white to black should be treated the same.

    • Andrew Jones December 9, 2016 at 6:24 am #

      The reason the new characters have to live up to the old one is “New Coke”.

      • PhilippeO December 17, 2016 at 3:21 am #

        New Coke was notable because it is unusual. in most case product always change, recipe of Pepsi, Colonel Sanders KFC, or BigMac burgers had changed several time.

  3. PuffinMuffin December 9, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    It’s strange how no eyelids are batted at Iron Man being played by a teenage girl. Surely the character is male, hence the second word in his name.

    Yet casting a man as Wonder Woman would no doubt cause an immense fuss. Not least being as the costume might need a little alteration.

    Personally I would like to see more superheroes who like cheese and onion crisps. Not doing so is the height of discrimination.

    • Alex December 10, 2016 at 12:09 am #

      To be fair, they’re not really making her the new ironman. The plan is for her to down the road become something slightly new, ‘Ironheart’. Bit like you have spidergirl. but instead of girl, heart, which is probably better in this case.

    • chrishanger December 11, 2016 at 8:59 am #

      There’s no actual reason why a woman can’t wear the armour . Hell, Riri isn’t the first woman to wear the armour.

      Chris

    • Alex December 16, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      Also, Iron man has always been a ‘Fe-male’. forgot to point that out before :p

  4. Maggie December 9, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    I read books for fun, not to be lectured about race. If I want to study I will buy non-fiction.

  5. Alex December 10, 2016 at 12:06 am #

    Whilst I agree that some of these characters are being diversified for the sake of diversification rather than being genuinely compelling characters (also, sometimes they just need a bit of time to get there) I also have no problem with that. We’ve had an over-abundance of really crap white characters in the past too (not including tony stark), and no one seems to be bothered about that. It’s only once they stop being white that anyone seems to care… and I get it. It’s the easy conclusion to jump to. But not in my opinion one that hold up under much scrutiny. Diversity is still alot more important than you seem to give it credit for, shoe-horned in or done well. Just because we’re starting to get more and more non-white characters, doesn’t mean that we’re really all that close yet to having proper representation in media. And sure, for every one done well (I agree ms marvel is a good choice) there are three more are done badly. but the same was true before hand and has always really been the case. At the end of the day, the very definition what makes a character good and interesting means that not all characters can be so. Not helped by the fact alot of writers just aren’t that creative. It’s pretty much just statistics, and I would know, I just did a third year university exam on the stuff. So I think it’s unfair to say that the fact that alot of these characters are being re-written as people of colour is always the root problems for their failings. Because it’s unlikely they’d be a whole lot better if they weren’t doing this.

  6. Conrad Bassett Jr. December 11, 2016 at 12:37 am #

    Herein lies the problem. There has been a complete lack of understanding of the audience that claims diversity is the reason for the comic book movies the way they are . Since I have been collecting comics since the 1970s there has always been diversity in Marvel. Arguably since most people who watch these movies and comment on them are not coming book collectors they use have a different perspective . That perspective is based upon a lack of understanding of the comic books. While there have been some ethnicity changes coming out of Marvel, the changes that are most irritating are storyline and power changes that are not canon within the books .

  7. Ryan December 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

    It’s not just comics, it’s nearly everything. You can watch a TV series or movie and keep a mental checklist for progressive pandering:
    Black character? Check.
    Latin character? Check.
    Asian character? check.
    Gay couple? Check.
    Lesbian couple? Check.

    Then there’s the gender pandering. Try to find a paranormal/urban fantasy/sci-fi/fantasy book written in the last 5 years with a male lead or where male characters aren’t sex toys, piggy banks, enablers for the female characters, or the villain — I can count them on one hand. There are a handful of authors that can write complete characters in those genres (Lindsey Buroker, Rachel Marks, Rachel Aaron, to name a few), but most create Mary Sue’s that are easily forgotten.

    What really gets under my skin is how they’ve infected solid franchises like Star Wars. Rey was a terrible character. They spent so much time trying to make her a badass that they forgot to make her a compelling character. She’s so over the top that she out Mary Sue’s the original Mary Sue from Star Trek fanfiction. There’s very little room for growth for that character. Where do you go after she thrashes her nemesis without a lick of training?

    • Vapori December 14, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      You can make different checklist for different periods, but basically there is always a certain variety of standard casts that shall be appealing to most readers/ watchers.

      That is also Genre specific.
      If you want something without diversity you can read a small town crime fiction, Then you don’t have to deal that much with diversity.

      And if you go back in time, you will find that different times had a different stand cast. Thanks to one of my teacher’s I was forced to read many books, in the period between 1765-85 and also a whoule bunch of Books playing in 1825-1848

      Both periods had their own standard cast, and the main char’s were all the same, and nearly diametrically opposite to each other ,when comparing the two periods.

      If you read enough of one Genre then you will always see the list, and things like diversity will be the same over all genres more or less.

      For excample much more female char’s play the lead in espionage book’s or crime fiction. (Not that I mind)

      Well Rey was still a disgrace.

      But I kinda disagree with you when it comes to high Fantasy, for Urban Fantasy you are sadly right.

    • PhilippeO December 17, 2016 at 3:00 am #

      Thats not progressive pandering, That audience/reader pandering.
      20% of America is non-white, 1-3% is LGBT. since Producer want to include as much customer/reader/audience as much as possible, pandering is low-cost effort to get more audience.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard December 17, 2016 at 3:10 am #

        Nice if you don’t alienate 80% of your current readership.

  8. Kell Harris December 12, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    What I find annoying is either the man is a character and the girl just a love interest or the girl is this balls buster and the guy is one deminsional

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