Marvel Comics turned heads on Wednesday when it was announced that Tony Stark, better known as the Invincible Iron Man, will step outside of his super-powered suit and pass the reigns to a Black girl named Riri Williams. The character is just the latest in a growing line of Black female superheroes, although racial parity in the comic books world still has a long way to go.
Black female lead characters in the comics are part of a largely barren landscape with a few bright spots here and there in comparison to white characters that dominate the pages.
In 1971, the debut of the character Butterfly is considered as the first Black female superhero. Butterfly appeared in the pages of the Hell-Rider comic, which was distributed by now-defunct Atomic Comics. The character had a short run of just two appearances, however.
Ororo Munroe, better known as Marvel’s X-Men member, Storm, made her debut in 1975. Storm is the first Black female superhero to star at one of the mainstream comic houses. Still popular today in the X-Men movies, Storm is played by Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry and newcomer Alexandra Shipp.
DC Comics followed suit in 1981 with the introduction of African warrior Vixen, the first for the comic book brand. Vixen was supposed to have her own standalone comic in 1978, which was delayed.
But Vixen has enjoyed resurgence lately when a spin-off series under her name debuted in 2015 as part of the universe built inside CW’s Arrow television series. The animated show has been renewed and will debut its second season later this year.
Several Black female superheroes are still part of Marvel and DC’s lineup, but none enjoy the commercial name recognition of their male counterparts. With the introduction of Riri Williams, that could soon change.
According to an exclusive Time Magazine interview with creator Brian Michael Bendis, who is white, Williams is a teen student at MIT who creates a similar Iron Man style suit via reverse engineering. Her aptitude and mental gifts catches the attention of the billionaire Stark, who then decides to mentor the young genius. No word yet if Riri Williams will make a film debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but hopeful fans are already chomping at the bit.