Invincible Iron Man 1

issinvincible-iron-man-1

Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Invincible Iron-Man 1, originally released November 9th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS!

Taylor: For many, it is a dark time. The forces of prejudice, greed, misunderstanding, and hate have conspired to elect a man of questionable values to the highest office in the United States. Unlike a lot of bad situations, many people are finding it difficult to find any sort of silver-lining to this circumstance. When the nation so emphatically states that they would rather choose a man who would divide us rather than a woman who promises unity, it’s hard not to see the logic in this thinking. But there are still wonderful things in the world. Just because ugliness triumphs for a day, it doesn’t mean that the beauty society has created thus far has been destroyed. Maybe that’s hyperbole, but on a day like today, Invincible Iron Man reminds me that all is not lost.

Tony Stark is dead — only living on as a digital ghost. Taking up his mantle is Riri Williams, a young girl who also happens to be a super genius. Though she feels unprepared to become Iron Man, Riri does her best when the world needs her. When Animax goes on a rampage in Montana, Riri shows up to confront her and along the way learns some important lessons on being a hero.

The thing that most stands out about this issue, unsurprisingly, is who is in the Iron Man suit. Riri Williams is basically the antithesis of Tony Stark in all but her intelligence. Born to an average family in Chicago, Riri, who is both black and a girl, couldn’t be more different from Tony Stark who was white, male, and born with a silver spoon in his mouth. However, despite their outer differences they are the same in the most important, essential ways. Riri is a hero and despite her reservations about not knowing how to be a one, still forges ahead to save the day. This headstrong nature and the willingness to help others is something she and Tony share, and in that regard it’s not hard to see why she is now Iron Man.

What makes Riri a convincing hero, aside from her conviction, are the hurtles she’s overcome to get where she is today. As a youngster, she acted out because she was bored by her toys. She often eschewed friends in favor of tinkering in the garage. She was shown love, though, by her step-dad and her best friend, Natalie. Cruelly, these two important figures are taken from her early in life.

from-the-ashes

While I hate seeing Chicago once again vilified as a city of violence, the power of this scene isn’t lessened by it. There is something powerful about knowing that Riri has faced seeing her loved ones murdered before her but still choosing to be a hero. It would be so easy for Riri to bend under the ugliness of the world and use her immense talent for ill. Instead, she remembers the lessons her step-dad taught her and always finds the silver lining in situations, even on the dark days.

Speaking of which, the pacing of this issue is great and it leads to one of its best moments. The issue opens with a flashback to when Riri was a child and her parents find out she is a “super genius.” The doctor Riri’s parents are talking to says that most of all Riri needs love. That she needs to be shown the beauty of the world.

what-does-ri-ri-need

This panel, spoken by the doctor, leads to Riri finishing his sentence on the next page, in the future, flying in an Iron Man suit. It is glorious.

love-it

This comes at the beginning of the issue before it’s learned that Riri has had two important people in her life taken from her. Reading the issue a second time, it’s wonderful to see that she still loves the world. It is a beautiful and heartening moment. Despite the ugliness of her circumstances, Riri refuses to surrender and give in. She is resilient and optimistic. In other words she is a hero. I can’t think of a better person to be the new Iron Man because Riri knows how bad things can get, but still fights for what is good.

Drew, I’m aware I’m writing through the lens of the day’s events but I’m really energized by this issue. Does it do the the same for you? Perhaps looking at it without the lens of emotion, do you find it as good as I do? True, it’s a typical superhero origin story, but on some days that’s just exactly what you need. A story to show you that the world is still a wonderful place.

Drew: And that anyone can still aspire to be anything. When this series was announced, there were plenty of naysayers saying that a girl couldn’t be Iron Man, and it’s hard not to feel a little bit like those naysayers won this week (a woman can’t be Mister President), but this issue’s strengths stand as a rebuke to that attitude. This issue certainly has the trappings of an origin story, but I think the key tweak is that all of the origin stuff happens in flashbacks — our first glimpse of the present day is that splash page of Riri flying to the rescue in her Iron Man suit. That is, she’s already Iron Man. We get some context as to how and why a 15-year-old might be both qualified and motivated to do such a thing, but this issue seems less about those questions as it is about the fact that she’s Iron Man now (with maybe a little “deal with it” thrown in to goose the haters).

Taylor, I’m 100% with you that this issue was well-paced. The kind of loose sketch approach writer Brian Michael Bendis brings to her origin allows this issue to tell her story with remarkable efficiency. Indeed, the issue is comprised of only five distinct scenes (though admittedly, the battle with Animax in the present day is split into three instalments), but they are key scenes that establish the stakes for Riri and her mother. Scene 1 is set ten years ago, where that psychologist explains that Riri is a super genius and impresses the importance of love and support from her parents. Scene 2 is set five years ago, where Riri’s mother encourages her to go have play in the park rather than tinkering with her latest invention — Riri seems to be bucking an semblance of a normal childhood until she meets her best friend, Natalie. Scene 3 is set two years ago where Riri chafes under the rote support of her stepfather before both her stepfather and Natalie are killed in the crossfire of a gang shooting. Scene 4 (split up into interstitials that slot between each of these other scenes) catches up with the present day and finds Riri battling Animax, learning the ropes and discovering that she needs an AI in order to be most effective. Scene 5 finds Riri returning home after her adventure, revealing that she’s superheroing with her mother’s blessing before a courier delivers Tony Stark’s digital consciousness, who volunteers to serve as the AI Riri needs.

I skipped the previous volume of Invincible Iron Man, so Riri is a completely new character to me, but those five scenes are really all I needed to get completely invested in what she’s doing. It helps that artist Stefano Caselli imbues those scenes with all the gravitas we expect of a superhero origin, preparing iconic images ready for title pages, flashbacks, or other summaries of Riri’s early years. Taylor managed to capture many of the big ones above, but I’ll happily zero in on one of the smaller moments that I think is essential to Riri’s story:

friendship

This scene spends a good deal of time emphasizing that Riri doesn’t really have a normal childhood. Her mom has to force her to stop doing work and to go out to play — basically the opposite of any other ten-year-old. Riri is peerless, and the obvious implication is that she’s friendless, too. Natalie’s arrival seems to teak Riri’s priorities, grounding her with a real human connection we see bloom in just a few beautifully concise panels.

The other relationship that grabbed my attention in this issue was Riri’s relationship with her mother. Specifically, the fact that Riri’s mom knows and seems to be okay with the fact that her teenage daughter is fighting crime in a homemade Iron Man suit. I’m struggling to think of superheroes — especially teen superheroes — who aren’t hiding their superheroing from their parents. It feels like fresh ground to me, and promises to deliver stories completely different from the typical “I can’t tell Aunt May why I’m late for dinner” premises that have been used to add drama teen superhero stories from time immemorial. We don’t get a ton in the way of specific characterization for Riri’s mom in this issue (her cautiousness with the mysterious box seems completely counter to the notion that she would let her daughter fly around and fight crime), but I’m excited to see that relationship explored down the line.

I tend to think of writer Brian Michael Bendis as being very good with first issues, and this one is no exception. It carries us through all of the beats of an origin story, but really cutting it down to just those beats so the story can breathe. It’s a thrilling introduction to this character and her world, and features art that nails every one of those beats, from petty arguments with parents to fist-pumping superhero action. Time will tell if the series delivers on all of the promise of this issue, but I think we could all use something to be optimistic about right now.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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5 comments on “Invincible Iron Man 1

  1. Hey, so neither of us mentioned the cop shooting at Riri. It’s a loaded image, but is treated as an almost non-event within the issue itself. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by narratives that deal with bullet-proof black people confronting the police in much more nuanced and compelling ways (Super and Luke Cage spring to mind), but it felt odd to throw such a grenade into the issue so nonchalantly. I’m certain Bendis will return to this idea in future issues, but it’s odd to place it in this one without the space to give it its due.

    • I found it odd to, especially considering Riri’s suit makes her so racially ambiguous. Even with her hands currently being revealed, it is hard to treat the Ironheart suit as a clear symbol of black power, which would give meaning to a police shooting her. IT did feel like there was enough to make a racial statement. Just the ordinary ‘police officer accidentally shoots the superhero in a misunderstanding’. Are we supposed to to focus more on Riri’s response? Is this supposed to be about Riri’s opinion on cops?

      Also, I’m interested in how you think Luke Cage confronted police brutality in a compelling way. I was disappointed in how all of the police violence was caused by the manipulations of black people, including the black politician who was supposedly fighting to keep Harlem black. And how most of the time, the police, under their limited information, were in the right. They had reason to believe Luke Cage specifically was a killer. No matter how many hoodies Luke wore, Luke Cage’s situations never seemed comparable to Trayvon Martin’s.

  2. The big idea in this issue is connection. That is Riri’s big problem. She is at a high risk of alienation, by virtue of who she is. In fact, one thing I especially love is that her parents are well intentioned, but not actually good at their attempts to connect. They know the risks, and are trying their best. But her mother says ‘go to the park’ and her stepfather says ‘it’s a nice day’. I loved how after it was clearly established that Riri had never really connected to her stepfather, he heroically sacrifices his life to protect the daughter he loves. Her parents love her and are doing everything they can for her, they just don’t know how.

    That is what is so important about Natalie. The secret to why Natalie succeeds where her parents fail is obvious. Her parents, with the best of intentions, try and force Riri out into the world. But Natalie takes interest in Riri’s work. What her mother dismisses as toys is something that Natalie finds amazing. Riri’s connection to the world comes from the fact that she finds someone who is willing to respect her place in it. Natalie isn’t a genius, by all appearances. In fact, when Riri and Natalie talk at the barbecue, they are talking about Natalie’s crush. But Natalie accepts Riri for who she is. And finding someone who respects her is what shows Riri the beauty in the world, fills her heart and soul, makes her experience life…

    And so, the tension with Riri is what she does when Natalie dies. Iron Man has always been closely linked with ideas around obsession. The same singular drive that makes Tony Stark a superhero is what destroys him. Causes Tony Stark to get caught in a spiral of self destruction. And you can see Riri on that same path. We know that she is missing that link (though her mother seems to be doing better, taking interest in her superhero activities). And the same thing driving her to be a superhero is the same thing that could cause her self destructive spiral.

    But now, she has a new connection. Tony Stark. It is honestly quite perfect how this works as a metaphor. Riri works best when she has human connection, and as Ironheart, she is at her best when she has an AI. And now, Tony must go from hero to mentor. As Riri’s connection to the world, he must do what Natalie once did, and fill her soul etc. And he must teach her to avoid his mistakes, avoid the path of self destruction. This is, of course, hard when this comes moments after his ultimate act of self destruction – starting a Civil War after a nervous breakdown caused by the death of his best friend.

    Bendis’ run started well, though quickly fell apart by the sudden decision to do Civil War. But both the Riri Williams and Doom stories have had even better starts, and will hopefully be free from implosion. Can’t wait to read more, especially of Riri.

    And I have to say, the choice to make the character suffering alienation a young black girl is perfect. And the idea of a superhero who just flies out of the garage

    • I also found Riri’s alienation to be pretty compelling. I couldn’t help but draw the comparison to Lunella, who is a similarly anti-social kid with an incredible aptitude for science. It’s interesting to note that they’re both black girls, and I’m sure there’s something to be extrapolated from the sudden spike in that character type, but I’m not sure I know what it is.

      Ultimately, I think Riri’s parents are some of the more fascinating components of this origin story. They know what they need to do to help, they’re just not very good at it. Or maybe they are? Riri’s dad tells her every day that it’s a good day, even when it’s raining and even when she makes fun of him for saying it. Is he really trying to trick her into thinking each day is a positive thing? Nah, he’s making every day good by interacting with her every day. Isolation is so real and so powerful, we should never underestimate the value of a connection, no matter how trivial it is.

      • Yeah. Riri’s parents are fascinating. They are certainly helping. Her stepfather isn’t trying to trick her, and is just trying to remind her every day of the beauty of the world. And honestly, while it creates a strained relationship, it is also something I can see giving Riri some strength when she needs it. I can see the scene during some big epic storyline where that one line gives her strength to continue. And I think it is very notable that we see none of Natalie’s family at the barbecue. For all their struggles, they know the one person who works better than anyone else. And so they invite her everywhere. It doesn’t have to be an event to justify Natalie’s presence. Treating her like Riri’s sister is probably the best thing they’ve ever done with her. So yeah, it is going to be interesting to see what happens next with Riri’s mother. The really interesting thing will be her reaction to the fact that the new Natalie is going to be a machine. How will she view an AI? Will she see it as Tony Stark, or a machine that is pushing Riri away? And yeah, I can’t wait to see how the value of the smaller connections Riri has with her family manifest.

        On the Riri/Lunaella comparison, I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that trying to be successful and a black woman is alienating. The world is rigged against you to an extraordinary way. She’ll live in a world that just does not have space for her, because sadly we don’t give enough positions of power to black woman. So when you live in a world that doesn’t let you be with everyone else because of who you are, the fantasy of being able to overcome it is a powerful and evocative one

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