by Drew Baumgartner and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Drew: My favorite scene of Eve Ewing, Kevin Libranda, and Luciano Vecchio’s Ironheart 1 takes up most of the third act. Riri, exhausted from a day of inventing, superheroing, and unexpected tour-guiding, is rudely woken by her phone. The call is from Riri’s old neighbor, Xavier, whose out-of-the-blue call makes her suspicious. Sure enough, the call was Riri’s mom’s idea — exactly the kind of thoughtful meddling a teen would resent. In spite of this the two find some common ground with their shared enthusiasm for sci-fi and Hip-Hop. But then the other shoe drops, and Xavier blurts out the breathless question quoted above. In many ways, Xavier is articulating the central question of this series: Why is Riri Williams Ironheart?
Superherodom is littered with motivations, some more inspiring than others. Many are compelled by grief, others by the responsibilities their powers bestow upon them, and still others are motivated by a combination of the two. Riri certainly seemed to fit into that mold — she built her first suit after the deaths of her step-father and best friend and she’s a brilliant scientist who managed to reverse-engineer the Iron Man suit at the age of 13, so may have a duty to help humanity. So she offers up as much when Xavier asks, suggesting that she did it because she “could,” but that doesn’t satisfy him. There are countless ways her brilliant mind could help in ending gang violence, so why did she pick such an unusual and dangerous one?
So Riri offers a more satisfying answer in the form of a quote from her grandmother (by way of her father): “Those who move with courage make the path for those who live in fear.” The quote itself doesn’t necessarily justify Riri’s choice to suit up, but her relationship to it certainly does; she’s doing this because it scares her. Sure, drafting public policy or stamping out the black market gun trade in Chicago might be causes she believes in, but they don’t require the kind of courage she values — she needs to literally stand in harms way so that others don’t have to. That’s a motivation I can get behind, especially as Ewing seems poised to complicate it in future issues.
And honestly, that’s the only essential part of this issue for me. Riri’s other conflicts — first with her dean at MIT, then with a supervillain — are fine, but lack the emotional resonance that makes her conversation with Xavier so compelling. Even so, Ewing has a fascinating approach to Riri’s suit, allowing her to hack together novel solutions to common superhero problems.
However, basically every sequence — even the most action-packed ones — are bogged down with too much text. It’s a common enough problem for writers coming from a medium outside of comics that I have confidence Ewing will get the hang of it sooner rather than later, but it kind of stepped on the art throughout the issue.
Which may be why I’m so enamored of that conversation sequence. A phone conversation doesn’t need a lot of room for complicated blocking, which gives Ewing’s words the space they need to feel right. She has a great command of Riri and Xavier’s voices — these definitely sound like real teens — and I suspect that relationship is going to be central to this series. I’d happily read a series of just Riri’s non-superhero adventures as a teen navigating her own lack of social graces. But I’m confident this series will find a balance as Ewing gets more comfortable writing for comics.
Michael, I’m historically pretty bad at evaluating first issues, but I take it as a good sign that I didn’t hate this. There are some intriguing pieces here, and I’m comfortable writing off the weakest bits as first-time jitters. Am I being too charitable?
Michael: Drew I don’t think you’re being too charitable. I think that are right on the money as far as dialogue goes. That last series of panels is loaded with dialogue – well, technically monologue – as Riri is talking aloud trying to science her way out of her dilemma with Clash. This isn’t a new concept by any means, superheroes often talk themselves through their fights – especially the wiz kids like Ironheart and Spider-Man.
Ewing sets a precedent for Riri talking to herself outside of the Ironheart suit earlier in the issue while she’s at MIT. This got me thinking about me thinking about the nature of the superhero monologue in general. Unless they are part of a team superheroes are usually by themselves, so the writer needs to move the story along by A) internal monologue or B) having the hero literally talking to themselves.
The thought bubble pretty much a thing of the past in the realm of comicdom, and Ironheart is a hero of the modern day. I will also echo what Drew said about the authenticity of Riri and Xavier’s voices. Riri Wiliams was created by Brian Michael Bendis, and while I haven’t read much of his work on the character I have to imagine that Eve Ewing – a younger woman of color – would have a better handle on the social morays of teens like Riri and Xavier than Bendis. (I love you Bendis, keep up the good work on Superman!)
However much like Bendis, Ewing gives Riri a sharp wit and a well of pop cultural knowledge. As long as they don’t eat up too many pages, I do enjoy conversations like this one every now and then:
DS9 is overrated by the way. This was a great back and forth that these two accidentally stumbled into: what started off as a courtesy call from Xavier actually turned into a delightful back and forth. Then of course he blew it by asking her that question. Men!
Finally I want to touch on Clash’s lingering effect on Riri. Disclaimer: I haaaaate the tired trope of a villain saying something to the effect of “we’re not so different you and I.” But the way that Ewing presents Riri at the beginning and end of Ironheart 1 lends more credence to Clash’s claims of similarity.
I think we can all relate to feeling unseen in one way or another, but I find this particularly true for artists – whatever that art may be. I been an improvisor in Chicago for a few years but I still get those aunts and uncles asking “when are we gonna see you on Saturday Night Live?” It’s difficult when you are trying to express yourself and your talents but the people around you aren’t getting the right message you are trying to send. Everyone sees Riri for the genius she is, but she doesn’t feel like much more than a tool for a larger machine.
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