Marvel invited some warranted controversy this week when artist J. Scott Campbell‘s variant artwork for the November issue of Invincible Iron Man was released. The star of the series is set to be young Riri Williams, a fifteen year old black girl who is a successor to Tony Stark’s Iron Man mantle and a genius in her own right. Fans have been waiting breathlessly for more information on the series since she was first introduced in this May’s Invincible Iron Man #7, but that excitement was cut short with one very inappropriate cover.
As you can see, a black female character wearing a crop top is depicted in both – but with several key differences. The original artwork by Stefano Caselli did not focus on the definition of her abs, which have clearly been over-exaggerated in the variant. Not only that, but Campbell’s cover severely lightened her skin tone. There’s a very big difference between depicting a mature teenager and over-sexualizing one, and that’s not even touching the huge problems with lightening a dark-skinned heroine.
Women in comics and in all forms of media are often objectified, which is something that needs to be corrected. However, it’s more egregious because young black girls specifically are treated as adults when they shouldn’t be and often denied their childhood. There certainly aren’t enough positive depictions of black girls in comics to let this kind of objectification slide, and Twitter certainly didn’t. After fans and artists alike joined together to tweet the #TeensThatLookLikeTeens hashtag all day yesterday (thanks to @MizCaramelVixen), Marvel seems to have responded by releasing some more samples of Stefano Caselli’s vision of Riri.
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) October 20, 2016
It’s most likely damage control, but it shows that the team behind Invincible Iron Man has a good idea of what a young black heroine looks like. Her personality is already shining through in a few simple sketches, and my enthusiasm at least has been restored. That being said, obviously someone signed off on the cover that ignited this week’s criticism. The addition of more black female writers and writers, as well as other artists of color, could go a long way towards preventing future instances of insensitivity. At least for now, it feels safe to say that Riri Williams is safe in Casello’s hands.
UPDATE: According to Hitfix, the variant cover in question was cancelled. Further proof that social media can help make our voices heard.
Invicible Iron Man #1 will be in comic stores on November 9th.