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Review: ‘Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage’

Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage
Writer: Eve L. Ewing
Artists: Luciano Vecchio, Kevin Libranda, Geoffo and Matt Milla
Marvel Entertainment; $17.99
Rated T for Teen

Riri Williams, the armored Marvel superhero now known as Ironheart, was initially introduced in 2015, about halfway through writer Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the Iron Man character. The idea seemed to be to make her as different from the gregarious billionaire playboy Tony Stark as possible, not just in a demographic sense, but also in personality. What makes writer Eve L. Ewing’s comic book series interesting, though, is the ways that Ironheart is like Iron Man, at least in the most broad strokes, even if the details or depictions differ. Both characters are really smart and both characters, in Marvel Comics tradition, are troubled.

Riri is, obviously, a super-genius. She built her own super-armor in her garage and was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she maintains a huge personal high-tech lab, at the tender age of 15. Ewing makes a point of showing how smart Riri is, though, not just via the gadgets and gimmicks that pop out of her armor to address a wide array of challenges, but by having her think her way through, and ultimately science her way out of, most of the conflicts she finds herself in.

For example, the first of the six issues collected in Those With Courage find her trying to rescue a group of hostages from a similarly smart villain who uses sound waves in his weaponry, and she has to divide her thinking to solve multiple problems at once in order to win the fight and save the day.

As for her troubles, while Tony Stark traditionally struggled with the guilt of being a cog in the military industrial complex and, later, alcoholism, Riri comes from Chicago and lost both her stepfather and her best friend to the city’s rampant gun violence. She deals with this mostly by not dealing with it, avoiding her mother’s regular entreaties to join her at a support group… or even just get out of her lab and talk to other human beings. Gradually throughout this volume, Riri makes progress on that front.

While comparing a legacy character like Ironheart with the older superhero that inspired them is perhaps inevitable, Ewing notably divorces Ironheart from Iron Man so thoroughly that the latter never appears within the first half-dozen issues and is barely even mentioned. The only superhero Riri teams up with here is Spider-Man Miles Morales, who is similarly a black, teenage legacy version of a white, first-generation Marvel superhero from the 1960s (both Miles and Riri are members of The Champions, a teenage super-team answer to The Avengers).

That team-up occurs in the sixth and final of the issues herein. The first five form a consistent story arc introducing Riri and her emerging supporting cast, as she divides her time between her Chicago home and Boston, becoming embroiled in a conflict involving a corrupt politician, a Fagin-like ring of child thieves, and a mysterious, mystical super-ninja that plays Darth Vader to Riri’s Luke Skywalker, trying to tempt her to the dark side.

Given Ewing’s background as a poet and a relative newcomer to comics-scripting, her Ironheart is surprisingly polished, and each issue is quite full, offering a denser, more eventful read than many super-comics of the same page-count. That said, there’s nothing about the execution of these early issues that necessarily dramatically distinguish or differentiate Ironheart from the many other comics about smart, witty, diverse teenage heroes Marvel is currently publishing. Judged against the likes of The Magnificent Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, The Runaways, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, The Unstoppable Wasp and so on, it’s solid but unremarkable.

Visually, Ironheart is a strikingly designed character, the shape of her armor resembling a smaller, sleeker version of Iron Man’s, further separated from his by more striking colors⁠—black, gold, and a red that leans into fuchsia⁠—and a few glowing heart symbols, one atop her helmet and another on her chest. The interior art is the work of Luciano Vecchio, Kevin Libranda, and Geoffo, the last of whom is credited simply with “additional layouts.”

Their artwork is fairly standard for modern Marvel, above average super-comic style that is every bit as effective as depicting scenes of civilians talking as super-people flying around and fighting each other. In that respect too, then, Ironheart is perfectly good, but nothing that transcends the genre.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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