Riri Williams is the new Iron Man. The 15-year-old girl is set to make her debut variant cover appearance in the third issue of Invincible Iron Man this month, replacing Tony Stark in his powered armor suit made brought to life by Robert Downey Jr.
News that Riri would be taking the reins was heralded as a win for social justice warriors, who have been making inroads in turning the comic book medium into a vehicle for social justice over the past few years. The new character is set to permanently replace Tony Stark after he went missing during the events of Civil War II. The only thing that remains of Tony, apart from his creations, is his simulated personality embedded within the suit.
Given that social justice is involved, an opportunity for outrage soon presented itself. The variant cover art drawn by artist J. Scott Campbell became the subject of controversy as soon as it was revealed.
Across social media and comics enthusiast websites, many were quick to object to Campbell’s portrayal of Riri, calling it oversexualized and too “grown up.” Riri, who can be seen in her everyday clothes, is wearing her signature crop top and bears a physique that could be best described as “fit.” This caused an ever-so-predictable outcry that the artist had done the character, who has yet to be given a proper personality, a disservice.
Midtown Comics, which was set to publish the variant for Marvel, has since pulled it from the shelves.
“This is gross,” wrote Donna Dickens of Hitfix, who led the outrage parade. “I have a fifteen-year-old. They are caught in the hellscape that is transitioning from a child to an adult. It is gangly and awkward and full of rightful angst over this strange metamorphosis. But as grown-up, as they feel, a fifteen-year-old is not an adult. They are children.”
Campbell was gracious towards his detractors on Twitter and said that he would be more mindful of illustrating such representations in the future, but defended his art.
“Perhaps given this feedback I could’ve drawn Riri younger,” said Campbell in a series of replies. “but I can assure you, ‘sexual’ was not what I was going for. I was going for ‘sassy attitude’ if that didn’t come across then I’m disappointed, but that’s the extent of it. Sometimes these covers, like this one, are drawn in haste to meet a deadline and you have fly by the seat of your pants and fall back a bit on instinct rather than ultra-careful thought. Perhaps with more time, I could’ve contemplated another more nuanced approach. I have young daughters and I would not be embarrassed for them to see this cover.”
This didn’t go well with the outrage crusaders, who tried to smear Campbell as some sort of creep.
“Comic books should not be a young girl’s source of validation,” he said. “They’re fantasy, escapism. Most superheroes are exaggerations. Superman and Batman don’t make me feel bad as a male, I know they’re unrealistic fantasy men. And that’s OK. Comics aren’t real.”
If you’re celebrating getting an artist’s work pulled as some kind of win, you’re the reason so many people are speaking out against censorship.