Question: When is an Invincible Iron Man book not an Invincible Iron Man book?

Answer: When Brian Michael Bendis needs to buoy sales while his new — seemingly perfect — female character named Ironheart tries to gain traction with potential customers.

If you want to know how the progression of Riri Williams is going over at Marvel these days, all you need to know is that the editorial philosophy seems to be that all new female characters need to be perfect to avoid criticism from feminists on Tumblr. The problem for writers like Mr. Bendis, however, is that “perfect” tends to translate “boring” on the page.

Humans have flaws, which is one of the many reasons why Peter Parker and Tony Stark are so relatable. When a character is the most intelligent, funniest, superaweseomecoolest (on word) person in the room, then it’s just lame.

Anyway, if you want to hear the full rundown, then check out my latest YouTube review for IIM #2 and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

15 comments

  1. This is the thing that Marvel is doing that is going to bite them in the butt. They create these “new” characters (most of whom are legacy or mantle-sharing ones), they mark off every diversity checklist box, and they proceed to treat these new characters with kid gloves. It’s so boring.

    They have a line with these characters that they cannot cross because of backlash from the fan base they are pandering to with these characters. They can only go so far, only give them certain flaws and negative character traits for fear of crossing that line and be accused of writing the character “wrong” and blamed for belittling whatever diversity or minority that character represents.

    In their quest for diversity, they ignored the diversity of character, of flaws, of personality. All of the characters like Riri have to be smarter and better and cooler and funnier than the hero they are supplanting. You end up with a Burger King kid’s club of sarcastic, young and hip heroes that are pretty much the same as each other once you get beneath the surface.

    The heroes they are replacing, the heroes that CAN cross that line are more interesting when you look beneath their surface, They can fail horribly, they can make terrible mistakes, they can have real and human flaws that can make us hate them at times. But we keep reading because they are interesting, we can relate, and we want to see them pull themselves up from their flaws and bad choices. With Riri, her only flaws so far seem to be: “I’m too good at my job, I care a little too much.”

    They want to have more representation so much (which is fine), but they have to write these representations in such a way that the character ends up dull and can never reach their full potential, because the characterization and writing necessary to do so is forbidden. The Batgirl cover, the X-Men:Apocalypse billboard and many other examples show to me that for certain people only certain kinds of representation is fine, but certain situations, acts, and characterizations are off limits for portrayal for these characters because someone, somewhere will be offended. I want more diversity and representation too, but I want the good AND the bad that comes with diversity and representation, not just have everything be positive and have untouchable elements for certain characters.

    1. “This is the thing that Marvel is doing that is going to bite them in the butt. They create these ‘new’ characters (most of whom are legacy or mantle-sharing ones), they mark off every diversity checklist box, and they proceed to treat these new characters with kid gloves. It’s so boring.”

      Agreed. They definitely seem to have an internal checklist running that they use to gauge how happy it will make the Tumblr-activist crowd.

      “In their quest for diversity, they ignored the diversity of character, of flaws, of personality. All of the characters like Riri have to be smarter and better and cooler and funnier than the hero they are supplanting. You end up with a Burger King kid’s club of sarcastic, young and hip heroes that are pretty much the same as each other once you get beneath the surface.”

      Boom. That’s a great way to put it. I often think of the Burger King Kid’s Club when it seems like movie writers say, “Okay, so we need to make sure we have one white guy, one asian, one Hispanic kid, and then one black kid.” It’s so weird when it feels like someone was having an ulcer over whether or not the percentage breakdowns were perfectly in line with a diversity wish list.

      “Her only flaws so far seem to be: ‘I’m too good at my job, I care a little too much.‘”

      Haha! Exactly. Why doen’t Bendis see how ridiculous this is coming across? It’s so obvious! He must have some serious ideological blinders on.

      “They want to have more representation so much (which is fine), but they have to write these representations in such a way that the character ends up dull and can never reach their full potential, because the characterization and writing necessary to do so is forbidden. The Batgirl cover, the X-Men:Apocalypse billboard and many other examples show to me that for certain people only certain kinds of representation is fine, but certain situations, acts, and characterizations are off limits for portrayal for these characters because someone, somewhere will be offended. I want more diversity and representation too, but I want the good AND the bad that comes with diversity and representation, not just have everything be positive and have untouchable elements for certain characters.”

      Again, you’ve hit the mark. They want to do the whole “girl power!” thing, but suddenly when Apocalypse is choking out Mystique people are freaking out. Ummm, okay. Is she really a superhero then if we can’t show her getting her teeth knocked out by a villain? They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

    2. This entire write-up gets it.

      Lets be truly honest, this applies to all media and is the real reason Hollywood both sucks up to, but fails to satisfy the regular minority audience.

      They are caught…They can’t write a decent story for a minority character, unless they have ‘the right color’ person write it, shrinking the pool of talent for the work. Having to meet the narrow demands of the social justice audience, and still having mansions to pay for…they end up pissing off the audience they claim to care about. Thus the ‘white oscar’ garbage.

      In comics, many of the writers are either writing for an audience they don’t really know, or are heavily invested in promoting a worldview. Sadly most minority writers are solidly in the latter camp, while white writers are in the former. I hate to break it down like that, but it’s divisions these guys make for themselves.

  2. Hey Doug,

    Just wanted to wish you and your family all the very best for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers!

    1. “Just wanted to wish you and your family all the very best for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Keep up the good work.”

      Merry Christmas, Magnetic Eye! As always, thanks for taking the time to stop in, read, and comment. I’m eternally grateful for everyone who gives my musings their precious time. I am 100% sincere when I say that. 🙂

  3. What I don’t get is how you see this so clearly with Riri but not with Rey from Force Awakens. Absolutely everything you said is applicable to both, but for some reason everyone just lets it go with Rey, or even tries to say totally undeserved good things about her.

    Nobody wants to see a girl get beat down like Luke did over and over, and she can’t be allowed to fail and struggle like Luke did all throughout the films, so she gets all his powers, Obi Wan’s powers, Vader’s powers, etc. with no effort whatsoever and she gets to win the first time she picks up a sword against a trained and experienced dark jedi (who is nominally injured, but we have no idea how seriously and Abrams was too lazy to actually have him act hurt for more than a few seconds).

    Basically female action stars don’t really work, especially if you try to put them in male-style roles. You can have a Princess Leia but a female version of Luke is a terrible idea and sucks. Same with Tony Stark.

    1. What I don’t get is how you see this so clearly with Riri but not with Rey from Force Awakens. Absolutely everything you said is applicable to both, but for some reason everyone just lets it go with Rey, or even tries to say totally undeserved good things about her.”

      If this were anyone other than you, then I would be rather annoyed with that comment. But I’m not. I’m just puzzled. When did I ever put forth any strenuous defense of Rey or show an obliviousness to your concern? I did no such thing, and you can go back to my Dec. 19, 2015, review of The Force Awakens for the exact quotes.

      In response to someone bringing up exactly the points you did, my reply was: “You make very good points about Rey. I agree with you, and I suspect if anyone other than J.J. Abrams tried to pull off the über levels of ‘girl power’ she displayed, then it would have really annoyed me. It was there…it was done tactfully.”

      In response to a similar point by another reader, I said: “I think my opinion of Rey will in many ways be determined by whether or not Kylo Ren wins ‘Round 2.’ I feel as though Episode VIII should really showcase the power of The Dark side… It will be this generation’s ‘Empire Strikes Back.'”

      There was zero denial on my part that this was a concern, and my stance has been that in many ways I’m withholding full judgment on this matter until after Episode VIII comes out. Why? Because there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about Rey’s past, who she is, her connection to Luke, etc. And because I think Rian Johnson is going to knock it out of the park.

      That seems entirely reasonable to me, just as I said I would give Bendis’ Riri Williams a handful of issues to see what she’s all about. In Bendis’ case I’m being extremely generous because he has never shown any fidelity to a character like Tony Stark’s legacy when it interferes with is plans.

    2. “What I don’t get is how you see this so clearly with Riri but not with Rey from Force Awakens. Absolutely everything you said is applicable to both, but for some reason everyone just lets it go with Rey, or even tries to say totally undeserved good things about her.”

      I haven’t read the “Iron Man” comic, so I can’t compare that directly, but I can say that the description Douglas provides does not really match what we have gotten of Rey from “Star Wars” so far.

      “Nobody wants to see a girl get beat down like Luke did over and over, and she can’t be allowed to fail and struggle like Luke did all throughout the films, so she gets all his powers, Obi Wan’s powers, Vader’s powers, etc. with no effort whatsoever…”

      First of all, Rey has her own struggles. We see her lying to herself, afraid to move beyond the familiar despite knowing that she’s just hurting herself, a tendency to avoid problems by running from them, making emotional decisions, and low self-esteem, as a starting point. Not the same as what Luke may have had, but they’re there.

      Also, there are a few problems with the whole she uses the Force effortlessly thing. For starters, she struggles with the mind trick and we have no evidence yet whether she figured it out all the way or just got lucky as she was trying to hit the right notes (mastery is being able to repeat on cue, we haven’t seen her do that yet).

      We also know that newbie Force-sensitives can perform some Force stunts untrained, which is what Rey does. Furthermore, the other things we see her do have been stuff that are early-level skills (even the mind trick is a Padawan thing). For example, we know that Luke self-taught himself telekinesis over a couple practice sessions. In comparison to other newbie Jedi characters, Rey is actually more or less baseline normal, not overpowered (based on what we know do far).

      “…and she gets to win the first time she picks up a sword against a trained and experienced dark jedi…”

      Bear in mind the movie did show she has some experience with melee weapons and she was loosing big time until she made the Force connection (which we canonically know was allowing her see what he was going to do before it happened). In other words, she only won because of special circumstances (we saw how it would’ve turned out had Kylo been at full strength, and even then she would’ve been recaptured had Finn not been there).

      “…(who is nominally injured, but we have no idea how seriously and Abrams was too lazy to actually have him act hurt for more than a few seconds).”

      I’m going to cry foul for a few reasons:

      A.) We’re shown how powerful the gun that shot him was, so we know that that had to hurt big time and be really damaging.

      B.)We SEE Kylo’s wound bleeding all over the place and him smacking it several times through the duel.

      C.) He seems to get worse and more sloppy as the duel goes on (I will admit that this could be is subjective).

      D.) We SEE how he’s being affected; he effortlessly uses a big telekinesis push at the beginning, but half-way through, struggles to use the same skill to grab the lightsaber.

      So, it’s there and not forgotten.

      “Basically female action stars don’t really work…”

      Can’t say I’m so sure about that, but whatever.

      “…especially if you try to put them in male-style roles. You can have a Princess Leia but a female version of Luke is a terrible idea and sucks. Same with Tony Stark.”

      There’s nothing inherently male about Luke’s role in the original movie.

      The problem here is that Rey is not a female Luke, despite their similar origins and the fact they’re both Force users. Even in their first movies they have different motivations (Luke wants to escape home for adventure; Rey wants a family to belong to), they seem to have different character arcs (we get a lot of Luke needing to let go of his wish for adventure, Rey has really low self-esteem off the bat and needs a push that she’s has a better future than the one she’s picked for herself), they even seem to have different drives (Luke really wanted to be a Jedi like his father was, Rey’s biggest motivation right now seems to be remaining connected with the surrogate family she picked up over the course of the movie).

      So, in conclusion, I submit that Rey is not a “perfect” character, insanely overpowered without flaws, or simply a female version of a male character, since she’s shown in the movie to have emotional complexity, flaws, and a character arc, her skill level is normal for Force users of her level of experience (and makes sense, given her backstory so far), her winning the duel makes sense in the context of what we know and are shown (and she still has to earn it the hard way), and she’s a character of her own design, with a different starting point and lessons learned through the movie.

    1. “Anyway, Merry Christmas to you and yours Doug! Thanks for the enjoyable content and discussion!”

      Merry Christmas, man. I may do a “State of the Blog Address” in the near future. I’ll definitely be blogging in 2017, but I do want to take some time to answer some questions that may be on readers’ minds…

  4. Luke wanted to break free from family. Rey desperately wants family.

    Luke wanted to get off Tatooine. Rey spends almost the whole movie trying to get back to Jakka.

    Luke bungles the Force until the very very end of #4, and even then it was just one task (hit the vent). Rey from the beginning shows signs of being a Force prodigy (in the SWU there are such people).

    My daughter and I have a theory. Which character from the original trilogy might produce a daughter who: grows up to be a scavenger who cut deals with pirate-types; instinctively knows how to fly and repair the Falcon; is liked by Chewie as soon as he meets her; and instinctively understands Wookie language? Then what if **that** character’s daughter (illegitimate, maybe? Unknown to him, maybe?) had huge Force powers? Would that character’s best friend maybe want to take her under his wing and train her? Would her half-brother maybe feel unwilling to kill his own little sister?

  5. I’ve noticed a similar trend in the Ultimates #1. I actually mentally predicted what would happen to the characters after only reading the first two pages, and glumly trudged through the rest of the book. It was clear that minority characters were all confident, competent, and funny. (Watch the Captain America movie Civil War, and just casually focus on the characterization of the Black Panther.) Galactus was the white male god whose appetite made him intrinsically corrupt. The heroes proceeded to fairly effortlessly cure him and turn him into the Lifebringer. In the abstract it’s a great idea, i think, but the execution was absolutely terrible. There is no dramatic tension, because the heroes are so super-wonderful-perfect-and-aware-of-it. Yawn.

    I’ve always been fascinated because Galactus highlighted a central paradox of super-types, in what might be a corollary of Peter Parker’s dictum, reframed as “With great power comes great necessity.” Necessity of input, of energy needs. For a god to do his thing, he would need to ingest godlike quantities of energy. Galactus, then, is not some grotesque metaphysical anomaly, but instead is a perfect exemplar of the human condition – he can do awesome things at a terribly high, selfish cost to the environment around him. Humans accomplish extraordinary things, but we’re gobbling up precious oil and ruining the air and water while we worship a forever-growing GDP and power our knowledge economy to do achieve it. Cooperation is the only way out of the bind.

    Marvel’s approach to storytelling is the purest example I’ve personally ever seen of propaganda. Undiluted by nuance and streamlined to uncanny perfection. Free of internal messiness or contradiction. Notice how Marvel has primarily not created new characters, but have simply erased old ethnic identities for newer, multicultural selves. It’s odd; it’s symbolic of the zeitgeist, too – white identity is problematic and ‘solved’ by erasure, by the use of ‘white-out’, to riff on a meme. A truly diverse, heroic roster would be inclusionary in the grand sense and include all colors, including white, in the rainbow. (That’s the point of the rainbow metaphor!) Instead, we have the current culture’s deliberately zero-sum, binary emphasis upon white supremacy/people of color. It’s ludicrously narrow in its conceputalization and tedious to digest in a narrative format.

    Diversity requires a moral transformation, I think. It is one of a handful of paradigm shifts that need to happen in the 21st century for us humans to rise to the challenges we collectively face; but Marvel is spineless acceding to the wrong framing of our cultural problems. Their well-intentioned but bone-headed philosophy is wrongheaded from the outset. Downstream of this, their cowardice is also deadly dull, like you said. I can only hope the worst of this zeitgeist is only a fad, and that the noble elements of it will survive.

    1. “There is no dramatic tension, because the heroes are so super-wonderful-perfect-and-aware-of-it. Yawn.

      Exactly.

      “Marvel’s approach to storytelling is the purest example I’ve personally ever seen of propaganda. Undiluted by nuance and streamlined to uncanny perfection. Free of internal messiness or contradiction. Notice how Marvel has primarily not created new characters, but have simply erased old ethnic identities for newer, multicultural selves. It’s odd; it’s symbolic of the zeitgeist, too – white identity is problematic and ‘solved’ by erasure, by the use of ‘white-out’, to riff on a meme. A truly diverse, heroic roster would be inclusionary in the grand sense and include all colors, including white, in the rainbow. (That’s the point of the rainbow metaphor!) Instead, we have the current culture’s deliberately zero-sum, binary emphasis upon white supremacy/people of color. It’s ludicrously narrow in its conceputalization and tedious to digest in a narrative format.”

      There is a lot of “win” with that comment. That one was a triple off the left-field wall with a beautiful slide to cap it all off. I’m glad you mentioned the “zero-sum” game Marvel is playing, because not many people use that term when describing it.

      “Diversity requires a moral transformation, I think. It is one of a handful of paradigm shifts that need to happen in the 21st century for us humans to rise to the challenges we collectively face; but Marvel is spineless acceding to the wrong framing of our cultural problems. Their well-intentioned but bone-headed philosophy is wrongheaded from the outset. Downstream of this, their cowardice is also deadly dull, like you said. I can only hope the worst of this zeitgeist is only a fad, and that the noble elements of it will survive.”

      Those are the kind of comments that make me love writing this blog. Mainstream comic websites do not allow their authors to say such things, and when fans like yourself regularly do the heavy lifting then the comments get put down the Orwellian Memory Hole. I do my best on this blog not to delete comments unless they are filled with expletives, threats of violence, etc.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Steve. I really appreciate it.

  6. What bugs me about this comic and marvel in general isn’t the perfect superheroes but the downright idiotic way the citizens and non-superpowered people are portraited in the Marvel Universe.

    Example: in your video (from 2.05) you talk about the interview Riri has with a detective about who shot the husband of Riri’s mother. Remember Riri and her mother have just lost a very dear person close to them.
    Any real person who would interview them would have a minuscule ounce of respect.
    But in The Marvel-Universe? We have the TV in the background blasting footage of Avengers and Iron Man and a dectective asking question without any semblance of humanity.
    Do off-switches exist in the marvel Universe?

    But we know why Bendis does this. So he can give a backstory to Riri that we are supposted to care about.

    1. “What bugs me about this comic and marvel in general isn’t the perfect superheroes but the downright idiotic way the citizens and non-superpowered people are portraited in the Marvel Universe.”

      I’ve noticed over the years that writers who have essentially been writers their entire life — without holding down other serious jobs or careers first — tend to be weak when it comes to showing subtle moments of humanity. As you mention here, it would be something as simple as a detective turning off the television when a crime victim came into his office for an interview. I think it’s the difference between a writer who has spent years living out fantasies in his own head, and a writer who has spent years interacting with flesh-and-blood people.

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