Written by Eve L. Ewing
Art by Kevin Libranda, Luciano Vecchio, Geoffo and Matt Milla
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise.” It’s not often that one sees a major publisher introduce a superhero series with a Maya Angelou quote, but it’s indicative of where writer Eve L. Ewing is going with Ironheart. Riri Williams was introduced several years ago in the pages of Invincible Iron Man, and brings with her the history of at least two major Marvel events and a regular role in the ongoing Champions team series. Returning with her own solo title once more, Ironheart marks a welcome and youthful addition to the Marvel roster of titles, even if this debut issue may send you scrambling for details in the back issues.
Ewing deftly sidesteps the burden of exposition by dropping us straight into Riri’s world at MIT. While her administrators treat her lab like a zoo for prospective investors, Riri has a tunnel-vision approach to life, viewing anything beyond her work as a distraction. When a villain named Clash attacks a nearby conference with sonic abilities in a bid to join the mysterious Ten Rings terror organization, Riri immediately springs into life as Ironheart - yet it only takes a call from an old friend to leave her questioning why she puts on the armor in the first place.
As the first issue of a new series, plonking us down in the middle of the action is occasionally a problematic approach. While a potted history is a sure-fire way to bore the iron pants off existing fans, some crib notes wouldn’t have gone astray either. We can infer from their concern that Riri has a past relationship with a couple turning up to encourage her to lunch, but these casual connections are never explained. Some of them may be flagged for future exploration, but unless you’ve read every issue of Invincible Iron Man or Champions, you’d simply have no way of knowing.
Which is odd, given that virtually everything else is given a wealth of explanation. Throughout the entire confrontation with Clash, the exact technical hows and whys of the suit’s functions and other new tricks are often verbalized. It’s a real “tell, don’t show” approach at times. Yet Ewing balances a number of these out with well-placed one liners and asides from Riri. In this sense, Ironheart feels less like an Iron man spin-off and more like a spiritual cousin to Spider-Man. Riri even has a late stepfather with an inspiring credo: “Those who move with courage make the path for those who live in fear.” It may not be as catchy as “with great power comes great responsibility,” but it’s no less inspiring.
Kevin Libranda leads the art team on this issue with Batman & Harley Quinn veteran Luciano Vecchio, and it’s a dynamic if not entirely distinctive style that populates the pages. Libranda’s relatively new voice is known primarily for his work with Royals, and here he continues to use the armor he (re)designed for the character in the Champions series. It’s knowingly referenced in the text as “Barbie Dreamhouse Iron Man,” which is undoubtedly squarely targeted at the social media trolls who are sure to have dropped something to that effect in the last two years.
There’s a static quality to the exposition-focused panels, although this is by and large an action issue. Ironheart has a sleeker series of action panels than the often blunt instrument approach of modern Iron Man titles. Yet Libranda, Vecchio and color artist Matt Milla soar even further on a far more intimate moment, where Riri and an old friend listen to a song together. The colors and words churn the air with rainbow ripples of sound, a gentler and more enveloping alternative to the harsh soundwaves of Clash.
Ironheart is off to a solid start with a new series that continues to mark Marvel’s commitment to expanding the diverse hero gallery they’ve put together over the last few years. If anything, it would have been good to see Ewing go deeper some of the social issues she only hints at throughout this book. Of course, as this is the first issue in an ongoing series, there is plenty of time to explore the many plot and character threads that Ewing sets up here. “Ironheart is an engineer who uses many tools,” we are told in one of the most perfect lines in the book. Here’s hoping we get to see Ewing and the art team take a few more of them out of the box in the coming months.