Marvel’s Ironheart comic tells the story of Riri Williams, a black teenage girl from Chicago who reverse-engineers Tony Stark’s iconic Iron Man suit, attends MIT at age 16, and becomes her own superhero. Ironheart’s current writer, Dr. Eve L. Ewing, has a lot in common with Riri. She’s a sociologist, writer, activist, and poet who grew up in Chicago and returned to the city after earning her doctorate at Harvard.
Ewing told The A.V. Club at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in late March that soon after the original creator—Brian Michael Bendis—stepped down, there was buzz around the idea of her taking over writing duties. She listed out why she’d be amazing for the job on Twitter, and a fan-made petition circulated in support. She got the job—one she never thought she’d have. “To me, that was about as realistic as dreaming that I was gonna join NASA,” she said at a Women In Marvel panel at C2E2. It’s a fair point of comparison: Ewing is only the fifth black woman to write for Marvel, ever.
“I never saw that for myself,” Ewing continued. “And that’s a really sad thing to admit, but I think it’s actually really important to be honest about that. And that’s partially why seeing yourself—seeing people that look like you really matters.”
In addition to Ironheart, Ewing is now also writing for the new Marvel Team-Up starring Spider-Man (Peter Parker) and Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), which just debuted in early April, with the second issue in the trilogy dropping at the beginning of May. At the panel she said that she was “super psyched about this extremely ridiculous book,” since it’ll be wrapped in three issues and she’s been allowed to have fun with these well-loved characters. The A.V. Club spoke with Ewing about her love for Ironheart, working in “Marvelandia,” and attending comic-cons as a writer instead of a fan.
The A.V. Club: Is this your first comic-con since starting writing for Ironheart?
Eve Ewing: This is my first con as a professional, so it’s definitely been different. It’s much more working.
AVC: What’s it been like meeting fans of you this time?
EE: I’ve done a couple of signings in stores, so I’ve been able to meet fans that way, and the other thing is that people bring Ironheart stuff to my [non-comics] book signings. So that’s been an honor. I think what’s different about this is it’s way more super-hardcore fans. Something that’s been really special is that they come and they wanna tell me something specific that they love about the comic. They’re like, “I really liked this about your narrative pacing, I really like this about the storyline, I really like this about the storyline, I really like this about your panel structure.”
So that’s really special, to meet people that are looking really closely at the work and they notice all these little details that more casual readers wouldn’t necessarily notice. And also, they’re more collectors, so people come in with all these different variant covers. That’s just been really cool just to meet some more hardcore fans.
AVC: What made you want to get into comics?
EE: [Ironheart] is the first comic book that I’ve published, but I’ve been interested in writing comics for several years. And I grew up reading comics, and it’s just a really fun medium because so much of it is about structure and doing a lot with a little... When you write a novel you can write a 700-page novel, right, or even on a page level, you can be very text-heavy. In comics, it’s a balance between letting the visual do its work and not cluttering up the page with a lot of text, and so what you write has to really count a lot. You have to make every word count. I’m intrigued by that kind of writing structure. And it’s fun.
AVC: What was your first step in making Riri your own after it had been done before by Brian Michael Bendis?
EE: There were two main things that were my priorities. One was trying to understand why Riri does what she does. What is her human motivation? Especially given that she’s experienced a lot of loss in her life. Why would somebody who’s experienced gun violence and lost family members, why would she put on a suit and put her life in danger every single day and go out and fight bad guys?
And the second thing I wanted to do was ground her in a world of regular people. Who are the people who love her? What is her mom like? Who are her friends? Does she have any friends? And to answer those questions about things that make her more human, because I ultimately feel like people come to superhero stories—yes for the powers and the fights and the epic stuff—but what keeps us coming back is the human struggle and people’s weaknesses and the ways they try to work to overcome them and sometimes succeed. And sometimes fail.
AVC: You and Riri have a lot in common, as you’ve said before. What’s your favorite thing about putting her on the page?
EE: Oh, there’s so much. I think my favorite thing is she’s really socially awkward. And she struggles with kind of recognizing human social cues. And so I think my favorite thing is working through those moments. Because before I started writing her, everyone was kind of like, “Girl genius, girl genius! She’s so smart, she went to MIT.” Okay, that’s really cool, but what does it mean to be somebody who went to high school when you were years younger than everybody else?
In a way, Riri couldn’t really have a normal high school experience because she was a little kid and then she immediately went to college. That’s cool as an accomplishment, but what does that do to somebody in terms of their ability to interact with their peers? I think my favorite moments are watching her as she now has new friends and is working on her social skills. Watching her try to navigate those things. And there’s moments where she’s obviously super, super smart, but she has a lot to learn.
AVC: She’s a Chicago native, as are you. How would you say Chicago has shaped her?
EE: I think Riri has a little bit of cynicism and skepticism that comes from her life as a Chicagoan. This is a city with a lot of political corruption. And it’s a city where a lot of really bad things happen but where there are a lot of really good people trying to make an awesome life here. And I think she’s somebody who—a lot of the easy answers about who is good and who is bad, she understands those to be more complicated. She understands that people are struggling and trying to survive. So she brings all of that to her crime-fighting.
AVC: What is your favorite Chicago-ism or Chicago thing you’ve put into the comics thus far?
EE: Oh, let’s see. So Riri eats flaming hot chips a lot. She eats Flamin’ Hot Cheetos a lot. That’s one thing that we’ve kind of slid in there. There’s also a photo on her desk of her and her mom posing in front The Bean and taking a picture. That slid in there. There’s a scene in Ironheart #2, where there’s a chase in the Pedway downtown and then it ends on the Metra tracks. And I really liked putting that in there.
And then as this art goes on, I would say specifically Ironheart #5 has a lot of little Chicago moments that I hope people from back home will recognize. There are a lot of panels in Ironheart #5 that are not the Chicago you see in the movies or the Chicago that you see on TV or on postcards. But I hope that people recognize them and they’re like, “Oh, that’s where I’m from. That’s something special.”
AVC: Ironheart #5 is coming out on April 24 and then up to #7 or so has been announced. What’s the arc or endgame goal—excuse the pun—looking at the character?
EE: Right now I’ve scripted out—I’ve plotted out through #12, so the current arc that we’re in is going to end in #5, and then we’re going to have a couple fun adventures, one-off adventures. And then we’ll begin a new arc in Ironheart #8. Well, sort of between #7 and #8. And in that arc, Riri is going to leave Chicago again and go somewhere else and have more of a global adventure engaging in other aspects of the Marvel universe. So I’m really excited about that. And then we’ll see what comes after that.
It’s an amazing experience and I’m going to be in it as long as I can. But I say in all seriousness that even if I had only gotten to write one issue, it would have been a dream come true. Every single thing that comes along to me is basically gravy.