The idea behind the new Iron Man character Riri Williams, a black 15-year-old science genius who will take over for Tony Stark, was inspired by the ongoing "chaos and violence" in Chicago, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis told Time.
According to the magazine's interview with Bendis, the idea for the character, a young genius who enrolls in MIT at age 15 and garners Stark's attention when she reverse engineers her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room, sprouted while he was working in the Windy City.
"One of the things that stuck with me when I was working in Chicago a couple of years ago on a TV show that didn’t end up airing was the amount of chaos and violence," Bendis said. "And this story of this brilliant, young woman whose life was marred by tragedy that could have easily ended her life—just random street violence—and went off to college was very inspiring to me. I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard. And I sat with it for awhile until I had the right character and the right place."
He added that "that sort of violence inspiring a young hero to rise up and act, and using her science acumen, her natural born abilities that are still raw but so ahead of where even Tony Stark was at that age, was very exciting to me."
Over the past three years Marvel Comics has been undergoing efforts to diversify its comic books. Though the company has made diversity a conscious effort, Bendis told Time that adding Williams, and other female characters, has been an organic process inspired by the world around him.
"I think what’s most important is that the character is created in an organic setting," Bendis said. "We never had a meeting saying, 'we need to create this character.' It’s inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture."
Though Bendis did not reveal why Stark decided to hang up his Iron Man suit, he did provide insight into the character's way of thinking.
"We’re in the middle of a very big Tony Stark storyline—actually three storylines converging," Bendis said. "His best friend died, his company is collapsing and he’s finding out who his biological parents were all at the same time. That’s stressful for a character who is wired the way Tony is wired and has dependency issues the way Tony does."
The new female character has garnered a lot of excitement from fans, though there is a subset of readers who have pushed back against Marvel's diversification efforts.
"There are fans who say, 'Show us the new stuff,' and then there are fans who say, 'Don’t do anything different from when I was a kid.' So when you’re introducing new characters, you’re always going to have people getting paranoid about us ruining their childhood," Bendis told Time.
This is not the first time Marvel has reintroduced a long-time favorite male superhero as female. In 2014 Marvel created a female Thor after she picked up the hammer when the old Thor could no longer wield his weapon.