In 2018, Marvel launched the Marvel Rising series with Marvel Rising: Initiation. The show is a series of shorts featuring Ghost Spider, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, and the rest of the Secret Warriors. In a vein similar to DC Superhero Girls, Marvel Rising is geared toward younger viewers, especially young girls. However, unlike DC Superhero Girls, which takes classic characters and equalizes their ages and throws them together in high school, Marvel Rising teams up the current slate of breakout young diverse heroes that Marvel has been introducing in the comics.
The latest special, Marvel Rising: Heart of Iron, introduces a new character to the team formed in Secret Warriors: Riri Williams (Sofia Wylie). A teen genius who at 15 built her own Iron Man suit and is currently starring in her own standalone comic, Ironheart. Riri is a loner college student mourning the death of her family by pouring her heart into making her own Iron Man suit and AI, named A.M.I.
When the lab she is working in is targeted by Hala the Accuser (Ming-Na Wen), the Kree villain from Secret Warriors, Riri finds herself teaming up with the Secret Warriors to save the world and perhaps, realize that she’s not as alone as she thinks. Marvel Rising has a core theme of friendship and being true to yourself that runs through its specials. Heart of Iron continues that trend.
During the panel Q&A before the premiere screening at Wonder Con 2019, co-executive producer Marsha Griffin spoke a bit about how all of the characters are outsiders and have built up their own defenses but eventually managed to find a community that embraces them for who they are. This is by design, to show the kids watching who might feel the same way that they will find their family too. And to be honest, it really does resonate me, even as an adult watching these specials.
Watching Riri Williams go from pushing away everyone and being thought of as a robot by the kids at her school to being able to open up to the Secret Warriors team enough to let them help her and help them in return was quite gratifying. The theme didn’t deviate too far from Chasing Ghosts where Ghost Spider (Dove Cameron) was the loner, but the execution was unique to Riri and that’s what matters in terms of story.
Sofia Wylie is wonderful as Riri, striking that balance of competent genius and hurting kid well. It’s unfortunate that the depiction of Riri’s hair didn’t closer match Wylie’s own, however, which is far more analogous to the comic’s depiction than this version of this animation. Marvel Rising has been eager to depict a wide range of experiences and to give kids a number of opportunities to go “oh that’s me!” on screen. However, it feels like they did a disservice to little black girls here, by changing her hair texture. Hopefully, in future specials, they will course correct.
There are three upcoming specials currently planned: Battle of the Bands, featuring Ghost Spider as she deals with her band, family and superhero life all colliding; Operation Shuri, which has the team joining forces with everyone’s favourite genius princess; and Playing With Fire, where we get to see more of Inferno (Tyler Posey)’s origin story and America Chavez ends up meeting Ms. Marvel’s family. The latter of which shows America dealing with some of her own issues surrounding losing her planet. Riri is confirmed to be in all three of the specials and a part of the Secret Warriors team.
The side story in this episode was about Quake (Chloe Bennet) being dressed down by Captain Marvel for not being an effective team leader and watching her struggle to get her inexperienced team of loners to work together. With this side plot, fans wanting more of Quake will definitely be pleased. Her struggle with the weight of expectations and duty to those under her and to her superiors definitely resonates.
Overall, Heart of Iron does well by Riri and the Secret Warriors team. We get to see more of Squirrel Girl’s smarts as she uses her programming skills to help Riri but she’s definitely still her playful self. Actress Milana Vayntrub talked a bit about her character at the screening, saying “in what world did we ever say that in order to be competent or strong or resourceful or smart that you also have to be serious.”
It’s true. So often that’s the case, especially with female characters who are given less room to play lest they are disregarded. Ms. Marvel also plays a prominent role, her empathy really helping to bring the team together. Overall if you enjoyed the other Marvel Rising offerings Heart of Iron will not disappoint.
Marvel Rising specials can be watched on the Marvel HQ Youtube page. Heart of Iron premiered last night and is available on the Marvel HQ YouTube channel.