Dear Marvel: Stop Sexualizing Female Teenage Characters Like Riri Williams. Love, Everyone

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If you want people to stop “overreacting” to things like sexism and racism, here’s a thought: stop allowing sexist and racist things to happen! Kthanks. But not “bye,” because we have some stuff to discuss regarding recent variant covers featuring Riri Williams over at Marvel.

Invincible Iron Man #1, featuring the formal introduction of Riri Williams as Ironheart, doesn’t come out until next month, but she’s already getting lots of attention. Plenty of fans are excited that a female hero of color is getting her own book. That part is thrilling! Not so thrilling? The fact that, despite the character being 15-years-old, Marvel has approved several variant covers that have been drawn by artists that have seemingly never seen an actual 15-year-old girl before. Either that, or they would rather eschew artistic integrity in favor of being able to attach whatever body they like to a pretty face.

The sexualization of female heroes in general is a wider concern, but it’s even more acute when the character being sexualized is a young girl. It takes all the arguments about “Oh, but it’s just fantasy!” and throws them out the window. Because if depictions like this are allowed, that means “fantasies” include 15-year-old-girls. That is not okay.

Even less okay is the fact that this has been done to a young, black female character. Black women have a long history of being depicted in oversexualized ways. Sometimes, that oversexualization is done by white women in the name of feminism. Regardless of who’s doing it, it keeps being done disproportionately to black women. And this isn’t a woman. This is a black girl.

Then again, this happens to other young female heroes of color, too. I mean, check out this image of Dust from X-Men, another adolescent character:


This is a character who values modesty; who said in a comic that she didn’t wear her hijab and niqab because the Taliban told her to, but because of her own beliefs. But sure, let’s accentuate her ample curves through heavy cloth when we draw her, because reasons.

What makes the Riri Williams situation even more frustrating, besides the fact that Campbell isn’t the only artist who’s drawn her in a too-mature, sexualized way, is that apparently, her face is based on that of an actual teenage girl: actress Skai Jackson, whom you might know from Disney Channel fare.

Jackson has an amazing face. It’s clear why she’d be a wonderful choice for someone upon whom they’d model a character. I only wish they’d modeled the character on the rest of her. Do you see the difference? It’s as though they decided a teenage girl’s face was fine, but let’s attach a more grown-up body to that face, because she’s not a true female superhero until you can imagine having sex with her.

Look at the pose and the body being depicted: hip jutting out, the waist of her pants in a “V” shape for some reason to point you right to her groin, and her really developed chest barely contained in a midriff-bearing top while she extends her arm for no reason, since she doesn’t even have her repulsor gloves on! The artist on this cover is J. Scott Campbell, and he’s basically a one-trick pony whose one trick is drawing every woman, regardless of race, like a cheescake boudoir photo, so this is pretty much to be expected from him.

Now, his response to criticism is already pretty infuriating:

But while I want to rip him a new one about the many ways in which this response, as well as the way he drew a 15-year-old character are not okay, this isn’t even about him. Like I said, this is pretty much expected from him. Which means that whoever hires him knows what they’re getting.

I’m looking at you, Marvel. That’s right, you. The folks in charge. The editors responsible for hiring and firing, and approving stuff. The thing is, I know they can do better!


Here we have Kamala Khan (A.K.A. Ms. Marvel), and Lunella Lafayette (without her Devil Dinosaur), two other young Marvel heroines. Clearly, Marvel is capable of hiring artists that draw teenage girls (particularly girls of color) accurately, and who aren’t in a huge rush to make them sexy. So…what the heck happened with Riri? What is it about some young girls of color that you make them age-appropriate, while others you feel free to hypersexualize?

It all comes down to the editorial team on a book. And will you look at that: both Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur have female editors on their teams! Ms. Marvel is edited by Sana Amanat, and Moon Girl is edited by Mark Paniccia and Emily Shaw. In both cases, there’s a female voice there to perhaps rein in the impulses of teams that might go overboard in creating young female characters as fantasy objects. Ms. Marvel is written by a woman (G. Willow Wilson), and Moon Girl is co-written by one (Amy Reeder).

So basically, this is all just a reminder of how desperately important it is to hire more women to write, draw, and edit comics.

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.