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Marvel's next generation of STEM

Contributed by
Sep 17, 2018

For a long time, Marvel’s scientists all fit pretty similar molds. From Reed Richards to Hank Pym to Tony Stark to Bruce Banner to Peter Parker, it’s been kind of a white guy’s club for the most part. There are exceptions; for instance, Moira MacTaggert was an important figure in the X-Men for many years, T’Challa was a brilliant scientist despite his focus on ruling his kingdom and fighting evil as Black Panther, and both Sue Storm and Janet Van Dyne became scientists in their own right after spending hours in labs with and without their respective husbands. Still, for years, when you saw a gathering of Marvel’s big brains, it was really just the same few guys again and again who were usually at least partially the cause of the problem to begin with.

However, the younger generation of scientists at Marvel have been a much broader group, and they tend to have more caution about them than, say, Reed Richards in the early days of Fantastic Four, who very foolishly endangered his friends and soon-to-be girlfriend and caused them to be bombarded with cosmic radiation pretty much on their first day hanging out. Or there’s Hank Pym, who created Ultron, and Tony Stark, who had to have a whole story arc dedicated to him hunting down his technology that up and went missing, and Peter Parker, who sometimes has eight arms… let’s just say we haven’t seen that level of catastrophe from any of the next generation as of yet. Most of the next generation are scientists who have been fortunate to study with Marvel’s greatest minds, and who are rising to the challenge of superheroism at even younger ages.

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Riri Williams

Riri Williams has been the subject of frequent discussion since her 2016 debut, quickly becoming a fan favorite and major player in the Marvel universe despite being only 15 years old. As a brilliant engineering student, she secretly stole technology from her campus to build herself a version of Iron Man’s suit, fleeing when she was eventually found out by security. Stunned by her capabilities and potential, Tony Stark offered to sponsor her in her attempts to become a superhero. During Civil War II, Pepper Potts tries to warn Riri about the dangers of superheroing, but their conversation is cut short due to an attack by Techno Golem. Riri took up the mantle of Ironheart and joined the Champions for a time. Writer Eve Ewing has been announced as the author of the upcoming Ironheart series, and the storytelling possibilities are endless.

Amanda Cho

Amadeus Cho, aka Brawn, first appeared in the aptly named Totally Awesome Hulk. At the age of 19, Cho was declared one of the eight most intelligent people in the Marvel Universe, and even briefly enjoyed the mantle of Hulk. Cho was a breath of fresh air for many long-time Hulk readers; confident and outgoing, he quickly proved to be the opposite of the insecure and troubled Bruce Banner. Cho was saved by the Hulk after his parents were murdered by a supervillain and came to view the Hulk as a close friend rather than the monster others saw him as. He essentially took on a Rick Jones role to Hulk and other Marvel superheroes, finding himself in the midst of several brawls before ultimately taking on the power of the Hulk himself for a time. After Banner returned, Cho kept his abilities and remains a superhero to this day. His intellect mixed with a sense of starry-eyed romanticism makes Cho one of the most fun and interesting characters introduced to Marvel in the last couple of decades. Totally Awesome Hulk was also the first ongoing Marvel title to star an Asian-American character, so Cho has been breaking down barriers in both fiction and the real world.

Hank McCoy

The X-Man Hank McCoy, aka the Beast, is older than others on this list, but his teen self also exists in the present time alongside him, and thus qualifies as one of the new crew of scientists. Like his older self, teen Hank is prone to playing God, but he still has the potential to learn from the other Beast’s mistakes. One of the most interesting things about the time-displaced original X-Men is that they look at their older selves with a sense of dread. The elder Hank McCoy is most guilty of taking his interest in science several steps too far, and the young Hank has already displayed a tendency to do the same.

Cassie Lang

Over in the Pym particles portion of the Marvel universe, there’s Cassie Lang, the daughter of Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man) and Nadia Van Dyne, the daughter of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man who at this point has gone through more superhero identities than just about anyone in the Marvel universe. Nadia has displayed a strong feminist stance on several occasions, like the time when she took Janet Van Dyne’s surname despite the fact that the two of them weren’t related. At one point, when she found that SHIELD had failed to feature any women in their list of most intelligent people, she took control and began G.I.R.L. (Genius In action Research Labs) to track down women with genius intellects. Cassie Lang has more superhero experience than Nadia but most of her scientific knowledge has been gleaned from watching her father interact with Pym particles and his own technology. The pair of them may not have teamed up yet, but Cassie’s casual humor and altruism matched with Nadia’s sheer nervous energy promises a very entertaining combination. It’s kind of stunning that there isn’t already and Ant-Girl & The Wasp team-up book, because that is magic waiting to happen.

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Lunella Lafayette

Lunella Lafayette, aka Moon Girl, is considered to have the highest intellect in Marvel’s comic book universe despite being only 9 years old. When Devil Dinosaur appeared in her life mourning the death of their former best friend Moon Boy, Lunella immediately forged a bond with them and the pair became a superhero duo. Lunella was eventually caught up in a Terrigan cloud, thus becoming an Inhuman. Lunella is seriously entertaining as a character; she has a habit of upstaging the adults around her, but her status as a young child and responsibilities like attending school and appeasing her parents while also running around with various superheroes make for a great comic series. Most importantly, Lunella is a true nerd in the best way, and pairing her with a hyper-intelligent dinosaur has given readers some of Marvel’s most charming tales in recent history. Moon Girl is a super relatable character for anyone that was a little too smart for their own good as a kid, but also for anyone that struggles to make multiple conflicting facets of life come together in a delicate balance.

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Valeria Richards

The candidate for most likely to reappear in the future as a brilliant supervillain is Valeria Richards, an alternate reality daughter of Sue and Reed Richards who was raised by that dimension’s Doctor Doom after her father perished. There have already been various nods and hints that she might eventually become Doctor Doom after Victor Von Doom passes away, or that she could potentially be Kang the Conqueror’s futuristic lover Ravonna. There is no confirmation as yet for either, but even Valeria’s own family seem openly perplexed by her. While her intellect is certainly on par with that of Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, and she has shown Doom’s capacity for utter ruthlessness, her emotional intelligence rates quite a bit higher than either of her father figures. While the adults around her are emotional wrecks and the children seem vastly immature in comparison, Valeria does have a genuine connection with her mother that seems to ground her in a sort of unwilling heroism. Valeria’s intelligence and the enigma she presents are compelling, and her hinted-at dark side and fluctuating age imply that we have many years of character development to look forward to from her.

Shuri

Then, of course, there’s Shuri! T’Challa’s younger sister first appeared in Marvel comics in 2005, but after audiences seriously fell head over heels for her in the Black Panther movie, she started showing up a lot more in comics. Recently, she has even been given her own series, written by the award-winning science fiction author Nnedi Okorafor.

In comics, Shuri’s first real moment in the spotlight was when T’Challa and Queen Ororo were away with the Fantastic Four and she was captured by T’Challa’s nemesis Killmonger. Shuri challenged him to a fight to the death but he refused, feeling she was beneath him. His underestimation of her proved instrumental to his undoing as she quickly escaped his clutches by making short work of his henchmen. Later, when the Skrulls invaded Wakanda, it was Shuri who led the defense while T’Challa attempted to take out the Skrull leaders. When T’Challa was injured by the Cabal, a team of supervillains he refused to join up with, Shuri temporarily took over the role of Black Panther and ruler of Wakanda. Though the Panther God initially refused to grant her the powers of Black Panther due to her arrogance, she earned the mantle when she donned the costume regardless to protect Wakanda at any cost. Later, Shuri died at the hands of the villain Proxima Midnight but was revived by her brother.

In the film Black Panther, Shuri’s love for science and technology takes the forefront as she giddily explains to her brother the various technological advancements she’s incorporated into the Black Panther suit. Her ability to think fast on her feet under pressure and her genius-level intellect save the day more than once. At the end of the film, Shuri is appointed the technology and research leader of the Wakandan outreach center by her brother. Then in Infinity War, she’s given the seemingly impossible task of removing the Infinity Gem from Vision’s forehead without killing him but is cut short when she is attacked in her lab. For all intents and purposes, Shuri appears to be the most brilliant character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, presumed more intelligent than even Hank Pym or Tony Stark. It’s exciting to imagine how this will be incorporated into her new series when paired with writer Okorafor’s mastery of magical realism and Afrofuturism.

We love all the STEM majors of Marvel, be they hero or villain, be they young or old, but there are so many more story possibilities we have going forward now that there’s a broader and more diverse group of scientists at work in the Marvel Universe.

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