Who Is Riri 'Ironheart' Williams? The BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER Character, Explained - Nerdist
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Who Is Riri ‘Ironheart’ Williams? The BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER Character, Explained

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow with a slate of new shows and films coming in Phase Five and beyond. One of those new series coming to Disney+ is Ironheart, a live-action show starring Dominique Thorne as Riri “Ironheart” Williams coming in Fall 2023. And, before we get Riri’s origin story, we will meet her in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as she works alongside Shuri. Some comic fans may be familiar with Riri’s story; she starts as child genius, and winds up the latest hero to don an advanced suit à la Tony Stark’s famous armor. But if you didn’t get into the comics, or just want a quick rundown of Riri’s Williams history, this guide to Ironheart is right here for you.

The Comic Origin Story of Riri Willaims a.k.a. Ironheart
photo of riri ironheart williams original run
Marvel Comics

Riri Williams made her debut in 2015’s Invincible Iron Man #7. She quickly captured fans’ hearts in a couple of appearances as a brilliant Black girl and Tony Stark fan who creates her own suit of armor. The two eventually meet and enjoy a mutual respect for one other. There was initial controversy behind Riri because she was created by white male comic creator Brian Michael Bendis; meanwhile, no Black women writers played a role in crafting her persona. A sexualized cover image (which was later changed) of the teen hero also caused a righteous stir over how Black girls and women are seen in society.

The success of Riri’s character led to her own Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart comic series in 2016. The series gave us a more in-depth look at Riri’s background and life. She’s a 15-year-old Chicago native living with her mother and paternal Aunt Sharon after her father’s death. Riri attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on an engineering scholarship. The teen genius designs a suit using stolen materials from campus and makes some serious enemies in the process.

Riri becomes a crime-fighting superheroine, to her aunt’s dismay, and her work captures the eye of her tech idol Tony Stark. He gives her his stamp of approval to become the next ironclad hero this world needs. After the events of Civil War II, Riri takes Tony’s place following his coma and later becomes Ironheart. This is essentially where we are in the MCU with Tony’s sacrificial death. Right now is obviously a good time for Riri to step into the suit and become the next iron savior. In the comics, Pepper and Riri often crossed paths, with the former showing concern over the latter’s superheroine life and safety.

Riri also appears in some crossover comic material. She saves Moon Girl, the smartest person in the Marvel Universe, and helps her ward off Doctor Doom. The character also goes up against Hydra in Marvel’s Secret Empire (2017) storyline.

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself: My Name Is Riri Williams
ironheart on cover one with suit floating through the air
Marvel Comics/Kevin Libranda

In 2018, Ironheart entered a new era; Eve Ewing, a Black woman writer, scholar, and Chicago native, took over the writing mantle. The series, Ironheart, showed Riri fully coming into her own as a hero. She breaks free from being seen as simply a “girl Iron Man” as she uncovers secrets surrounding a friend’s kidnapping.

During this era, Riri also appears in the 2019 Marvel Rising: Heart of Iron animated special for an MIT-based storyline. And she is a part of a hero collective known as the Champions. They are a group of younger heroes in the Marvel Universe including Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Cyclops. Ironheart was set for yet another comic run in 2020 but after only a couple of issues, it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

However, in Ironheart, Riri unites with Shuri, Okoye, and others in a fight against Ten Rings. Once again, with what we get in Phase Four, this is the right time to bring Riri Williams to the MCU.

How Will Ironheart Fit Into the MCU?
comic panel of Shuri and Riri in Ironheart
Marvel Comics/Eve Ewing/Luciano Vecchio

This comic connection to Shuri is going to play out (albeit in a different way) in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. There is a brewing conflict with Namor that will lead Shuri to reach out to Riri for assistance. Interestingly, What does this bode for Riri’s MCU future? We will have to wait and see.

The Riri-Pepper comic relationship could play out interestingly on TV, if it happens. Gwyneth Paltrow is open to reprising her role, after all. Maybe for a cameo or two? Pepper may discourage Riri from carrying on Tony’s legacy, or decide to be a mentor after Tony’s death. There is also a chance for War Machine a.k.a. Rhodey, who is getting his own Disney+ series, to connect with Ironheart as a guide. Considering her show is coming first, that could set up what we see in Armor Wars.

And, considering that Riri is a MIT student in the comics, maybe we will get a small breadcrumb of seeing MJ and Ned (both students there now) alongside our iron hero in the Ironheart series. The show, like Ms. Marvel and others, will probably put most of its effort into establishing Riri Williams as a person and her journey into becoming Ironheart. We can’t wait to see Ironheart when it hits Disney+ in 2023. It’s time to see more Black girls taking on the MCU with intelligence, tenacity, and bravery.

Originally published December 11, 2020.

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