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 finally got to 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?

image of ironheart's face in the middle of her suit's helmet display black panther wakanda forever
Marvel Studios

This comic connection to Shuri did play out in a different way in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Director Ryan Coogler spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the character, noting that she is a foil of sorts to the Wakandan princess. “She brings a different type of energy, but she also has some similarities to characters that we’ve seen in this universe before,” Coogler explains. “The film deals with a lot of things, but one of them is foils — people who exist in contrast, but there’s a thread of similarity. In this film, we get to see Shuri meet someone who has some things in common with her but is also very, very different.”

In the film, Riri stuck to her roots of being a Chicago native, inventor, and engineering student who builds an iron suit like Tony Stark’s. However, she’s aged up a bit to 19, which makes her more of Shuri’s peer. They connect with each other after discovering that Riri is in danger because of a vibranium detection machine she’s built. This upsets Namor, who wants to kill her to make sure there’s no way for others to use/build one to find his underwater world. Queen Ramonda gives her life to save Riri’s and in return the young hero stands with Wakanda in the short-lived war against the Talokans. She returns back home but it is not clear if she will go back to her school studies or go full-on hero.

What does this bode for Riri’s MCU future? We will have to wait and see. This film leaves us with a lot of questions about MCU Ironheart and her life, which are ripe for exploring through the series. We do know that she will cross paths with Parker Robbins aka The Hood, who uses said hood to tap into magic and darker arts. And, Thorne will continue to work with Ryan Coogler, who serves as an executive producer for the Ironheart series.

ironheart poster showing dominique thorne in costumer for black panther wakanda forever
Marvel Studios

The show could also go in a fun and fresh direction, like exploring the Riri-Pepper comic relationship in live-action. Gwyneth Paltrow is open to reprising her role, after all. Pepper may discourage Riri from carrying on Tony’s legacy, or decide to be a mentor. Not that she really needs the latter because she’s now friends with Shuri. There is also a chance for War Machine a.k.a. Rhodey, who is getting his own movie, to connect with Ironheart as a guide. Considering her show is coming first, that could set up what we see in the Armor Wars film.

And, if Riri goes back to MIT at some point, 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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