You can make the case—and we will—that one of Marvel’s objectives with the MCU was to push the diversity envelope that’s been a huge factor in the comics for decades. The studio came out of the gate strong by casting Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Nick Fury, originally a white character in the comics. Black Panther set the bar for representation in the MCU, and the success of that film fueled Marvel’s ongoing commitment to build a world that looks very much like ours demographically. So, it makes sense that the sequel Wakanda Forever is where the character Ironheart will be introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Ironheart was created by Marvel Comics in 2016, making her one of the newer characters to show up in the MCU
- Played by Dominique Thorne (Beale Street, Judas And The Black Messiah), Ironheart will make her live-action debut in the Black Panther sequel Wakanda Forever, which opens on November 11, only in theaters
- Ironheart’s own six-episode show will premiere on Disney Plus in the fall of 2023, which will be part of Phase Five of the MCU
Ironheart, whose real name is Riri Williams, is a Black 15-year-old super-genius who was raised in Chicago. In the comics, she’s a good kid, but she’s introverted and doesn’t have a lot of friends. A huge fan of Iron Man, she builds her own suit of armor in her dorm room at MIT. This, of course, catches Tony Stark’s attention and he becomes her mentor. She and Tony Stark have the same dry and sarcastic sense of humor, and adventure, supervillain fights, and her coronation as queen of a small eastern European nation follow. (No, we’re not making that last one up.) Ironheart is also a member of the young superhero team The Champions, alongside Ms. Marvel and Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye.
Ironheart isn’t a household name (yet), but the character has been popular enough in the last six years to have appeared in three series of Iron Man comics, three series of her own, several Marvel cartoons, and she has her own animated special. Oh, and she’s in three Marvel video games. She’s got some heat.
The character has faced creative controversy, however. There was a harsh backlash to an early cover featuring her bared midriff when she was underage. Marvel received more criticism when it came to light that all of Ironheart’s writers were white men, and, in fact, there were no black women writers on Marvel’s staff at that time. Oops!
It’ll be interesting to see how deeply her relationship with Tony Stark is explored in the movie. He was quick to support her superhero journey in the comics, and after Tony’s death, his dismembered consciousness becomes the first Jarvis-like AI for her suit. Sadly, it looks like this won’t be Robert Downey Jr.’s return to the MCU, since his name is not currently on the cast list. This Is Us actress Lyric Ross has been cast as Natalie, RiRi’s best friend. In the comics, RiRi eventually used Natalie’s voice to represent her armor’s AI as well, so the movie could take that route.
In the movie, Riri is 19 years old and she’s still an MIT student from Chicago. Director Ryan Coogler said that Riri will serve as Shuri’s foil, and although game recognizes game, they’ll clash over their different personalities and backgrounds, despite their similar skills and genius-level intellect.
Riri appears in all three trailers that have been released so far. In the first, she shares a Wakanda salute with Shuri in her lab, and later pounds an iron heart out of a sheet of metal. In the second trailer, Ironheart exuberantly takes off into the night sky.
We get even more action in the third trailer, which shows her flying over the streets above a motorcycle and car, explosions going off behind them. From previously released photos and footage that were shot at MIT, we know that Shuri is on the motorcycle, and earlier trailers show Okoye in that same setting, so we’re assuming there was some sort of road trip to Cambridge to find Riri. There’s also an awesome scene of Ironheart taking on Namor.
There’s no straight explanation in any of the trailers about why she’s in Wakanda or what she’s doing there—you know, why her?—but the possibilities for tweaking Riri’s origin story are endless. Her family could be Wakandan, or she could be tied somehow to Shuri and T’challa through the outreach center the two founded in Oakland at the end of Black Panther.
Or, since Riri would have been a great tech-genius substitute for Shuri during the Blip, maybe she hasn’t come to Wakanda, she’s returning there. Whatever her plot turns out to be, all of Marvel’s post-Avengers: Endgame shows and movies have addressed the consequences of the Blip and the Blip-back, so it’s not a reach to assume that Wakanda Forever will do the same.
From the trailers, it seems the movie’s overarching theme is how Wakanda is recovering from T’Challa’s unexplained but seemingly untimely death. In the comics, Riri has a tragic backstory of her own—her father died before she was born and her stepfather and Natalie were killed in a drive-by shooting (see: white male writers). Tony Stark died in the comics too, so if the movie brings any of that in, she’s carrying some heavy emotional weight on her shoulders.
Ironheart is premiering on Disney+ next fall, but we don’t have a definite date. What’s even more intriguing is that Riri will be the fifth member of the Marvel comics team The Champions—later known as the Young Avengers—to show up in the MCU recently, following Elijah Bradley and Joaquin Torres (who both appeared in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier), Kate Bishop, and Kamala Khan. She’s the sixth if you count Skaar, who was in the last episode of She-Hulk, and he would make an easy stand-in for the team’s Young Hulk. Now, this could be an Easter egg-colored coincidence, or it could be a winning Bingo card whose prize is a feature or show of their own. Time and the next MCU phase will tell.