Ironman is dead! Long live Heart of Iron!
With its roster of superheroes historically dominated by white males, Marvel Comics has worked hard to add some much-needed diversity to its lineup in recent years. Among other things, Miles Morales inherited Peter Parker’s Spider-Man mantle, Jane Foster became the new Thor, and Amadeus Cho grew tall and green as the latest incarnation of the Hulk. Riri Williams, meanwhile, stepped into Tony Stark’s robotic shoes as a spiritual descendant of Iron Man.
Williams may not have the multi-billion dollar resources of Stark, but this super-smart teenager has the smarts to build her own super-powered armor. She subsequently becomes a heroine in her own right, adopting the alias Ironheart when she goes into action.
Now, less than seven years after first appearing on the comics page, Williams is set to make her big-screen debut in the upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, before heading to her own spin-off TV series on Disney. More . So ahead of Riri’s trip to Wakanda, here’s everything you need to know about Ironheart and how she might fit into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Who is Heart of Iron?
In Marvel Comics, Ironheart (sometimes known as Lady Ironheart) is the superhero alias of Riri Williams, a teenage girl who wears fancy robotic armor much like Tony Stark’s famous Iron Man outfit.
Although Williams possesses genius levels of intelligence similar to Stark’s — she won a scholarship to MIT at just 15 — she doesn’t share the resources of Marvel’s most famous billionaire playboy. Instead, the ever-resourceful Williams reverse-engineers Stark’s technology to build his own weaponized suit, raiding his college campus for parts.
What is Ironheart’s history in Marvel Comics?
After Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the rest, we’re used to Marvel characters, dating back to the 1960s – or, in the case of Captain America and Namor: The Sub-Mariner, even earlier. Riri Williams, however, is a much more recent addition to the comic book canon.
Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mike Deodato, Riri made her first appearance in Invincible Iron Man (Vol 3) #7 in 2016. Her alter-ego Ironheart would debut a few months later in Invincible Iron Man (Vol 4) #3 in 2017.
Riri grew up in Chicago with her mother, stepfather, and sister, and her super-intelligence was identified at an early age. But, as is the case with so many Marvel superheroes, Riri’s backstory is filled with tragedy.
Her father, Demetrius Williams (nicknamed Riri), died before his daughter was born. The comics would go on to reveal that his death was faked and that he was an agent of the Ten Rings, the criminal organization that became Shang-Chi’s Big Villain and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
When Riri was 13, she saw her stepfather and her best friend, Natalie, murdered, innocent bystanders in a drive-by shooting. When Riri later developed her own response to Tony Stark’s JARVIS/FRIDAY, her AI NATALIE (neuro-autonomous technical assistant and lab intelligence entity) would take the form of her late friend.
Riri started building her first Iron Man-style costume as a challenge to herself. An original Iron Man, Tony Stark was so impressed with Williams’ engineering feats that he took her under his wing. She later joined his side in Civil War II and assumed the Ironheart mantle – wearing a bloated version of his original armor – when Stark was incapacitated by Captain Marvel.
She then joined the Champions (an Avengers spin-off featuring plenty of teenage superheroes) and – in a nice foreshadowing of Wakanda Forever – teamed up with Shuri to do battle with the Ten Rings. She also had a brief stint as the monarch of Latveria, the European nation that was home to Marvel’s infamous supervillain Dr. Doom.
How will Ironheart fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Riri Williams will make her MCU debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which hits theaters November 11. She will be played by Dominique Thorne, who previously starred in If Beale Street Could Talk, and Judas and the Black Messiah. The latter was produced by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler.
Thorne previously auditioned to play Shuri in the first Black Panther movie. Obviously, she lost that role to Letitia Wright, but the actor remained on the filmmakers’ radar — in fact, producer Nate Moore offered her the role of Ironheart without even asking her to audition.
As is usually the case with Marvel movies, it looks like Riri’s screen backstory will borrow elements from her comic book origins while adapting them to the needs of the larger MCU. The Target-branded promo below shows Riri building his own super-powered suit of armor, inspiring other budding inventors, and – perhaps inevitably – purchasing key components for his costume from the ubiquitous retailer:
“I like the fact that [Riri] is completely herself,” Thorne told Entertainment Weekly (opens in a new tab). “She’s definitely not the typical or traditional superhero. She’s really Riri Williams, the 19-year-old student first, and then there’s this whole Ironheart thing that she has to figure out.
A recent Wakanda Forever trailer (opens in a new tab), meanwhile, gives us a quick look at Riri’s Ironheart armor in action. While considerably cruder than the nanotech suits Stark wore in his later years as Iron Man, it’s worth noting that this armor still packs quite a punch. We also see Thorne inside his helmet’s heads-up display, mimicking Stark and Rhodey in previous MCU movies.
With Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man out of the equation since Avengers: Endgame (and we’ve already covered Stark-as-mentor with Spider-Man anyway), it seems Riri’s benefactors and mentors will now be of the state of Wakanda. This clip from the upcoming Black Panther sequel suggests that Shuri and Okoye are monitoring Riri’s progress and have decided it’s time to recruit her, whether she wants to join them or not. “I’ll give you two options,” Okoye said. “You can come to Wakanda conscious or unconscious.”
New clip from Black Panther: #WakandaForever with Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Dominique Thorne. pic.twitter.com/McHzunp23UOctober 27, 2022
Perhaps most importantly for the ever-growing interconnectedness of the MCU, however, Riri Williams’ debut in Wakanda Forever sets up her own Ironheart spinoff on Disney Plus. Part of Marvel’s extensive slate of Phase 5 releases, the Ironheart TV show is set to land on the streaming platform in late 2023. Chinaka Hodge (an Amazing Stories and Snowpiercer veteran) is on board as a writer in chief, with Sam Bailey (Dear White People) and Angela Barnes (Blindspotting) directing.