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Who is Ironheart / Riri Williams and how will this Marvel character be integrated into the MCU?

Ironheart
Ironheart (Image credit: Stefano Caselli (Marvel Comics))

The Marvel Universe is chock-full of exciting takes on established characters. The Young Avengers and the Champions are young teams brimming with new ideas for old heroes. Riri Williams (aka Ironheart) continues on that, but as more of a solo character - and one with a legacy behind her.

Riri first appeared in 2016's Invincible Iron Man #7, quickly standing out as an overachieving 15-year-old college student diligently building her own DIY giant body armor. Sounds like the next Tony Stark, right? No, she's her own thing, as you'll quickly see.

MCU fans will get to know Riri Williams real well in the upcoming Disney Plus series Ironheart scheduled to debut in 2022, with Dominique Thorne in the title role. But why wait? The young genius has already donned her own Iron Man-inspired battle armor in comics, fighting the forces of evil and receiving a proverbial blessing from the original Iron Man (Tony Stark)... or at least an AI of him. (We'll get into that shortly).

Let's dig into the new Crimson Avenger - Marvel's Ironheart.

 Who is Ironheart, AKA Riri Williams? 

Ironheart

Ironheart (Image credit: Amy Reeder (Marvel Comics))

Riri Williams was born in Chicago, and she was already classified as a super genius by the time she turned five. Her incredible level of intelligence left her feeling bored, leading to her frequently retreating into her own mind to work on complex problems and entertain herself. Her parents, Demetrius and Ronnie, found special programs to help foster Riri's intellect while providing emotional grounding to keep her connected to humanity.

Between her innate ability, her passion, and the support of her parents, Riri Williams was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at age 11 - and that's where she began working on her first suit of armor. After coming across an outdated version of the Iron Man armor, Williams created her own armor using anything she could find from around the MIT campus. When the campus security caught wind of this, Riri quickly had an impromptu test drive of her suit and particularly its flight capabilities.

Thankfully, it worked.

What started as a theoretical project solidified into becoming Riri's life's work after her step-father Demetrius and best friend Natalie were gunned down in a drive-by shooting. That injustice (and her own survivor's guilt) led Riri to dedicate herself to something bigger - something like her idol Iron Man, but with heart: Ironheart. Her goal? To protect those who can't defend themselves, and proverbially be everyone's suit of armor.

Her first mission as armored here was catching some escaped prison inmates, but her armor was damaged in the process. But it is that act as a hero which caught the attention of Tony Stark, who visited her and endorsed her goals to become an armored hero in the Iron Man tradition. She even fought beside Iron Man in 2016's Civil War II, using a patched-up version of her armor.

With Tony's blessing (and a bit of field experience), Riri workshopped a new, trimmed-down version of the armor that is the Ironheart armor you're familiar with in comics. And keeping the Iron Man legacy alive, it's powered by an AI just like Tony's suit - but in this case, it's an AI version of Tony himself. 

Where does Ironheart fit into the wider Marvel Universe? 

Ironheart

Ironheart (Image credit: Jesus Saiz (Marvel Comics))

Riri's unique outlook on life is colored by her introverted personality coupled with the tragedies that plagued her family. Mix in her snarky delivery and 'umm, actually' energy, and you are left with a superhero capable of toppling a corrupt monarchy with an offhand comment.

That's no clever anecdote. Riri literally takes over Latveria by defeating their monarch and flippantly declaring herself queen in 2017's Invincible Iron Man #9. In true Riri fashion, she used her short-lived rule to implement Latveria's first free democratic elections, began peace talks between SHIELD and the region's militias, and opened up all the schools in the country. Those are hero moves, folks.

Riri takes these first formative steps as Ironheart in the Marvel Universe just as Tony Stark is out of the picture - laying comatose after an injury in the finale of Civil War II. Don't worry, he came back - but during the time he was out of the mix, it became the perfect excuse for Ironheart to make her mark. 

Ironheart quickly integrates herself into the superhero community. Once the bane of MIT security, the institute offers her a dedicated lab - but she has to decide between that and taking over Tony Stark's own lab at the request of his biological mother. Her dance card fills up even more when the upstart teen superhero team the Champions offers her membership in their ranks.

Ironheart

Ironheart (Image credit: Amy Reeder (Marvel Comics))

With all these wins however, she does eventually end up with a big loss: her armor. While on a space mission with the Champions to save an alien race in danger of genocide, she tries to fight Thanos... and it doesn't well. She survives, but her armor is disintegrated. Thankfully, her teammates are there to support her, and Viv Vision in particular encourages her to use this as a time to innovate a new, improved version of the Ironheart armor.

As Riri grows into her role, she eventually creates a new AI to assist her as Ironheart,  the Neuro-Autonomous Technical Assistant & Laboratory Intelligence Entity - 'NATALIE,' in honor of her best friend whose murder prompted her to begin this career.

How will Ironheart fit into the MCU?

Ironheart

Ironheart (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Just as when she made her debut as a hero in Marvel Comics, Ironheart is coming into the MCU just as Tony Stark is off the board. He's well-remembered and people are hoping for someone to fill that void, and Riri Williams could very well be that someone.

In addition to that, we're already in the middle of a new crop of younger superheroes making their MCU debut. The Falcon & the Winter Soldier introduced Eli Bradley (AKA Patriot in comics), while WandaVision introduced both Billy and Tommy Maximoff (Wiccan and Speed in comics). Loki gave us Kid Loki, and we have a Ms. Marvel show and America Chavez on the horizon in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Ironheart is scheduled to make her debut in July 8, 2022's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever before heading off to her own live-action Disney Plus series, dovetailing in on the fond memories of the Iron Man legacy and the new crop of teen superheroes emerging in the MCU. (And that'd before even mentioning the live-action Armor Wars series scheduled to debut after, coincidentally, Ironheart).

Ironheart

Ironheart (Image credit: Stefano Caselli (Marvel Comics))

Speaking of legacy and Tony tech, depending on how Ms. Williams is introduced, we could see the return of Tony Stark in AI form. The end of Avengers: Endgame gave us a glimpse of a life-model projection of Tony. Working backward from that, we can shoehorn Robert Downey Jr. into a few scenes with Riri or even have him voice her version of Jarvis. No one is ever really dead in superhero media, so Riri could bring back some Tony snark.

All in all, there is a severe lack of super-geniuses in the MCU currently. Fans are clamoring for new smarty-pants to make their Marvel debut. The most prominent name people throw around is Reed Richards (AKA Mister Fantastic), but Riri could be the brilliantly awkward crime-fighter everyone needs. Her pedigree for creating useful gadgets for superheroes fits her perfectly into the Tony Stark role for the Avengers (and the broader MCU).

The Iron Man legacy runs deep - check out our list of the people who've worn the Iron Man armor besides Tony Stark. 

Carl Waldron

Carl Waldron is a graphic design professional and writer. He has written pieces for both IGN and DC Comics. Carl hosts a podcast dedicated to black superheroes called Super. Black. and strives to merge his love of comics and his passion for design.