Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart, will join the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the new trailer provides a first proper look at her armor. She'll also be the star of her own Disney Plus streaming series in 2023, and she may make an appearance in Armor Wars, which Marvel just announced will be a feature film rather than a streaming show.
So who is she?
Riri Williams is a teenage technological genius who made her comic book debut in 2016's Invincible Iron Man #7, as an overachieving 15-year-old college student diligently building her own do-it-yourself giant body armor.
Sounds like the next Tony Stark, right? Well, sure. Riri might play an important, unoccupied role in the post-Stark Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Riri isn't just Tony Stark Jr. and definitely stands on her own armored feet, as we'll explain.
Before Ironheart makes her MCU debut, played by actor Dominique Thorne, we can introduce you to the legacy superhero.
In comic books, the young genius has already built and donned her own Iron Man-inspired superhero armor, fought the forces of evil with a proverbial blessing from the original armored Avenger (or at least an AI version of him, which we'll explain in a moment), and has served as a member of a superhero team that might have a big future in the MCU.
In other words, Riri's got significant live-action potential, which we'll highlight as we explain her comic book history.
Who is Ironheart, AKA Riri Williams?
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 is accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at age 11 - and that's where she begins working on her first suit of armor. After coming across an outdated version of the Iron Man armor, Williams creates her own suit using anything she can find from around the MIT campus. When campus security catches wind of this, Riri quickly has an impromptu test drive of her suit, particularly its flight capabilities.
Thankfully, it works.
What starts as a theoretical project solidifies into becoming Riri's life's work after her stepfather Demetrius and best friend Natalie are killed in a drive-by shooting. That injustice (and her own survivor's guilt) leads 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 be everyone's proverbial suit of armor.
Her first mission as an armored hero is catching some escaped prison inmates, but her armor is damaged in the process. However, she catches the attention of Tony Stark, who visits her and endorses her goal to become an armored hero in the Iron Man tradition. She even fights 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 workshops a new, trimmed-down version of the armor, creating the Ironheart suit 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?
Riri's unique outlook on life is colored by her introverted personality coupled with the tragedies that plague 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 uses her short-lived rule to implement Latveria's first free democratic elections, begin peace talks between SHIELD and the region's militias, and open 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 comes back - but during the time he's out of the mix, his absence provides the perfect excuse for Ironheart to make her mark.
Ironheart quickly integrates herself into the superhero community. MIT even 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.
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 end well. Riri 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, AKA 'NATALIE' in honor of her late best friend, whose murder prompted her to begin this career.
In recent years, Ironheart's adventures have mostly taken place alongside the Champions, including during the 'Outlawed' era in which her friend and fellow hero Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel seems to die in a supervillain attack, prompting the passage of 'Kamala's Law' - legislation designed to outlaw any teen heroes not working directly with a group called CRADLE which polices teen heroes.
'Kamala's Law' is eventually repealed, allowing Ironheart and her friends to once again freely operate as heroes without the threat of arrest.
How will Ironheart fit into the MCU?
Paralleling her time as the star of the Iron Man title while Tony Stark is in a comatose state, Ironheart is coming to the MCU in something of a Tony Stark vacuum following his death in 2019's Avengers: Endgame.
Sure, War Machine is still around, but James Rhodes is only the armor's pilot - he isn't the scientific and technological 'mechanic' that builds and improves it, not evening mentioning the other superhero tech Tony created and/or enhanced for others while he was alive.
So Riri could fill a couple of key roles in the MCU, including that super-genius-builder vacuum. Hank Pym isn't getting any younger, Mister Fantastic has only been introduced in a parallel universe, Peter Parker is something of a persona non-grata after Spider-Man: Now Way Home, and Shuri will likely continue to focus her energies on her home nation of Wakanda.
In Hawkeye, it's made clear that Clint Barton's trick arrow technology supplied by Tony Stark is in limited supply and irreplaceable, so it's already been established the need is there.
As to the other role Riri could fill, it's hard not to notice her upcoming introduction echoes an unmistakable trend in the MCU.
It's getting younger, particularly on Disney Plus.
WandaVision introduces Billy and Tommy Maximoff (Wiccan and Speed in comics), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduces Eli Bradley (AKA Patriot in comics), and Hawkeye gives us Kate Bishop. Loki briefly introduces a Kid Loki and Kamala-Ms. Marvel just wrapped her own streaming series. Plus Sprite debuted on the big screen in Eternals, America Chavez debuted in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and 2023's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will likely bring the superhero debut of Cassie Lang - who has had the roles of Stature and Stinger in the Marvel Universe.
Riri is making her debut in November 11'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 this new crop of teen superheroes emerging in the MCU.
Newsarama has already looked at the seeds Marvel Studios seems to be planting for a next-generation Young Avengers or Champions-like team in the MCU and Riri has been on the roster of the latter.
It seems inevitable the younger Marvel heroes will gather as a team or group in some form or another, even if they eventually become the new core members of the main Avengers roster.
Unlike in comic books where heroes don't age, in the MCU they do. We've already lost Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and the actors who play them only have so many years and appearances left as well.
So even if we don't get a Young Avengers or Champions film or streaming series specifically, new young heroes seem positioned to be the backbone of the MCU for years to come. Riri Williams is right there with them with her inspired heroism and technological know-how.
The Iron Man legacy runs deep - check out our list of the people who've worn the Iron Man armor besides Tony Stark.