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Ironheart - the Marvel Comics history of the upcoming MCU star Riri Williams

Ironheart in Marvel Comics with the Champions and with Tony Stark
(Image credit: George Marston / Marvel Comics)

Riri Williams is about to be one of the next teen superheroes to debut in the MCU with her own Disney Plus streaming series in the works along with a scheduled appearance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and perhaps another cameo in the upcoming Armor Wars streaming series.

The teenage technological genius made her comic book debut in 2016's Invincible Iron Man #7 (opens in new tab), 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, as Riri could 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 two armored feet, as we'll explain.

MCU followers will get to know Riri Williams played by actor Dominique Thorne later in 2022 on the big screen in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and then after as the star of her own eponymous Disney Plus streaming series Ironheart. But we can introduce you to her sooner than that.

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? 

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 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 armor using anything she can find from around the MIT campus. When the campus security catches wind of this, Riri quickly has an impromptu test drive of her suit, particularly its flight capabilities.

Thankfully, it works.

What started as a theoretical project solidifies into becoming Riri's life's work after her step-father Demetrius and best friend Natalie are gunned down in a drive-by shooting. That injustice (and her own survivor's guilt) lead 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, it is that act as a hero which 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 (opens in new tab), 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 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 (opens in new tab). 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 came back - but during the time he was out of the mix, his absence provides 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.

In recent years, Ironheart's adventures have mostly taken place alongside the Champions, even into the recent '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.

In the finale of the most recent volume of Champions, 'Kamala's Law' is repealed, leaving Ironheart and her friends once again able to freely operate as heroes without the threat of arrest.

How will Ironheart fit into the MCU?

Ironheart

Ironheart (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Paralleling her time as the star of the Iron Man title while Tony Stark was 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 improved for others while he was alive.

So Riri could fill a couple of key roles in the MCU. including filling that super-genius-builder vacuum. Hank Pym isn't getting any younger, Mister Fantastic isn't around yet, Peter Parker is something of a persona non-grata after Spider-Man: Now Way Home in terms of connections to the rest of the superhero community, and Shuri will likely continue to focus her energies on her home nation of Wakanda.

It was made clear in Hawkeye that Clint Barton's trick arrow technology supplied by Tony Stark was 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 introduced both the superpowered Billy and Tommy Maximoff (Wiccan and Speed in comics), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduced Eli Bradley (AKA Patriot in comics), and Hawkeye gave us Kate Bishop. Loki briefly introduced 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. 

Ironheart

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

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 just someday the 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 the Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and the actors who play them probably 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, with Riri Williams 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. 

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.