What to Know About Riri Williams Before Black Panther

By Melody McCune

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the highly anticipated sequel to 2018’s Black Panther, will take to the cinematic stage this month. The theaters will become a place for Marvel to process our grief and find healing after losing Chadwick Boseman in 2020. I was shedding tears from the official trailer alone — I can’t imagine what a full-length feature will do to my tear ducts. 

Besides the therapeutic aspect of it, Wakanda Forever will serve as the final installment of Phase Four. We’ll reunite with beloved characters like Shuri, Okoye, Nakia, Queen Ramonda, Ayo, Everett K. Ross, and M’Baku while meeting new faces like the formidable Namor and Michaela Coel’s Aneka.

However, perhaps the most exciting introduction lies with Riri Williams, AKA Ironheart, played by Dominique Thorne. Riri is poised to take Iron Man’s place in the MCU and she’ll join with Wakanda to fight Namor and the forces of Talocan. Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato in 2016, Riri first burst onto the comic book scene in Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3 #7

Below, I’ve broken down who Riri is, her abilities, how she ties into Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and what we could see in her solo series, Ironheart

Who Is Riri Williams/Ironheart?

Riri Williams was born in Chicago and raised by her mother. Her father passed away before her birth. As a child, Riri suffered from behavioral issues. After undergoing some studies courtesy of a psychologist, she was dubbed a “super genius.” Riri lost her stepfather and her only friend at 13 due to stray bullets from a drive-by shooting. It was a tragedy that fueled her next steps. 

Riri found inspiration from Tony Stark, who saved her during a Skrull invasion. At 15 years old, she reverse-engineered one of his Iron Man suits — the Iron Man Armor Model 41 — while attending MIT on an engineering scholarship. Comprised chiefly of stolen materials from the campus, Riri donned the suit (with her own modifications) and took it for a spin while quitting MIT on a whim. 

First Flight

Riri tested her suit of armor by flying across the U.S. She even captured two inmates who were fleeing the New Mexico State Penitentiary! However, her suit is damaged during her display of derring-do. Thus, she returned home to make repairs. Riri found Tony Stark himself waiting for her at home. He commended Riri for her heroics and encouraged her to become a hero. 

Riri accompanied Stark on a perilous mission during the second Civil War, squaring off against Carol Danvers. Afterward, an A.I. version of Stark (he was left comatose in real life) gave Riri an idea for her super hero name. “Ironheart” was born, inspired by both her late stepfather and her friend Natalie Washington. (They were each shot in the heart.)

What Are Riri’s Abilities?

While Riri is completely human, she has a few tricks up her sleeve as Ironheart. Like Stark, her first suit is clunky and difficult to maneuver, so it takes her a couple of upgrades to get it right. Her suit gives her super strength, magnetic powers, the ability to fly and trap enemies in energy bubbles, and the ability to shoot beams of energy from her palms.

Also similar to Stark’s designs, Riri’s suit is composed of smart armor. She works with an interface that boasts a computerized version of Tony Stark’s brain. In addition, Riri has missile and repulsor grenade capabilities. 

After a few suit upgrades, Riri incorporates N.A.T.A.L.I.E. (Neuro-Autonomous Technical Assistant and Laboratory Intelligence Entity), a new A.I. named after her fallen best friend. 

How Will She Fit Into Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?

We know the film will age Riri a few years, making her 19 years old instead of 15. Obviously, she’s taking Tony Stark’s place as Iron Man in the MCU. However, since Tony sacrificed himself in Avengers: Endgame, Riri won’t have him as a mentor.

In one clip released a few weeks ago, we see Shuri and Okoye paying a visit to Riri at MIT. They try to persuade her to accompany them back to Wakanda for unknown reasons. We don’t know anything detailed regarding her role in the movie plot-wise, but the aging up of her character allows her to forge a bond with Shuri, with whom she shares common ground. Riri will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in the battle between Wakanda and Talocan.

I also believe the precarious exposure of Wakanda’s precious resources and advanced tech might incentivize Riri to step in and help protect them. As a brilliant genius herself, she understands the power of technology. 

What Might We See Regarding Her Arc in Wakanda Forever?

As mentioned above, I think we’ll see her bond with Shuri. Riri knows a thing or two about boundless, all-consuming grief from losing her stepfather and best friend. I believe she’ll help Shuri move through the loss of T’Challa. In turn, Shuri might also assist Riri with upgrading her Ironheart suit, infusing it with state-of-the-art Wakandan tech.

Now, regarding how Riri ends up on Wakanda’s radar, I believe Shuri and Okoye will encounter her during a scuffle in the outside world, or they might bear witness to her heroics and decide to have her join the team. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will serve as a launchpad for Riri’s super hero story. She’ll probably emerge from her experiences more emboldened than ever to become a hero like Iron Man.

What About Ironheart?

We know much less about Ironheart. It’s slated for release in fall 2023 with six episodes. Besides starring Thorne as the titular heroine, the remainder of the cast includes Manny Montana, Lyric Ross, Alden Ehrenreich, Harper Anthony, Zoe Terakes, Shea Couleé, and Anthony Ramos as Parker Robbins/The Hood. There’s speculation that Sacha Baron Cohen might be playing the infamous Mephisto, with reputable outlets like Deadline lending credence to the rumors. However, Marvel hasn’t made a statement, and nothing concrete has been reported. 

So, what could we see in Ironheart? Ramos’ character, The Hood, doesn’t interact with Riri much in the comics. He does battle it out with Iron Man a few times and runs a massive crime syndicate in New York. The Hood even meets Namor at one point, which could be the angle Marvel takes, given Namor’s involvement as the central antagonist in Wakanda Forever.

Magic Spells Trouble

Ironheart will lean into the “tech vs. magic” struggle, which makes sense considering The Hood’s supernatural origins and Riri’s gifted technological abilities. I could see Riri duking it out with a criminal organization in Chicago that leads to Hood but, again, it’s difficult to theorize since these characters don’t have much history.

As for Mephisto, who everyone expected to appear in last year’s WandaVision, Riri falls under the influence of his son Blackheart, but I can’t imagine that would serve as our introduction to him. The Hood receives his powers from Dormammu, who we first met in Doctor Strange, so Marvel might swap them out.

Marvel is nothing if not secretive, keeping everything under a tight lid. But isn’t it fun to speculate? Riri Williams’ introduction in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is sure to be as fun as the character herself. I can’t wait to see what lies on the horizon for Ironheart and her eponymous series. 

What do you expect to see in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever regarding Ironheart? What do you hope to see? Join the conversation alongside other Riri fans in the Let Your Spoiler Sideshow Facebook Group, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!