Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has finally made its way to theaters, and it’s brought a few fresh faces with it. Among the multiple newcomers is Dominique Thorne‘s Riri Williams, perhaps better known to comic fans as the invincible Ironheart. A genius student attending MIT, Williams plays a pivotal role in Wakanda Forever and is actively set up as a major player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. While the live-action portrayal of Ironheart is surprisingly faithful to the source material, it’s not always entirely accurate, and as such, it becomes the duty of Murphy’s Multiverse to break everything down and clear up what comes from the comics and what does not. Keep in mind, it’s not inherently bad to make changes to a character, but it is fun to compare and contrast.
Comics – Riri Williams, Ironheart
Debuting in 2016’s Invincible Iron Man (Vol. 3) #7, Riri Williams is a teenage prodigy with an incredibly gifted mind. Originally from Chicago, Williams was born to her mother, Ronnie Williams, shortly after the supposed death of her father, Demetrius “Riri” Williams Sr., in a gas station robbery gone wrong. Growing up under the care of her mother, sister Sharon, and stepfather, it became quickly apparent that Riri was not like other children her age. At only 5 years old, Williams was diagnosed as a “super genius”, something that made it difficult for her to make friends or interact with other people. As a result, Williams received special care to foster her abilities and became something of an introvert, often trapped in her own mind while working on new inventions she hoped would one-day aid superheroes in saving the world. After a tragic shooting causes the deaths of her step-father and best friend, Natalie Washington, 15-year-old Riri accepts an early scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and moves away from Illinois.
At MIT, Williams uses a secret hideaway on campus to construct her own suit of armor out of stolen school material and reverse-engineered Stark tech. When security becomes aware of her activities and tries to stop them, she dons the suit and takes flight. Traversing the country and practicing her newfound abilities, Riri ends up stopping a group of escaped inmates in New Mexico, putting her in the national spotlight but damaging her already-flimsy suit. Luckily for Williams, her actions are noticed by Iron Man himself, who pays her a visit and gives her his blessing to become an armored superhero. She creates a newer, better version of the suit, and joins Tony Stark’s side of the second superhuman Civil War.
Following the conflict, Stark slips into a coma and leaves an Iron Man-sized hole in the world. Using an A.I. duplicate of her mentor, Williams designs a fully-functional, Stark-supported armor and takes over as the active ‘Iron-Person” in the Marvel Universe, adopting the name “Ironheart” and working alongside S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers to stop world-conquering foes. Eventually, Williams joins the Champions, a group of young vigilantes, and grows further into her new role as a superhero. Over time, Riri would go on many engaging adventures, including a trip to Wakanda that earns her an honorary home among its people and establishes a close friendship with its Princess, Shuri. In more recent comics, Riri has developed an intense rivalry with the Mandarin and the Ten Rings. It’s revealed her father, long-thought deceased, was actually alive and a high-ranking member of the criminal organization.
MCU – Riri Williams
Much of Riri Williams’s backstory in the MCU remains unknown, but several elements do appear to be lifted straight from the comics. Like her comic counterpart, Thorne’s Riri is originally from Chicago and, according to a brief comment made by Williams, is close with her mother. A running motif in the film reveals Riri lost her father in the MCU as well, and learned to build machines with the help of a loving step-dad. She is also attending MIT and secretly building a suit of armor from stolen materials when discovered by Shuri and Okoye. While still a “super genius” in Wakanda Forever, Williams is aged up from her 15-year-old comic self and made to be, seemingly, an appropriate age for college. She is brash, confident, and not afraid to hustle her peers if it means making some extra cash.
Williams becomes a mainstage member of the MCU when she constructs a device capable of locating the elusive metal Vibranium from great distances. The implications of this machine land her on the radar of both Wakanda and the hidden undersea nation of Talokan, with their respective leaders Queen Ramonda and King Namor vying for possession of Williams and her creation. Namor wants Williams dead, but she’s fortunate to be found by Wakanda first, with Shuri and Okoye attempting to transport her back to their homeland in one piece. The plan falls apart quickly, however, and Williams is forced to don her secret homemade suit of armor in an effort to save her own life and help the Wakandans escape. Of course, this also fails, and both Williams and Shuri are taken by Namor’s warriors to be held captive in Talokan.
Williams, unaccustomed to a superhero lifestyle, panics for most of her time in captivity. It’s not until she and Shuri are rescued and brought safely back to Wakanda that she once again begins to shine. Surrounded by advanced Wakandan technology, Williams and Shuri help each other manufacture new weaponry for the war against Talokan. Shuri aids in the development of a new suit for Williams, while Williams offers the solution for bringing down Namor. Like in the comics, Williams establishes a unique relationship with Wakanda and Shuri, and, when Talokan attacks Wakanda, is even saved by Ramonda in her last act of heroism. At the end of the film, Riri is left without the upgraded version of her suit but finds her future is more clear after teaming with Shuri to end the Wakanda-Talokan conflict.