Avengers: Endgame closed the door on a lot of stories, but opened up plenty of avenues for new ones. While Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have finished their stories, their legacies continue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cap very memorably hands off the shield to Sam Wilson, welcoming him to be the new Captain America. However, this begs the question: How will the legacy of the first hero in the MCU, Iron Man, continue?
In the comics, Rhodey has taken on the mantle of Iron Man, but Rhodey is so linked to the identity of War Machine that it seems like a bad idea to make him the new Iron Man. One character who could carry on the legacy of Tony Stark is out there, and she takes the form of a young, genius girl named Riri Williams.
The Marvel Now Initiative
Let's return to the year 2014. The Marvel Now movement was announced, revealing that the Big Three heroes -- Thor, Captain America and Iron Man -- would all be replaced by new legacy heroes. Steve Rogers, now an old man, handed the shield to his partner, Sam Wilson. Thor, now deemed unworthy by Mjolnir, was replaced by Jane Foster. The newest Iron Man happened to be a girl named Riri Williams.
Marvel Now was meant to shake up the status quo of the 616 Universe to draw new blood to the franchise. After 22 films and 11 years, the MCU is in need of a shake-up -- which it has received thanks to Avengers: Endgame. Cap handing his shield to Wilson has happened. Thor's story has been shaken up so much it needs a new status quo.
Which leaves Iron Man. Who picks up the pieces?
Who is Riri Williams?
Riri Williams is a 15-year-old engineering student who designs a replica of Iron Man's suit, complete with an AI based on Tony Stark. She's inexperienced but brash, determined to prove herself as a hero, despite the concern expressed by countless authority figures, including Pepper Potts.
However, after a year or two as the new Iron Man, Williams took on her own identity as Ironheart. Over time, she has found her own identity in the pages of Marvel comics.
Riri Williams drew a lot of controversy early on. Much of it was either sexist or racist, but many expressed legitimate disappointment in Marvel for seemingly replacing Tony Stark. These fans saw Tony as Iron Man and accepted no substitutes.
Marvel ignored these fans by aggressively marketing Riri as the new Iron Man. This might've backfired for Riri, because it didn't allow her a chance to find her own place in the Marvel Universe at first. It took years before she managed to find her own identity as Ironheart. By then, many fans had soured on her, for legitimate and illegitimate reasons.
Riri Williams remains the most controversial character in recent comic book history for reasons that, quite frankly, have very little to do with the merits of her character or stories.
Ironheart, Not Iron Man
Tony Stark is Iron Man. There is no denial there. He is the only one who can occupy that armor. However, should a character be inspired by Stark's heroism and powers, should a new character become their own, unique hero that follows in Stark's footsteps, that's different.
This is where Riri Williams comes in.
We have already seen other characters in the MCU inspired by Stark. War Machine, Spider-Man and Vision all exist thanks in part to Stark, but where they differ is that they were introduced as a result of Stark's actions. This would be a character who carries on the legacy after Stark's death.
It extends the importance of Tony Stark in new and interesting ways.
Also, a Tony Stark inspired AI? That means that Robert Downey Jr. can come back as a sassy computer assistant.
Furthermore, by introducing Riri into the MCU, it expands the number of diverse heroes who can star in a film. Captain Marvel may be the first superhero film to have a female hero as its lead, but it shouldn't be the only one.
If anything, the success of Black Panther and Captain Marvel has established a definite appetite for diverse heroes. Not to mention, with a character as young as Riri, there is a definite opportunity for Marvel to establish a new, long-term player.
Not to mention, it would be pretty awesome to see Spider-Man be able to fight with a hero his age.
Given the reasons why, when can audiences expect Riri Williams?
Not for awhile.
Marvel has just established its new status quo. Characters like Captain America and Iron Man need to disappear for awhile, if only so Stark and Rogers' stories ending carries weight. Should an Ironheart film come out next year, it might feel as if Marvel were brushing over Iron Man's death.
Furthermore, Iron Man has appeared in 10 films in the MCU (counting The Incredible Hulk) and has been mentioned in several more. Audiences need a break. Let them grow to miss Iron Man a little before establishing a brand-new character.
So, when the theoretical Phase Five rolls around, Riri Williams might be sorely needed to offer fans more Iron Man. A whole phase can help show how the MCU has grown past Iron Man's sacrifice, leading fans to want to return to heroes in metal suits.
And then you bring in Ironheart.