Riri Williams has been a major addition to Marvel Comics, brining with her an emphasis on youth, gender and ethnic diversity. Introduced in 2016, Riri was created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mike Deodato as the successor to Tony Stark. Following his ‘death’ at the end of Civil War II, the 15 year-old M.I.T. genius officially took up the Iron Man mantle under the codename Ironheart, aiming to honor his legacy and as expected, kick some supervillain butt.
It did take fans a little while to get used to a black, female teenager in the armor, but soon it grew clear that she was a solid addition to the Marvel Universe. What also resonated was that Riri’s path, much like Miles Morales (another Bendis co-creation), wasn’t just about coming-of-age as a superhero, but about self-discovery as a human being. Guided in Invincible Iron Man by a revamped Team Stark — Tony’s A.I. persona, his birth mother Amanda Armstrong, assistant Mary Jane Watson and another A.I. called Friday — the Marvel U took notice of Ironheart’s heroics. The Avengers, the youthful Champions and the world as a whole, especially after she politically liberated Lavteria, quickly realized she was worthy, and wise beyond her years.
Though Bendis is headed to DC Comics, he has promised that there are big plans still in mind for Riri. The closing pages of Spider-Men II #5 offers a possible hint as to where the future may lie, as we see the Ultimate Universe reborn. It’s here that we encounter Riri, in an Ironheart armor, fighting alongside resurrected Avengers, including Peter Parker as Spider-Man once more.
This leaves us wondering who this Riri is, and what it means for both the 616 (Marvel’s primary universe) and the (potentially) Ultimate version of the character. Is this the Ironheart we’ve followed over the last year, or a brand-new Ultimate incarnation? It’ll be a whole before we know for sure, but we’re kind of hoping it’s the 616-Riri. Having her make the leap into the Ultimate Universe is the best way to have her truly step out of Tony’s shadow as a definitive Iron Man, and to add something back to her story, something crucial to her personal journey: family.
In the 616, “The Search for Tony Stark” appears to revive Tony in a rebooted body, meaning he should be back as Iron Man when Bendis officially departs with issue #600. Now, with Riri in the mix, that’s two Iron Men. Honestly speaking, this hasn’t worked out that well in the past, as seen with War Machine’s lack of staying power. An easy fix, to really give Riri a sense of identity, would be to place her into the Ultimate Universe as a main player. Spider-Men II could easily have taken place after Iron Man #600, after all, which means that by the time we saw that universe’s return, she may well have been there for some time, charting a course as that reality’s Iron Man.
Spider-Men II is driven by the 616’s Miles Morales’ desire to head to the Ultimate Universe and find that alternate reality’s Barbara (his wife who died in the 616). He succeeds, and is now making a new life for himself. Riri may now have a similar map towards happiness with the option of possibly reuniting her family in the alternate reality.
Riri’s father and step-father both died in the 616, in separate shootouts, as did her best friend Natalie. The opportunity to reunite one of her lost fathers with her mother, or even strike up a friendship with another Natalie, who was very much like a sister to her, is legitimately possible. In other words, the Ultimate Universe could offer Riri a second chance, a fresh start that wipes away at least some of the tragedy and pain she has known all her life.
Let’s be real: Once Tony’s back, Riri will always be second-fiddle in the 616. Transporting her to the Ultimate Universe, though, would allow her to branch out as her own person, her own hero. This would be a win-win because Marvel gets to make the 616 classic again with its original Avengers taking lead, while crafting out-the-box stories not bound by continuity or history on the Ultimate side.
Who knows, maybe Riri could even be the bridge for displaced heroes like Spidey-Miles or Jimmy Hudson (Ultimate Wolverine’s son) to rediscover people from the Ultimate Universe they thought were dead. It’s obvious she has the intelligence, technological acumen and overall ambition (as the Infamous Iron Man Victor Von Doom pointed out) to explore her heroic identity in this role. More so, she’s capable of doing it on her own, like a teen who’s moved out and gone to college.
Sure, the Ultimate Ironheart we saw could simply be the Riri that grew up in the Ultimate Universe. Heck, it could even be an A.I. called Riri; we never see under the armored helmet, after all. But it simply wouldn’t make a lot of sense to introduce a new Riri when this original is still finding her footing. Making Riri an Avenger outside the 616 would be the ultimate test, one that can even groom her to surpass the achievements of Tony himself.