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Why will Dominique Thorne’s Riri Williams debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever before appearing in her own Disney+ solo series, Ironheart? Ever since Tony Stark snapped himself into an early retirement during the final battle of Avengers: Endgame, fans have wondered who his Iron Man successor will be. While many were hoping Don Cheadle’s Rhodey might graduate from War Machine to Iron Man 2.0, others wanted Ironheart to take up the mantle. Sure enough, a December 2020 announcement from Kevin Feige confirmed Dominique Thorne would play Williams in an Ironheart Disney+ TV show.

In the Marvel comic books, Riri Williams is a child genius, isolated from other kids her age due to her far superior mind. Riri eventually earned an M.I.T. scholarship, which is where she begins reverse-engineering a stolen Iron Man suit to create her own superhero armor. Tony Stark (who’s only retired, not dead here) catches wind of Riri’s activities and gives his blessing for her to adopt the Ironheart name. As per the latest MCU updates, however, Dominique Thorne will now debut in Black Panther 2.

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In the Marvel comics, Riri Williams does have a loose connection to the land of Wakanda. She visits Black Panther’s country to locate the Wellspring of Power, and defeats the Ten Rings as they attempt to hijack this magic source for themselves. Riri becomes a friend of Wakanda, and of Shuri in particular, and later helps develop the country’s space force. These events obviously transpire after Riri Williams establishes herself as Ironheart, so her Black Panther involvement will likely be different in the MCU.

Riri Williams touching the Ironheart armor
Riri’s presence in Wakanda Forever might have more to do with the outreach program T’Challa started at the end of Black Panther. The project was designed to share Wakanda’s advanced technology with the rest of the world. Since Riri Williams is a misunderstood child prodigy, Wakanda’s scientists may recognize Riri’s talent and nurture her abilities, perhaps by funding her scholarship to M.I.T., or maybe allowing access to Wakandan technology because her intellect is too advanced for anything else. Mirroring their relationship in the comic books, it’s easy to imagine Shuri taking Riri as somewhat of an MCU protégé – another unparalleled scientific mind in a male-dominated field. The duo could even take Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s joint crown as the “science sisters.”

This sets up Riri’s superhero transformation ahead of her arrival on Disney+. Black Panther 2 introduces the character and explains how she gets her hands on the technology necessary to create Ironheart’s armor. A post-credits scene could give a brief glimpse of Dominique Thorne activating her costume for the first time, meaning she’d already be an active superhero by the time Ironheart rolls onto Disney+. Given everything else going on in the sequel, it’s unlikely that Wakanda Forever would go so far as to show Ironheart in full swing, but Riri Williams’ big screen appearance can at least cover her origin story.

Debuting new characters in unexpected places is becoming common practice for the MCU – especially when it comes to the young Avengers. Yelena Belova was introduced in Black Widow ahead of her Hawkeye role, Ms. Marvel gets her own TV show ahead of a cinematic turn in The Marvels, and WandaVision told Spectrum’s story before her scheduled appearance also in The Marvels. Villains are getting in on the act too, with Jonathan Majors’ Kang (sort of) dropping by for Loki ahead of Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania. Using Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to pave the way for Riri Williams’ Ironheart transformation is just the latest example of Disney stretching its multi-platform muscles.

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