Black Panther broke barriers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Among its many achievements, from the Afrofuturist triumph of Wakanda to the film’s arrival in the Oscar race, was the character of T’Challa (played by the late, lamented Chadwick Boseman), who’d been introduced in Captain America: Civil War before the royal homecoming of Black Panther, his own standalone blockbuster.
This pattern of teasing the biggest future players in the MCU with more reserved introductions ahead of sizable, seismic arcs continued in Loki, as Jonathan Majors appeared as He Who Remains long before his Kang the Conqueror is set to star in 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Now, a rumor suggests that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — amid charting a course forward for the mantle of Black Panther in the wake of Boseman’s death — will also introduce the next major addition to the Avengers line-up.
MCU leaker KC Walsh recently reported via Twitter that Riri Williams, also known as Ironheart, will appear in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; it had previously been confirmed that If Beale Street Could Talk star Dominique Thorne will play the character. A genius from Chicago who grew from a child prodigy into a full-fledged superhero, Ironheart has deep roots in the comics — and could have a sizable role to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the comics, working from an older iteration of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, Riri reverse-engineered the billionaire’s invention and developed a super-suit of her own. Tony later heard of this and took on Riri as an apprentice before ending up in a coma, which forced Riri to strike out alone under the name Ironheart.
This news isn’t a huge surprise. Ironheart’s solo series for Disney+ was announced to be in development last December, with Thorne announced to be playing the character around the same time. But an early appearance from Riri Williams in the Black Panther sequel would set the stage for Ironheart to suit up while also allowing her to learn from the advanced technology of Wakanda — not to mention fellow young geniuses like Shuri (Letitia Wright).
Introducing Riri Williams in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever seems like a no-brainer from a character-building perspective. Considering that Shuri became a fan favorite in Black Panther as another young Black woman armed with crackling wit and enough intelligence to rival Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, another such character would be a welcome addition to the sequel — and will give Shuri an intellectual match.
Riri is also a truly self-made superhero, a refreshing deviation from the bigger names currently in the MCU, many of whom were either born with powers or gained them through some combination of accidents and upbringing.
Riri’s brilliance is entirely self-contained. Her inclusion into the MCU sooner rather than later could be an inspiration to young Marvel audiences, having gained her abilities through hard work rather than a serum, gamma radiation, or a vast fortune.
Who knows? Marvel could have found the heir to Iron Man’s suit — or even the next character to don the Black Panther mantle.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever premieres in theaters July 8, 2022.