Black Panther 2’s best new hero could finally solve a classic Marvel mystery
Ironheart’s comic book history reveals a rivalry with an organization that’s long been present in the MCU.
Fly, Riri, fly! Black Panther: Wakanda Forever brings the Marvel Cinematic Universe its newest hero in Riri Williams, a teen genius who forges her own Iron Man-style armor to become Ironheart. She’s soon starring in her own series Ironheart, coming to Disney+.
While relatively new even to comics — she made her debut just six years ago in Brian Michael Bendis’ Invincible Iron Man — Riri has some deep connections to the Marvel Universe. One of them, surprisingly, might be in the MCU’s other recent newcomer: Shang-Chi.
Here’s what you need to know about Riri Williams, and how her ties to a little organization called the Ten Rings might set up some big things in the future of the MCU.
Warning: Minor spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ahead.
Like her portrayal in the MCU, comic book Riri was a student at MIT who built herself an Iron Man-style armored suit out of spare parts — a feat that caught the attention of Tony Stark. After Stark transferred his consciousness into an artificial intelligence. Riri, using the name Ironheart, used Stark as her suit’s A.I.
In her solo comic series Ironheart, Riri came face-to-face with a scary new organization, the Ten Rings. Riri stands in their way of obtaining their ultimate goal: the Wellspring of Power, an ancient source of energy central to their belief system. Things get personal for Riri when she finds out that her father — who she thought was dead — is alive and a faithful servant to the Ten Rings.
In Wakanda Forever, Riri briefly mentions her father, revealing that he’s dead (or so she thinks) and left her his car.
Though based on the MCU’s Ten Rings, which dates back to the 2008’s Iron Man, the Ten Rings of the comics have a few key differences. They aren’t led by any known individual, though the former vigilante turned supervillain Midnight’s Fire is one of their top enforcers and invites Riri to join him. They’re also new to comics. Their first appearance is in Ironheart #2, published less than three years ago in early 2019.
Here’s where things get tricky. The Ten Rings’ presence in Ironheart is an indirect reference to one of Iron Man’s biggest enemies, the Mandarin. In the comics, the Mandarin famously owned ten powerful alien rings that he wore as traditional finger rings. Each ring even had individual powers and colors, much like the Infinity Stones.
For the MCU, the Mandarin was partially retooled into Shang-Chi’s estranged father Wenwu, played by esteemed actor Tony Leung. His ten rings were also reimagined as Hung Gar iron rings, which are worn on the wrists and forearms. These ten rings are the namesake of his evil organization.
But the Ten Rings of the comics and the Ten Rings of the MCU do share something in common: A strikingly similar logo of ten circles with a unique symbol in each of them. This logo has been spotted multiple times in the MCU. It hung in the background behind Tony Stark in Iron Man. It was the neck tattoo of a bad guy in 2015’s Ant-Man. It was most recently seen in Ms. Marvel, on the floor of a temple in Pakistan where Ms. Marvel’s bangles were found. Fans also think the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania might also feature the Ten Rings themselves in the Quantum Realm and connect to Kang the Conqueror’s futuristic technology.
With Ironheart coming to Disney+, we could soon learn even more about Riri’s connections to the Ten Rings. Like the comics, her dead father might be revealed as a member, which is now run by Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing. The series might even glimpse more of the Ten Rings’ schemes as a shadow group, which were bizarrely passively referenced in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Thanks to the comics, we know Riri Williams can’t be too disconnected from other Marvel figures like Shang-Chi, Ms. Marvel, and anyone else who might have something to do with the Ten Rings. The organization is ancient and its influence runs deep. Perhaps Ironheart will show us precisely how strong those links are to the rest of the MCU.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.