Iron Man’s most dangerous villain might emerge several years after the death of Tony Stark, if recent theories are accurate. The upcoming Disney+ Ironheart series stars Dominique Thorne as the young genius inventor Riri Williams, who creates a suit of power armor in the style of Iron Man, but recent casting news raises questions — and theories — about the show’s villain.
What happened — Deadline reported on July 12 that Solo star Alden Ehrenreich “is set for a key role in Marvel’s Ironheart series for Disney+.” Little is known about the show beyond that, but we do know several other members of the cast: Anthony Ramos, Lyric Ross, Harper Anthony, and Manny Montana.
Ross is playing Riri Williams’ best friend, but the other roles — including Ehrenreich’s — remain unknown. Ramos is slightly older than Thorne but could conceivably play a character of similar age. Anthony is nine-years-old, so he may play a younger relative of some sort. As for Montana, there’s really no telling.
And how exactly will Alden Ehrenreich fit into this story?
A single comment on Deadline’s article reads, “M.O.D.O.K.?” This refers to “The Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing,” the alter-ego of George Tarleton, an Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) scientist. An experiment gone wrong makes his brain huge, granting him genius-level intellect and psionic powers. Both he and AIM feature prominently in the Marvel’s Avengers video game, but there’s also a stop-motion Hulu series focusing on the character as played by Patton Oswalt. Neither is canon within the MCU, so the door is open for someone else to assume the role.
However, some leaks indicate that Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, the villain in the first Ant-Man movie, will become M.O.D.O.K. in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which doesn’t make the role viable for Ehrenreich.
An exciting alternative would be if Ehrenreich were to play Ezekiel "Zeke" Stane, son of Obadiah Stane (played by Jeff Bridges in 2008’s Iron Man). A January 2022 report from The Illuminerdi claims Marvel was casting for a “brilliant” but “comedic” character in their 40s with “secrets to hide.” Stane seemed like the obvious choice here, and Ehrenreich mostly fits the bill.
A villain to Iron Man, Zeke Stane is an off-the-grid genius inventor obsessed with cybernetics and biotech. Like Riri Williams, he repurposes Stark tech but experiments directly on his own body instead of building power armor. But it’s his ethos that makes him dangerous.
"Zeke is a post-national businessman and kind of an open source ideological terrorist,” Zeke’s creator Matt Fraction once told ComicBook.com. “He has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn't want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete.”
Fraction described the character as “the open source to Stark's closed source oppressiveness” who is “a true ghost in the machine; completely off the grid, flexible, and mobile.”
A new version of Stane could easily fit into the Ironheart narrative.
The Inverse Analysis — So far, every next-generation Avengers show on Disney+ has seen an emerging young hero reckon with what it really means to be a hero. The stars of both Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel have had to reconcile their fandom with reality.
It seems likely that Ironheart’s Riri will be an Iron Man fan, mirroring Kate Bishop’s enthusiasm for Hawkeye and Kamala Khan’s obsession with Captain Marvel. What their shows lacked, for the most part, was a darker foil to those heroes, new and old. Riri may examine Tony Stark’s legacy with rose-tinted glasses, but forcing her to engage with Zeke’s bleaker perspective could be a way for her to reaffirm her principles and define her as a hero. It’s also possible that Zeke could begin as a mentor figure to Riri, only for her to learn the grimmer truth.
The possibilities are endless. On the other hand, for all we know Ehrenreich could be playing a dopey MIT professor. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Ironheart is currently in production for Disney+.