Before 2008, Iron Man wouldn't be described as a popular superhero. Oh sure, comic book fans knew how important he was in the Marvel universe, but if you asked a random person on the street who he is, chances are they either wouldn't have known or referenced the Ozzy Osbourne song. Then Robert Downey Jr was cast as Tony Stark for the 2008 movie, and the rest is history. Now Iron Man ranks alongside Batman, Spider-Man and a few others as pop culture's most prominent heroes, but as far as the MCU goes, Downey won't play him forever. The day will come when the actor decides to call it quits, and when that happens, Marvel may try to continue the Iron Man legacy in Phase Four and beyond. Now they may have just the character to fill that role, assuming they travel down that creative direction.
Earlier today, Marvel officially announced to Time that following the events in Civil War II, Riri Williams, a 15-year-old girl, will become the new Iron Man in the comics. It hasn't been divulged yet why Tony decides to hang up the armor following the event series, but Riri, a scientific genius enrolled at MIT, will build her own Iron Man suit in her dorm room. She was introduced in the latest issue of Iron Man, but she won't suit up as the new Iron Man (Woman or Girl?) until later this year. While creator Brian Michael Bendis didn't divulge too much else about her, he did say that her brain is "maybe a little better" than Tony's, allowing her armor to be more unique. Riri is the third person to hold the Iron Man title in the main continuity, following Tony and James Rhodes, better known as War Machine. She is also the latest individual to take an established Marvel hero identity and make it their own in recent years, like Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, becoming Captain America and Jane Foster becoming the new Thor.
As it stands now, Robert Downey Jr isn't leaving the MCU anytime soon. He's reprising Tony Stark over the next couple years for Spider-Man: Homecoming and both Avengers: Infinity War movies. However, his plans after Phase Three haven't been announced, and after 11 years of playing the character by 2019, Downey may decide he's had enough. Maybe he'll play Tony Stark as a civilian a few more times, but he won't suit up as Iron Man. That means someone else can fill those shoes. James "Rhodey" Rhodes would be the logical inheritor, but following his paralysis in Captain America: Civil War, that seems unlikely. There may be a way for him to jump back into action during Avengers: Infinity War, but it's hard to imagine him becoming the new, permanent Iron Man, especially if Don Cheadle wants to depart the MCU after Phase Three ends. That gives a great opportunity for Riri to be introduced in Phase Four.
Remember, the MCU has progressed at relatively the same pace as the real world, so when Avengers: Infinity War has concluded, Earth will have had public superheroes for over a decade. Riri, like Peter Parker, has grown up with these heroes, and with her high intelligence, she could build her own armor to emulate Tony Stark, one of her heroes. Phase Four is going to feel tremendously different than the previous three phases, so passing the Iron Man mantle to someone younger is a way to establish legacy and help with providing a "fresh start" for younger fans.
With a young actress playing the armored hero, this means that the MCU can have someone shooting repulsor blasts for many years to come (hopefully), and also let Riri be a new hero for younger kids to look up to. If comic book history has taught us anything, it's that eventually Tony Stark will return to being Iron Man in the comics, meaning that Riri will either concurrently serve as the same hero or take a new identity. That means that by the time she would be introduced in the movies, she may not even go by Iron Man/Woman/Girl, but snag a different guise. Would she star in her own movie? That's hard to say, but at minimum, she would need to join the new team of Avengers.
Right now, Earth's Mightiest Heroes have several teenage members in the comics (like Miles Morales as Spider-Man and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel), and we can presume that Spider-Man is considered an honorary member of the team following Captain America: Civil War. The team obviously doesn't have a problem recruiting younger heroes. Riri has already proven herself to be extremely smart, and although it will be a while until we see her superhero adventures in the comics, by the time there's an opening for her in the MCU, it would definitely be wise for her to join the Avengers once she's proven herself as Iron-Whatever She'll Be Called.
Would you like it if Riri Williams became the MCU's new Iron Man? If not her, who would you like to see inherit the armored legacy once Tony is gone? Is the franchise just better off just leaving the Iron Man identity behind once Robert Downey Jr leaves? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.