There have been a lot of online discussions, rumours and fan theories exploring how the mantle of Iron Man may continue after the events of Avengers: Endgame. with Iron Man kicking off the entire MCU first arc it makes a certain amount of sense to also end it with him. Phase 4 is covered in secrecy, but has been described as entirely different from its predecessor and a blank slate. Recent comments have been widely reported as the next Phase being even more diverse than the last, with Black Panther and Spider-man: Homecoming being only the beginning.
If you watch Captain Marvel very closely, there’s one particular moment which seems to be a huge hint to the future of Iron Man. It’s a blink and you miss it reference, but it seems to hold some of the key answers to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and indeed that very important Iron Man mantle.
At the very end of the movie, Maria’s daughter, Monica says goodbye to Carol, and watches Captain Marvel fly off into the sky. For a brief moment, the camera lingers on Monica and on the scene, focussing on the significance of this plot point. For a second, the viewer is watching a young, technologically-minded girl, who looks like the spitting image of her comic-book counterpart gazing up at Carol’s vanishing figure, which due to the lights and the position she holds her body in as she flies away, looks suspiciously reminiscent of Iron Man.
Carol’s body language in this moment is unlike she has flown for the rest of the film, but is seemingly mimicking Tony Stark’s own posture when taking flight. Right down to the lights, the movement, the action, to the young genius technologically-driven girl watching eagerly, building her dreams and hopes around Carol, all seem to point to the fact that we are getting Ironheart pretty soon.
If Ironheart is coming to the MCU in phase four, this lives up to Marvel’s comments of making the MCU even more diverse. Riri Williams would be another strong female character in a universe which is lacking powerful women superheroes. What better place to introduce her for the first time than in Marvel’s very first female-led superhero movie? Better still, the MCU is crying out for more diversity and is in dire need of some young black women.
Marvel comics had a rehaul not too long ago to introduce a wider range of characters. We need role models to look up to and for too long the comics had been dominated by strong white men or female characters that were either sexually exaggerated or stereotypically supporting roles. The comics introduced characters like Miles Morales, followed by a reinvention of Miss Marvel as Kamala Khan. Some female supporting characters were given strong leading personas in reinventions: Gwen Stacey was reimagined into Spider-Gwen, Silk was introduced and we finally got a female Thor.
In 2015, Riri Williams as Iron heart was introduced, conveniently taking over Iron Man’s mantle in 2017 due to him handing her his legacy whilst he was stuck in a medically induced coma after the events of Civil War II. In 2015 Tony Stark discovered RiRi as a young teenage girl working with junk and leftover technology in her back yard to reinvent it into new state of the art technology. She lives with her single mother.
Sound familiar? It’s exactly in the same environment as in Captain Marvel. Riri first appears on Tony’s radar because he finds out she has built a suit exactly like his and let’s just say that S.H.I.E.L.D were on it straight away. Rather than talk Riri out of it, Tony became a mentor for her and encouraged her even during his coma using himself as an A.I he had downloaded his consciousness into. She would grow and develop to adopt the mantle of IronHeart, taking over his role of Iron Man during Tony Stark’s absence.
What is also significant here is that Tony Stark no longer being Iron Man, being biologically dead and then Riri Williams picking up the mantle, all happens because of Captain Marvel alone. In the comics, Civil War II was just like in the Civil War I comics and movie, two teams with differing options pitted against each other. Except that whereas Civil War I was Tony Stark vs Steve Rogers, in Civil War II Tony Stark is standing against Carol Danvers.
This time around, Tony is the one who loses absolutely everything. His Stark Tower, his business, his job, his best friend Rhodey, his role as Iron Man and even his life. It all happens because of his feud with Captain Marvel. In fact, he enters his coma which means Riri Williams has to take over because Captain Marvel literally shoots him out of the sky. Has some version of this already happened in Avengers: Endgame? We’ve already seen Rhodey make a crash landing before with disastrous consequences and Stark is currently dead.
It seems significant that Carol Danvers brings the downfall of Tony Stark and the rise of Riri Williams in the comics. There’s a reason that Marvel has waited to introduce Captain Marvel at the opportune moment, there’s a reason they have waited until now. Could it be that Captain Marvel in the MCU, like in the comics, will bring about the end of Tony Stark/Iron Man and the rise of Riri Williams/Ironheart when she is introduced into modern-day MCU? Only time will tell, but it seems symbolic that Riri has been hinted at during Captain Marvel movie specifically, when it is Captain Marvel in the comics that literally creates the circumstances for Riri to take over as Iron Man in the first place.
It’s also worth mentioning that even within Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is already encouraging Monica to dream and fly with her, seemingly starting her on the path to become Ironheart or at least heroically driven and technologically gifted already. In present day MCU, Monica would be a twenty-something about to pursue her dreams, which seems like the perfect introduction for a young, talented Ironheart and a brilliant way forward for the Iron Man legacy.
Like in the comics, it also provides scope for Robert Downey Junior to pop back into the MCU from time to time, without being a large commitment and without needing to take on the toll of the physicalities of being a superhero. In the comics he is a mentor and advisory to Riri but isn’t actively fighting or superheroing because he is an AI whilst she is taking over the mantle in the original comic run. If following the comics it could be a good way to have killed Robert Downey Junior’s character as a cliffhanger for Endgame, to shock fans, yet still be able to bring him back to work with Riri and appear in future films.
You can read the original run of Riri as Invincible Iron Man, catch her teaming up in Champions or read the brand new run of Ironheart comics. Whatever happens, let’s hold onto the hope that Ironheart may one day join the MCU.