• Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe unit is already starting to hype their upcoming release of Ironheart, the successor to the immensely popular and profitable Iron Man franchise.
  • The only catch is that it turns out that there was a Japanese porn parody of Iron Man also called Ironheart which pre-dated Disney’s trademark for the name by several years.
  • This embarrassing revelation is just the latest controversy involving the planned successor to the fictional Tony Stark, whom you probably know better as Robert Downey Jr.

Dominique Thorne to play the character Ironheart (aka Riri Williams)
23-year-old actor Dominique Thorne is about to hit the big screen with her debut as the character Ironheart (aka Riri Williams) in the upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

As William Shakespeare so famously penned, “What’s in a name?” Well, as it relates to the origins of the name of Disney’s upcoming blockbuster in development by its unit Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) unit entitled Ironheart, it turns out that the most likely answer is “It’s complicated.”

Although the true story may never be revealed, writers for the Walt Disney Company, the corporate behemoth famous for its array of family-oriented brands including, of course, the flagship Disney brand, may have been inspired to name the soon-to-be-released movie Ironheart after a Japanese parody of Iron Man which is also called Ironheart. As you can imagine, the heroine of that movie was certainly no Snow White, but the beauty who starred in the Japanese Ironheart donned her special suit (and frequently appeared in her birthday suit) to conquer several beasts many years before MCU even filed for a trademark for their new movie.

This revelation is just the latest controversy involving the planned successor to the Iron Man franchise. Now that MCU’s plans to release the first big-screen version of their version of Ironheart are finally coalescing, the surprising Japanese connection has got the internet all abuzz.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

A Brief History of the Iron Man Saga

To fully appreciate why this controversy exists at all, first, you will need an abbreviated refresher course in the history of the Iron Man franchise.  Here is the CliffNotes version.

Ironheart Is the Successor to Iron Man

The American superhero Iron Man debuted in March 1963 as a character in the comic Tales of Suspense.

Iron Man made his debut in 1963
Iron Man made his debut in 1963, Image Sourced from YouTube

Five years later in May 1968, Iron Man succeeded in getting his very own dedicated comic for the first time.  Iron Man is, as you may recall, the story of the fictional corporate mogul Tony Stark, who is very much a renaissance man.  Tony invents his trademark red and gold mechanical suit of armor with which he becomes virtually invincible.

Although Iron Man enjoyed a degree of success in many animated short films for television, it was not until Robert Downey Jr. took over the role for the 2008 big-screen version of Iron Man that the franchise really took off.

Robert Downey Jr. starred in Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. starred in Iron Man, Image Sourced from Giant Freakin Robot

The Iron Man character subsequently appeared in numerous superhero films like The Avengers as well as his own sequel in 2010 and “threequel” in 2013.

By that time the series was getting a little old, and there was pressure for MCU to develop more diverse characters.  Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr. was conveniently killed off in Avengers:  Endgame in 2019.  As many fans are well aware, this death may not be permanent, but then MCU writer Brian Michael Bendis and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada were tasked with answering calls to bring more diversity to the franchise.

They delivered, and the result was the new superhero Ironheart, the alter-ego of the fictional character Riri Williams.  Ironheart is a precocious 15-year-old African American from Chicago who invents her own knock-off of Tony’s famous suit as an engineering student at M.I.T.  Bendis and Quesada certainly came up with a novel approach.  Ironheart Volume 1:  Those With Courage was published in 2019.

The fictional Riri Williams is also Ironheart
Ironheart was first published in 2019, Image Sourced from Third Eye Comics

Although still, just a rumor, movie industry experts have surmised that the first Ironheart movie is likely to debut late in 2022 or at some point during 2023.  In the meantime, the character will appear on the big screen for the first time in the upcoming movie Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever, which is already scheduled to be released in the U.S. on November 11, 2022.

Now, at this point, you’re probably anxiously waiting to stream these new movies or, maybe, even go see them at a movie theater.  So, what’s the connection to Japan?

Curious Connection to Japan

While all of this may simply be a coincidence, it is not exactly clear why MCU decided to take the franchise in a dramatic new direction with the particular name Ironheart.  At the very least the timing of MCU’s trademark application and subsequent approval seem a bit curious.

Earlier Japanese Porn Parody Also Called Ironheart

On April 25, 2014, Japan’s Studio GIGA released a 104-minute “feature” film with the title Ironheart that stars Japanese porn star Hibiki Otsuki.

Japanese adult video Ironheart
Japanese adult video Ironheart may have inspired the writers from MCU, Image Sourced from Pirates and Princesses

As is immediately evident from the film’s poster, the original Ironheart from Japan was a parody of the Iron Man series.  The leading lady is, after all, wearing a skin-tight version of his famous full-body suit.  The main character, Ann Suda, does, however, not spend much time in costume.  In fact, unlike Iron Man who must put on his suit to kill the bad guys, Suda fights her battles in various states of undress—as can be expected in a porn movie.

The producer summarized the story in English on their website (listed verbatim),

Ann Suda is creating a power suit that has the ability to gather the planet energy. Iron Heart was originally created by Ann’s father, Professor Suda, and his partner, Professor Kirita. As the research was coming to an end, numerous troubles became disclosed. Ann and her father wanted to use it for the purpose of justice, but Kirita wanted it as military utilization. Iron Heart has the power to rule the world with power. Ann protects the Earth Collector and wears the Iron Suit to fight against evil. And so, Professor Kirita’s son, the Whipper, appears and creates Iron God retrieve the Earth Collector.

If you are shaking your head, don’t worry.  Suffice to say, most people do not watch the original Japanese version of Ironheart for either the story or the dialog.  It’s more of a visual medium.

Why Not Simply Call the Movie Iron Woman?

If the movie studio intended to change the gender of the main character of the franchise, it certainly would have been logical to call the new series Iron Woman, right?  Bendis, who defected from MCU to DC Entertainment in 2017 and more recently took his creator-owned Jinxworld comic book to Dark Horse Comics, explained in an interview with Wired that the proposed title Iron Woman would have been “too stuffy.”

Iron Maiden was already taken.
Iron Maiden was already taken, Image Sourced from Ultimate Classic Rock

He also reportedly considered “Iron Maiden,” but that was, naturally, already taken and would probably not have aligned with the image that parent company Disney intended.

Somehow Bendis came up with Ironheart, and MCU’s legal department somehow signed off on this name.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis
Writer Brian Michael Bendis, Image Sourced from Screenrant

A full three years after Giga released its film by the same name, which had a clear tie to the original Iron Man series—even if it was a porn parody–Disney’s MCU unit filed for the trademark IRONHEART on May 24, 2017.  The filing was published for opposition on October 3, 2017, and the trademark was successfully registered on July 23, 2019.

Just where did Bendis conjure up the title Ironheart?  He has defended this choice by explaining,

(The character) Tony first put on the armor to save his heart. Riri puts it on for different reasons altogether but still heart-related.

Yeah, right!  That seems like a bit of stretch.  This “explanation” makes Bendis sound more like Pinocchio.  For me, it immediately conjured up the often-used meme of the skeptical third-world kid listening to an aid worker.

Bendis’ explanation seems a little far-fetched.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis’ explanation about the origins of the name Ironheart seems a little skeptical, Image Sourced from Deseret

Regardless of Bendis’ excuses, what happened to MCU’s due diligence?  Didn’t anybody at the Walt Disney Company considers the potential for scandal if these two films were ever linked, which was, of course, inevitable?

They could be forgiven if their legal search only uncovered the famous Japanese brand Iron Heart—as in the global brand for “extra heavy denim” clothing—which has been based out of Shibuya since 2002.  There probably was no trademark infringement with this brand that shares the same name, but we are talking about a movie called Ironheart which was a parody of the original Iron Man.

Iron Heart brand jeans from Japan
Maybe Bendis just likes to wear Iron Heart brand jeans from Japan, Image Sourced from Kind Supply

Despite the fact that it is still at least 12 months prior to the date of the release of the big-screen version of Ironheart, it turns out that this embarrassing set of circumstances is just the latest in a string of controversies surrounding the movie.

String of Controversies Dogs Ironheart

While Bendis’ character is supposed to be an inspirational presence, the fictional Riri Williams faced a backlash almost from the moment of her debut.

Inaccurate Depiction of Young Black Women

The character has been criticized as yet another example of how young black women are often portrayed as hyper-sexualized adults.  Riri Williams is, after all, only supposed to be age 15.  The now infamous connection to a Japanese adult video certainly does not send the right message; It reinforces the scurrilous image.

Comic illustrator Stefano Caselli
Comic illustrator Stefano Caselli, Image Sourced from Mwv

Italian comic illustrator Stefano Caselli, who transformed Bendis’ story of Riri Williams into a comic book, has also been harshly judged for how he draws naturally black hair.

Riri Williams’ hair has been the subject of much criticism.
Riri Williams’ hair has been the subject of much criticism (“How sway?” means “How is this possible?), Image Sourced from Woman Write about Comic

The bottom line is that the character Riri Williams was developed based upon the perceptions that white men have about black women.  It is being criticized as a naked attempt to make Iron Man’s legacy more diverse.

Potential for Redemption

Last summer MCU announced that actor Dominique Thorne will play Ironheart in the upcoming Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever.

Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams (aka Ironheart)
Dominique Thorne will play Riri Williams (aka Ironheart), Image Sourced from Screen Rant

She will, presumably, go on to star as both Ironheart and Riri Williams in MCU’s planned release of the first installment of the Ironheart series.  This popular 23-year-old actor, who was a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, may just have what it will take to shed off the controversy that has dogged Ironheart several years before the movie hits the theaters.

The fuss surrounding the curious choice of the title for the upcoming movie Ironheart is enough to provoke even Shakespeare’s Juliet to question whether “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  How could Disney make such a mess of things by naming the successor to Iron Man after a Japanese porn parody?  Right now this particular “rose” has definitely been tainted and does not smell very sweet.

Links to Sources: https://www.piratesandprincesses.net/did-marvel-get-ironheart-name-from-an-iron-man-porn-parody/ and https://fusion.tv/story/339804/riri-williams-ironheart-porn-parody/amp/.