Back in 2008, around the same time as the first Iron Man movie, Marvel launched a new ongoing monthly comic series, Invincible Iron Man. Although not directly tied into the movie there were a number of links to make it accessible to new readers, such as pitting Iron Man up against Obadiah Stane’s son in the first story arc. The series has gone on to be a big success and now Marvel are hoping for a repeat performance with rising star Nick Spencer writing Iron Man 2.0, focused on James “Rhodey” Rhodes, aka War Machine.
Iron Man and War Machine are characters that are heavily steeped in Marvel continuity and both are usually involved in companywide events. However, I’ve found it easy to read Invincible Iron Man without having to pick up a number of other titles to understand what’s going on in the story. The main reason for this is having a consistent writer on the series, Matt Fraction, who has a long-term plan for the character and is being given the creative freedom and space to tell his story. In the last couple of years there has been a shift away from big company events that touch every comic book published that month. The long-term approach to storytelling with one creator is becoming more common at Marvel, with Ed Brubaker on Captain America, Peter David on X-Factor, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning on Nova, Bendis on Avengers, Jonathan Hickman on Fantastic Four, and so on.
Nick Spencer faces a unique challenge with Iron Man 2.0, because as well as appealing to existing comic fans, Marvel would also like the series to be accessible to people who saw the War Machine character in the movies. The characters of Tony Stark and James Rhodes are very different, one being a billionaire playboy and the other a disciplined military man, which helps a little in the approach to the story. The other real challenge is making the character of War Machine distinct so that he is not mistaken for Iron Man.
War Machine has always been a powerful hero, and he looks like a walking tank, but bigger isn’t better anymore. One aspect that is common to Marvel comics is that they tie in directly to world events and changes in the real world, be they political, technological or environmental. In this case war is no longer about having the biggest weapons and asymmetrical warfare is a common term used to describe how wars have been fought in the last few years. This essentially forces War Machine to evolve and find a way to make himself useful to the military and relevant in the twenty first century.
In the back of this first issue there is an abbreviated history of James Rhodes and his adventures as War Machine. What quickly became apparent to me was he has spent a lot of time being a superhero compared to serving as a member of military. This first issue brings the character full circle as the military want an Iron Man to help them and Rhodey would rather it be him than someone else. In theory his return to working for the military shouldn’t be difficult, but unfortunately he’s been out of his uniform for a while and has forgotten all that comes with it. He’s forgotten about the chain of command and is quickly reminded of his position by his new commanding officer. He’s also reminded that his sins of the past have not been forgotten, and while he might be a big shot superhero to some people, his boss is not impressed.
His first mission requires him to solve a mystery and the first issue of Iron Man 2.0 lays out the pieces of the puzzle. Rhodey is assigned a team of civilian intelligence contractors and together they try to unravel how some very dangerous military technology was leaked. As mentioned, this book is about War Machine’s evolution, so apart from an introduction we don’t see Rhodey flying around in his armor. I am sure there will be some action that requires him to wear the suit, but what’s more interesting to me is finding out what Rhodey can do without it.
It’s hard to say much more without spoilers, but if you are a fan of the Iron Man films, or the Invincible Iron Man comic, then this will be something you will enjoy. It’s still early days but I am enjoying it so far and am intrigued to see how it will develop.