With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Leonardo Manco, Carlos Magno
Issues: War Machine (2008) #1-12
On again, off again Iron Man sidekick War Machine literally took over Tony Stark’s solo series during the Secret Invasion. Stark’s whole world fell apart during the event, and his story was told in the main Secret Invasion trade.
Meanwhile War Machine actually received his first ever solo series following those events, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t amazing. James Rhodes had barely been used at all in the least few years of comics.
This relatively short, 12-issue series does a fantastic job explaining his character, developing a satisfying arc, and using the events of Dark Reign to weave together a compelling narrative.
“Iron Heart” (#1-5) drops us into War Machine’s world as an international soldier. Rhodey’s largest character development up til then was his horrific injury that left him as more machine than man, courtesy of Tony Stark. It comes with some nifty Robotcop/Terminator-type computing abilities, while cursing him with a memory that never lets him forget the many atrocities and war crimes he’s constantly exposed to. The dichotomy between a machine built for destruction and man built for saving people is a great theme that Pak utilizes throughout the series.
Rhodes finds an old flame, and estranged wife of his best friend, Glenda, has been captured and brutally tortured by an unscrupulous corporation that builds biological weapons. Rhodes takes the action personally, and we’re introduced to his unique supporting crew, of which Glenda eventually joins.
To spice things up, Ares, God of War shows up at Norman Osborn’s behest. The two have a fantastic battle thanks to really great art that somehow incorporates a degree of motion blur on a 2D page.
War Machine has the unique ability to incorporate nearby technology into his suit – and since his limbs are all robotic he can easily replace pieces of himself mid-fight. This creates a really dynamic and fun battle that reminded me of creating various robot warriors in the old Sega Genesis Beat ‘Em Up Cyborg Justice. In this first arc he utilizes both army tank treads and jet wings, as well as hundreds of weapons. War Machine is literally a walking arms race.
Eventually they realize that this corporation is using Ultimo technology to create infected zombies, and War Machine and Ares have to team up to keep it from spreading. Rhodes embodies much of Captain America’s ideals, and is the first to sacrifice himself to save even a single person.
Greg Pak shows us flashes of James as a young boy standing up for people. Unfortunately his brand of justice is a bit extreme, and it usually lands the aggressor in the hospital, and himself in jail. It paints Rhodes as a very rigid, lawful individual and reflects the actions he takes as an adult quite well. After only a few issues I feel like I know War Machine better than most Marvel heroes I’ve been reading about for years.
“Homeland” (#6-12) brings us a different artist with a much blander, though not terrible style. Rhodes and company, including several allies he’s picked up along the way, hit the US to expose the Eaglestar corporation for their heinous actions. Doing so requires them to actually attack a US army base, so Osborn gets involved personally in his Iron Patriot armor.
Rhodes discovers that Ultimo, the dorky giant robot from outer space, is kept somewhat alive and used for nefarious purposes. The comic teeters on the edge of cheesy superhero story for an issue or two (involving Stark’s incredibly lame evil cousin as the instigator and a random guest appearance by the former West Coast Avengers), but quickly recovers when Osborn shows up.
Pak writes Osborn incredibly well, giving him interesting flaws and painting him as an intriguingly complex character in just a few issues. Like Ares from earlier, the two eventually have to team up to take out the bigger threat, but in this case Osborn turns on War Machine afterward. Our heroes have to mount a thrilling rescue operation to save Rhodey while exposing the actions of several corrupt senators and congressman.
The political aspects are a constant theme, and Rhodes very much plays within the current system – adhering to his lawful personality. It all wraps up in a really satisfying way as the new body that was grown for Rhodes (and stolen by Osborn early on) comes into play, exonerating him of all crimes by the “impostor” cyborg.
Very few times does a series get to start fresh and lead to a satisfying conclusion. Pak’s pacing on these 12 issues is admirable.
I had no clue that going in I would find a War Machine series so damn great. If you’re at all interested in seeing Tony Stark’s sidekick kicking ass on his own, I can’t recommend this series enough.