After he was introduced in 1979, James "Rhodey" Rhodes soon stepped into the armor of his friend and partner Tony Stark to briefly become Iron Man. And while the Marvel Comics character has since gained his own hi-tech suit, taking on the monicker of War Machine and the heavy-duty armor that comes with it, starting in February 2011 he'll be headlining a new ongoing series whose mission statement looks to take the entire concept of the Armored Avenger forward: "Iron Man 2.0."
Written by up-and-comer Nick Spencer with interior art by Barry Kitson and covers by Salvadore Larocca, the new monthly announced Saturday at New York Comic-Con features Rhodey tackling the complicated issue of leaked weapons technology in the military industrial complex. "I looked at the character and was struck by what a symbol the he was for a very outdated and outmoded sort of warfare," Spencer told CBR in an exclusive first interview. "That is to say, when you see a picture of the War Machine armor, he's a big walking tank. He's got this gatling gun and all this armor and these missiles. Obviously, if you were in a direct fight with the guy you wouldn't have much of a chance.
"But in today's world, having that wouldn't do you a great world of good. If this technology really existed, if we really had War Machines, could you really say we'd be doing any differently in Afghanistan today? That stuff is not what's needed. It's not how we fight wars anymore. If you look at the conflicts the U.S. is involved in right now and that other countries are involved in, and they're dealing with asymmetrical warfare and guerilla tactics and fighting in cities where they can't tell enemies from civilians. That's the world we live in now, and this is very much a story about Rhodey dealing with that changing face of war. That's the main thrust of where we're going to go."
With Larocca on covers, fans may be seeing a connection in this new series with his and Matt Fraction's monthly "Invincible Iron Man," and Spencer said that it's the creative team's goal to make "Iron Man 2.0" a complimentary title to the high tech hit. "[What Matt does on 'Invincible'] influences this a great deal," he said. "I understand that a lot of the time in interviews people say that kind of thing, but I've been reading that book from the start, and 'World's Most Wanted' is one of the best superhero storylines of the past ten years in my opinion. I think a big part of the draw for me was to do exactly that: make the people who are reading 'Invincible Iron Man' feel like this is a natural extension and to make them feel like these books sit well next to each other and exist in the same world. Obviously, as we're talking about mainstream Marvel continuity, all of the books technically take place in the same world, but within the Marvel U the beauty of things is the diversity of genres and tones employed in the stories. I wanted Rhodey's book to feel like it exists on the same street as Tony's book.
"At the same time, if there's some reason you're not reading the other book, this is a stand-alone story that can be taken entirely on its own. But I want people to feel like these books are in a sort of harmony together."
That thematic connection will be built both in Spencer's use of cutting-edge technology and still-secret incoming plot twists for "Invincible Iron Man" that may change Rhodey's status with the military. "I don't know if there's much I can say about where Rhodey's relationship with the military is at the beginning of our story because of things playing out elsewhere," Spencer said. "But what I can say is that for me, a big part of the fascination was how we have almost always been reading an Iron Man book that very much looks at Tony as a weapons manufacturer. A good amount of the time, Tony's been working in the arms race on the private contractor side. There have been a good amount of Iron Man stories where Tony is the good guy in those situations, and the military is placing pressure on him to make more weapons to be sold more freely so they can act irresponsibly with them. That's a traditional narrative for Iron Man books.
"[The angle that] fascinated me here was to take a look at the other side of the fence and talk a bit about the pressures that private industry place on the military now and the way that political lobbying affect the military now. In my experience, many times military leadership themselves are loath to engage in conflict, but there are enormous pressures from the economy and from the private sector to wage war. War is good for business, and I wanted to do a little bit with that – taking a look at the other side of the fence where there's a very sympathetic story about this intense and uneasy relationship between the public and the private. One of the things I'm excited about is that Rhodey is going to be on the other side of that fence to a certain extent. He's going to see and deal with a lot of things that will give us a different perspective than we've been seeing in the course of 'Iron Man' and Iron Man-esque stories."
And of course, keeping focus on Rhodey's character as a career solider will play into the series as well. "To me, a lot of the times you read people talking about Rhodey, and one of the things they say about him is that he's the quintessential soldier. In my personal experience reading Rhodey stories – and I read a lot of them in the lead up to this – Rhodey is a terrible soldier! He never follows orders! He's always deciding to strike out on his own and buck leadership in order to do what he thinks is right. That doesn't make him much of a soldier. That's one of the things we're going to be dealing with very early on is that Jim is a walking contradiction in a lot of ways. He has reasons why he is so military-oriented and why he tends to gravitate towards that side of things. But the reality is that his history and track record as a solider is pretty spotty when you look at purely from what you'd define a good solider as. That's something we're going to have a lot of fun with."
"Iron Man 2.0" marks the writer's first Marvel work, as he was brought on after meeting Assistant Editor Alejandro Arbona at the recent C2E2 convention via Jonathan Hickman. He explained that he and editorial both agreed now was the time to launch a new series featuring War Machine with a twist. "In certain ways the problem [of elevating the character] had been solved for us because the character had reached the broader consciousness due to the films. There was definitely a feeling that with 'Iron Man 2' having had its theatrical run and being out on Blu-Ray, the profile of the character is much higher than it was a few years ago. To some extent, that was a big part of the draw for me. I looked at what Matt had done on 'Invincible Iron Man' and the synergy and cohesion he'd created with the films without it coming at the price of mainstream Marvel continuity or who the character was in the Marvel U prior to that. I was very excited about the challenge of doing the same thing for Rhodey. Hopefully, the people who have been exposed to the character in different forms of media can come on board this series and this story and jump in while at the same time, the people that know him from the comics over the past few decades can enjoy it as well."
The series also marks Kitson's return to the world of Iron Man after his previous stint on the cult fave "The Order," and Spencer felt he was in good artistic hands. "Working with a guy like Barry is a thrill and an honor for me. Looking at somebody who's as admired as he is and has been working for this long, it's still a very collaborative process. We had a great time sitting down at the Baltimore con and talking about story and the things we wanted to do – spitballing back and forth. It's probably one of the most collaborative experiences with an artist that I've had to date. Particularly given the experience he's had and the legendary runs he's worked on, it's exciting for me because I feel like I've learned a lot.
"We sat down and started batting ideas back and forth, and I learned that Barry is really a 'story first' guy. He's so committed to telling stories. He doesn't just want to draw cool visuals or big fight scenes or big explosions. He is 100% about the story and the characters. For me, working with an artist like that, you can't ask for more. It's been an amazing experience so far, and as we head into it I'm psyched to work with him day-to-day."
And while the pair's battle plans won't be seen in the light of day until February, Spencer offered up his high concept pitch to help bring readers onboard with "Iron Man 2.0" early. "This is a book about the old kind of war versus the new kind of war," he said. "One of the things I looked at was how in Matt's initial 'Iron Man' arc you had 'The Five Fears,' so I asked myself 'What is Rhodey afraid of? What scares him and keeps him up at night?' That's a big part of what drives the story. He's seen how the world is changing, and he's seen the difficulty that he personally and the military is going to have in responding to these things. The world is becoming a scarier place, and he's front and center in that now. He's stuck between a rock and a hard place. The situation he's in where we begin and where 'Invincible Iron Man' takes him is not the kind of place where he can just upend authority anymore. He's walking a tightrope and is very isolated and alone. He's got doubts and questions and a lot of fears he'll be working through."