It’s telling that the new War Machine coming is called “Iron Man 2.0,” because it doesn’t read like a War Machine comic; It reads like an Iron Man knockoff book. Besides shunting James Rhodes back into military service, there isn’t a lot that separates this first issue from your typical Iron Man comic. Even Rhodes himself doesn’t make much of an impression and that’s rarely been in the case in the past. There’s a dull, muted tone to this debut issue, one that makes it a fairly forgettable one, which is a surprise given Nick Spencer’s habit of delivering strong, bold first issues.
One problem is the inconsistent art with Kano and Carmine Di Giandomenico joining Barry Kitson. Spencer explained on Twitter that Kitson suffered a bout of pneumonia requiring the artistic assistance, but that doesn’t make the issue better. Both Kano and Di Giandomenico are very talented artists and the need for their quick assistance here shows with the trading off of scenes, never allowing the art to settle into a consistent look for longer than a few pages, sometimes alternating mid-scene. The lack of consistent coloring doesn’t help as lighting and color tones change radically on a page-by-page basis. And with this habit apparently continuing for the rest of the first story arc, the book starts from a lower position than it should have.
What little we get of Kitson is the best art in the issue with Iron Man and War Machine fighting a robot copy of Blizzard — or, more accurately, War Machine saving Iron Man from suffering defeat at the hands of a robot copy of Blizzard. It’s the highlight of the comic, not just from an artistic sense (because Kitson doesn’t draw the whole thing), but from a writing perspective. Spencer has a good handle on the Tony/Rhodey relationship and wisely has Rhodes save Tony’s butt, while also making it happen under circumstances that don’t reflect Rhodes in the best light. Tony talking Rhodes through his nerves at returning to the military is a strong scene since Rhodes’s last experience with the military (this base in particular) wasn’t a good one: he blew it up.
Once the comic shifts to the base, it begins to lose momentum, jumping into a lot of explanation of the plot, one that could easily have been a regular Iron Man plot, not one that seems specific to War Machine or the military. A members of a DARPA immersion program died and, months later, all of the projects he’d been involved in in any way stopped working for the military and, then, weeks later, began popping up elsewhere in the world. The mystery is how could this be happening when deep immersion meant no contact at all with the outside world and the man is dead? Switch it from military R&D to Stark Resilient and not much changes. One issue in and the plot does nothing to suggest why this comic needs to exist.
The art problems are unavoidable, but the writing is what lets this comic down most. Spencer shows he can handle James Rhodes when he’s talking to Tony Stark, and then the book loses any sense of individuality when Stark disappears. It literally reads like “Iron Man 2.0” in the sense that this could just be a second Iron Man title, no War Machine necessary. That may change, of course, but there not being a compelling reason for a new War Machine coming in the first issue of his new comic is a pretty big strike against the series.