'Iron Man 2': A brief history of War Machine
The new poster for Iron Man 2 (launched on Yahoo Movies) prominently features War Machine, Iron Man’s partner-in-Armor. This has me incredibly excited. I love War Machine. Because of an accident of timing, I’ve always thought of War Machine as the original armored hero. Iron Man is just a pale, more colorful imitation.
Let me explain. I grew up during a bizarro-world phase of comic book history when practically every major iconic character was being killed or otherwise eliminated to make way for a newer model, usually with some kind of chic mecha-costume add-on that would look great on an action figure. (You like Superman? Try Cyborg Superman! You like Batman? Try Gold-Plated Batman!)
Iron Man wasn’t immune to the reboot shenanigans; at one point, the armored avenger turned evil and died, only to be replaced by a college-aged time-travel version of himself. This led to a messy James Bond, Jr. period that everyone has agreed to never mention again, under penalty of torture.
During this extreme low point in Iron Man’s publishing history, War Machine was my hero. In the comics, War Machine was the alter ego of James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a Marine vet who served as Tony Stark’s personal pilot slash second banana. He filled in as Iron Man a few times over the years, but got his own totally badass monochrome armor suit when the comic book speculator bubble demanded more spin-offs Tony Stark faked his own death.
Over the years, War Machine has played a dual role in the mythos of his more famous progenitor. On one hand, he’s an everyman who provides Iron Man with some firm moral grounding (a good thing when you’re a workaholic billionaire supergenius.) On the other hand, he can be a loose cannon, more willing to follow his gut than the cerebral Stark. The recasting of Don Cheadle as James Rhodes (bye bye, Terrence Howard) may indicate that he’ll be more the everyman moral compass: Cheadle’s spent most of this decade playing that kind of character. (Although check out Devil in a Blue Dress for evidence that he can do loose cannon just fine.)
Here’s some essential background to fill your days with War Machine enjoyment as we all wait for May to arrive:
War Machine, issues 1-25
The 1994-96 volume of War Machine is a surreal time capsule of pre-9/11 steroidal jingo that now plays like a PG-rated version of Rambo III-era Stallone. In the first story arc, War Machine goes to the (thankfully fictional) African country Imaya to solve an international incident. As this cover indicates, this was not an era that glorified soft power. As far as I can tell, the series was never collected into a trade paperback. However, if you’ve got five bucks and cab fare, I can give you my entire mint-condition collection.
U.S. War Machine
Coming out of Marvel’s R-rated MAX line-up, this series was written and drawn by Chuck Austen, better known for an insane run on X-Men (like, “Surprise, you’re the son of Satan!” insane.) A bleakly funny and totally weird take on the War Machine character, U.S. War Machine placed Rhodes in complex geopolitical, ethical, and racial contexts that Iron Man 2 is sure to avoid.
Marvel Vs. Capcom
There may be a strategy to playing Marvel Vs. Capcom, the mash-up series of video games which saw comic book icons face off against classic videogame characters (Wolverine vs. Mega Man, go!) But I only ever knew it as a seizure-inducing coin-op button masher, where literally any two-button combination would make your player fire all kinds of insane energy beams at your opponent. If you’re that kind of player, War Machine is probably the cheapest coolest character to play. Just check out this clip, where War machine uses seven kinds of anime beam blasters in less than a minute. (Warning: watch with sunglasses on.)
War Machine appeared in the original Marvel vs. Capcom, while Iron Man was absent. I take this as a tacit admission that I wasn’t the only person who once believed that War Machine was a more interesting character. What do you think, PopWatchers? Are you excited about the addition of a second Armored superhero? Are you worried that too many superheroes will cause a Batman Forever-esque creative implosion for the franchise? And let’s settle this once and for all: Is War Machine an awesome name, or a terrible name?
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures