Iron Man Month 2010

Inventing the War Machine

Creators David Michelinie and Len Kaminski look back at the evolution of War Machine as he makes his big screen debut

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We're celebrating the May 7 (April 28 internationally) release of "Iron Man 2" with Iron Man Month 2010! Get ready for a monthlong mega mix of all things Shellhead right here on Marvel.com!

 

By Marc Strom

Though the live action James Rhodes will don the War Machine armor for the first time this weekend in "Iron Man 2," fans of the comic series have known just how righteous and awesome Rhodey can get for close to 20 years now.

Long before Rhodes took up the mantle of War Machine, however, writer David Michelinie introduced readers to the character in 1978's IRON MAN #118.

"From a situational standpoint, he was to serve as Tony Stark's private pilot," remembers the writer. "But his true role was to be Tony's friend.

 
Tony had plenty of acquaintances and 'professional' friends-that is, other super hero types-but he really didn't have a buddy, a pal, someone to hang out with and just talk to. Since Tony was a super hero without powers, my co-plotter Bob Layton and I wanted to do everything we could to make Tony like a real civilian, not a full-time hero. And being a normal person means having-and needing-friends."

During those first stories, Michelinie set out to endow a number of characteristics in Rhodes that have carried through to the present.

"He was to be smart, capable and world-wise," he explains. "He'd been to a lot of places and seen and done a lot of things. He was a good man who would do whatever he could to make things right."

Over the years, Rhodey has become a significant part of Tony's life as well as growing as a mainstay in the larger Marvel Universe.

"We merely created characters that seemed necessary to the situation and the story," says Michelinie. "Rhodey became a major part of Tony's life as we developed both characters issue-by-issue. I don't think we consciously set out to make him [a] major [character], but I'm pleased that he turned out that way."

While Jim Rhodes has grown into his own starring role over the years, for many readers his friendship with Tony Stark remains one of his defining traits. For Michelinie, the two heroes' relationship has always been defined by a few simple factors:

"Loyalty, shared experience, mutual respect, and the key element to the entire matter: friendship."

 
Years later, in IRON MAN #284, writer Len Kaminski gave Rhodey his very own armored identity as War Machine after the character had previously taken on and given up the role of Iron Man a number of times.

From the very beginning, Kaminski-who also launched War Machine's first ongoing series-saw the character as fundamentally different from Iron Man.

"War Machine is 'Die Hard' with a suit of armor," says the writer. "I always saw IRON MAN as book that was-or should be-deeply rooted in science, science fiction and futurism, while WAR MACHINE was a big-budget action movie. With heart. Starring Laurence Fishburne. [Whereas] Iron Man has thought balloons that read like Star Trek Technical Manuals, War Machine suits up for action and says, 'Time to make the donuts.'"

But the differences between Tony Stark and James Rhodes go even deeper in Kaminski's mind.

"When you get into the dangerous, volatile stuff of character, in Iron Man the armor is a metaphor for Stark as a self-made man, a multidisciplinary genius, the Mozart of engineering who's always adding layers of complexity to himself externally-literally and figuratively-while being only dimly aware that it's all been at the expense of developing his basic human infrastructure. Stark can build anything he sets his mind to, except a fully functional heart and soul.

"Rhodes, on the other hand, may not have the astronomical I.Q., but he's always been a far better example of a human being than Stark. Where Stark is essentially hollow, Rhodes is whole. Rhodes doesn't need War Machine the way Stark needs Iron Man he's not trying to become a more

 
complete person by adding on an endless series of accessories. What it comes down to for him is, given that he's in possession of this armor that's more powerful than most sovereign nations, unlike most average people he hasn't the luxury of [being able to] look the other way when he sees things going on that are just not right. The armor, to Rhodes, comes with an implicit duty to do something, because 'all that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.'

"Of course, what makes it most interesting is that Rhodes' idea of 'not right' is a whole lot broader than most super-heroic characters. What was really exciting to me back [during the first WAR MACHINE series] was getting to see what happens when you put that kind of leverage in the hands of a character [that] chooses his targets purely on the basis of conscience. As War Machine, Rhodes gets stuff done."

Kaminski gained the inspiration for putting Rhodes in the War Machine armor from the ways in which previous creators had portrayed the character.

"I was a big fan of the character when he was first introduced," he recalls. "I mean, here we had a character who walks into a long-established series starring 'a cool exec with a heart of steel,' billionaire genius playboy Tony Stark, and practically from his first panel is just as cool as Stark. That took a serious pair to attempt, and sheer genius to pull off-yeah, I'm talking to you, David and Bob. There's a scene I recall that defined Rhodes early on for me, where Stark, as Iron Man, is fighting a boatload of factory-second villains, and for a minute [he's] in a jam. Rhodes, [with] no armor [and]

IRON MAN: WAR MACHINE
no super powers, comes charging in with nothing but an M-16 and a loud voice and buys Iron Man the time he needs. Rhodes had Stark's back from the beginning."

Though Rhodey becoming War Machine marked a major turning point in his history, Kaminski would argue that the change simply augmented the character's central traits rather than changing him in any significant way.

"Maybe he's gotten better at smartass one-liners," jokes Kaminski. "But War Machine is only what happens when you put a particular tool-the armor-in the hands of Jim Rhodes. All it does is extend his reach. It possibly gave him cause to examine what he believes in, what he stands for and stands against, more closely. But as I see the character, being War Machine doesn't change Jim Rhodes so much as being War Machine is how Jim Rhodes changes things that need changing."

 

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, aka the super hero Iron Man in this sequel to the 2008 blockbuster. RDJ, Paltrow, Cheadle and Rockwell are joined by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. Jon Favreau once again takes up the directorial reins for Marvel's armored avenger.

"Iron Man 2" is one of a continuing slate of films being produced by Marvel Studios based on the Marvel characters, including "Thor" on May 6, 2011, "The First Avenger: Captain America" on July 22, 2011 and "Marvel Studios' The Avengers" on May 4, 2012.

 

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Comments

4 comments
cosmicman25
cosmicman25

Now that depends on what suit he's wearing

cosmicman25
cosmicman25

Now that depends on the suit he's wearing

KIQUE-MAN
KIQUE-MAN

War Machine is much better than Iron man