Cast your mind back to Secret Invasion #1. What was one of the first things the Skrulls did? They took down Iron Man by introducing a virus that disabled all StarkTech, designed by Tony Stark.
As readers saw in that issue and the next, Stark wasn’t about to roll over, so he started working on a whole new suit of armor, immediately. But Stark’s a smart guy. You’d think that he would have had a plan in place in case his entire technology base went down.
That story will be told in Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #33-#35 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen. Seems that when Iron Man’s armor suffers a catastrophic failure, Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes, aka War Machine, gets a message.
We spoke with Gage for more about the arc that’s being called “War Machine: Director of SHIELD.”
Newsarama: You've coming on after Stuart Moore’s run on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD with your first issue in September, but this arc is tied to events seen in Secret Invasion #1, correct? How so?
Christos Gage: Right - I begin with #33 and stay through #35, comprising the Secret Invasion crossover issues of the book. As I understand it, Stuart's story takes place before Secret Invasion. Ours begins at the point in Secret Invasion #1 where Tony Stark's Iron Man armor (along with all the other StarkTech in the world) is disabled by a Skrull virus. The thing about Secret Invasion is that it all takes place in a pretty short time period. By our second issue, we're all caught up to the core book in terms of the larger progress of the war.
NRAMA: So, it’s the failure of Tony's armor that activates War Machine...was that the hand you were dealt to write by Marvel, or did they ask you to come up with a story set within a time frame that moved the character from point A to point B?
CG: Given that Iron Man is pretty prominently featured in Secret Invasion proper, there wasn't much opportunity to tell a story heavily involving him that wouldn't be a re-hash of what's already in there. So Marvel had decided they wanted the arc to focus on War Machine, given the character's popularity with fans, his relationship to Tony Stark, and James Rhodes' presence in the Iron Man film-all of which sounded pretty cool to me, especially as I'd already been working with War Machine in the pages of Avengers: The Initiative. If I recall correctly, Bill Rosemann came to me with the premise that Iron Man going down activates a failsafe in Rhodey's armor. Beyond that, it was a back-and-forth process as to deciding what should happen next. Where he fights the Skrulls, how, who else is involved…that was all figured out in our brainstorming sessions.
NRAMA: So what kind of message does Rhodey get when Tony's armor fails? “Tony’s down, trouble!” or “Hey Rhodey, this is Tony…my armor seems to be down for a little while – can you run by my place and water my plants and make sure the cats are fed?”
CG: It's essentially a prerecorded message from Tony in which he tells Rhodey that he's probably dead, and asks War Machine to carry on the fight against whoever's responsible. Tony has always been the kind of man who plans for every eventuality, and with his StarkTech being incorporated into law enforcement, the intelligence community and any number of other places, he knew there was a chance it might be compromised. Rhodey is his ace in the hole, his doomsday weapon. It turns out Tony designed the latest War Machine armor to be immune to any attack against StarkTech…which means the War Machine is still rolling!
NRAMA: Where is Rhodey as a character these days? As you said, you (and Dan Slott) have been handling him in The Initiative recently where he's kinda...part man, part machine now, right?
CG: Yep, as we saw in Avengers: The Initiative #11, Rhodey has become something of a cyborg, under as yet unrevealed circumstances. Obviously this is a huge change in his life, but thus far he seems to be dealing with it by throwing himself into his work as Commander of the Initiative training facility, Camp Hammond. As a practical matter, the bad news is that Rhodey needs his suit to survive. The good news (for humanity, anyway) is that he has more weapons at his command than ever before. The War Machine no longer ends with the suit of armor.
NRAMA: What are you pulling from for this spotlight on Rhodey? Who is he in your view?
CG: To me he's a man who has always stood up for what he believes in and never shied away from the tough battles. From his childhood, surviving the streets of Philadelphia, to his service as a Marine, to his tenure as Iron Man and then War Machine, he's the guy you want at your back when everything goes to hell. What he hasn't been is the general; the guy who gives the orders that cause others to live or die. He's always been the one on the front lines. Sure, he's led others into combat, but he's been right there with them. Now Rhodey is going to have to make the kinds of decisions Tony usually makes, where there is no positive outcome, just one in which fewer people die. He's not happy about it…and whoever has the misfortune to take him on is going to find that out.
NRAMA: So even though the Skrulls anticipated Iron Man's armor...are they going to shut down War Machine just as easily?
CG: Nope. Part of the reason they were able to do that to Tony is that they had infiltrated people close to him, like Dum Dum Dugan, so they were able to gather intel on him that way. But Rhodey has been playing it pretty close to the vest, revealing that he's now a cyborg only to a handful of people he trusts. Even Rhodey doesn't know exactly what Tony did to his newest suit of armor…and Tony hasn't told anyone. The Skrulls won't be able to use any cheat codes on War Machine…if they want to take him down, they'll have to do it old school.
NRAMA: So if you can, let’s hear a little more detail on Rhodey's mission here - Find Tony? Avenge Tony? Don't stop until the streets run green with Skrull blood?
CG: I'm going with number three. [laughs] In all seriousness, he does have a specific mission, but I don't want to give it away. I will say that you'll be seeing War Machine kicking some major green behind in an exotic locale, and other Marvel characters will show up as well. This isn't Rhodey trying to find Tony; the message he got assumes Tony is dead. This is about War Machine carrying on the fight-finding out who did this to Tony and making them pay.
NRAMA: And something else that can’t be neglected here - you're working with Sean Chen, who’s basically responsible for laying the foundation of how Iron Man is seen, since the restart with Heroes Return in the late ‘90s. You’re a huge fan…is it as cool as you’d imagined?
CG: It's awesome. Sean is one of my favorite Iron Man artists. I remember when he and Kurt Busiek took over the book and brought Iron Man back to his former glory. Sean's great with action, fantastic at rendering technology and he knows these characters like the back of his hand. It's so much fun coming up with scenes knowing how cool Sean is going to make them look! It's also pretty sweet having Adi Granov on the covers…see for yourself!
NRAMA: Finally – what’s the coolest thing you have Rhodey do in the arc...so far?
CG: Oh, man, I wish I could tell you. It's at the end of the first issue, and it just made the fanboy in me cackle with glee. Let's just say War Machine will be operating on a whole new scale…