James Rhodes is a character traditionally seen as a supporting player. Iron Man’s friend and partner, but not a star in his own right. The fate of the two War Machine ongoing series — a mid-‘90s run that lasted 25 issues and a “Dark Reign”-era title that ended in 2009 after only 12 issues — would seem to lend some credibility to that notion.As the writer of Iron Man 2.0, a new series starring Rhodes, Nick Spencer isn’t worried about any of that. And he’s got some pretty sound reasons. “The bottom line is, now I’m working on a character that’s on the Blu-Ray cover of one of the biggest movies of the year,” said the writer in a phone interview with Newsarama, “It’s not a character that’s going to be a hard sell in the market any more. For me, it’s never really been much of a concern.” Spencer, best known as the writer of creator-owned Image Comics hits Existence 2.0 and Morning Glories, is bringing this confidence to the Iron Man 2.0, his Marvel Comics debut illustrated by veteran Barry Kitson and with covers from Invincible Iron Man artist Salvador Larroca. ‘There was a time when Iron Man didn’t sell much,” Spencer said. “All of those things have changed due to the films and the increased awareness of the character, and also due to what Matt [Fraction]’s done on Invincible Iron Man.” Thanks to Iron Man 2’s box office take of more than $600 million, this is now a world where Targets across the country sell children’s War Machine Halloween costumes. Spencer calls the character a “pop culture icon.” “When I was a kid, Rhodey was Iron Man,” Spencer said, referring to the character’s two stints filling in for Tony Stark. “I had always viewed the character as a little bit more of a lead than maybe a lot of other people do.” Spencer’s prepared to not only defend Rhodey’s place in the Marvel Universe, but also the character’s personality. Instead of seeing him as just Iron Man’s by-the-books buddy, Spencer’s clearly given thought to what makes Rhodes an interesting character on his own. “Jim is a straight-laced, down-to-Earth, keep a low profile, business is business, kind of guy,” Spencer said. “He’s not a guy who cracks a lot of jokes on a day-to-day basis. He’s not a guy who deals with a whole lot of personal angst in a very loud way. “In that sense he can be hard to get a handle on for some people. One of the things we’re going to be dealing with here is why he is like that, and why he feels like that’s what he needs to be.” All of those qualities make Rhodes essentially the opposite of Stark — which is, yep, exactly why Spencer thinks their friendship works. “Creative geniuses love stable, down-to-Earth people because that’s what they’re not,” Spencer said. “If you look at Rhodey, and you look at Pepper [Potts], that’s what they are. They are pragmatic, realistic, rational people in a way that Tony can never be.” For Spencer, making readers care about a traditionally low-key character lke Rhodes is a “fun challenge,” one that — though it pained him to admit it — reminds him of a '90-s chick-lit classic. “This is a horrible comparison, but this is the Bridget Jones conflict,” Spencer said. “When you meet two people at the same time, and one is outgoing and friendly and funny and has great stories and talks your ear off, and the other person just sits there very quietly, you’re going to immediately walk away with the stronger impression of the one that was so much more charming and more outgoing. That doesn’t tell you anything about how they are as a person. “At the end of the day, you might want to spend more time with the loud, boisterous type, but when the chips are really down, and you really need somebody to count on, you would want the other guy. And that’s who Jim is.” Spencer’s still in the early stages of his career — Iron Man 2.0 was announced earlier this month at New York Comic Con, and as he recently pointed out on his Twitter account, he was broke with no published work to speak of at the time of New York Comic Con 2009 — but for his Marvel Comics debut, he’s paired with an artist with more than 25 years in the industry. “For a guy like me, the opportunity to work with somebody like Barry Kitson is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Spencer said. “It’s been a huge thrill and a huge honor.” Despite the disparity in experience, Spencer reports that Kitson did not come into the project with any type of haughty superiority. “He doesn’t come in and remind you that he’s got decades of amazing work that you’ll never match,” the writer said. “He is a guy who cares so passionately about telling a good story.” What Spencer does bring to the table is an intense interest in world events and politics — he even ran for office in his hometown of Cincinnati a few years ago. Though he says Iron Man 2.0 is not necessarily a political story,” it’s absolutely informed by current events, which partly explains why the series isn’t titled “War Machine” — since the concept of War Machine as we know it is simply outdated. “The reality is, if we dropped War Machine into Afghanistan today, it would not change the situation at all,” Spencer said. “We live in an era of asymmetrical warfare. These entities are so agile and so difficult to identify, that we’re at a loss as to how to win anymore.” And for a character whose dominant visual trait is an absurd amount of weapons — guns on top of cannons on top of rocket launchers — that presents a rather formidable challenge. “Rhodey, who’s always been defined as this guy who brings the biggest gun to a knife fight, is suddenly going to be dealing with something very different,” Spencer said. “How do you deal with an enemy that you can’t simply point a gun at, and you can’t simply punch? It’s going to throw him for a loop at first. He’s going to have to learn how to change, learn how to adapt, and learn how to improvise in ways he never had to before.” Given that, Iron Man 2.0 is allowing Spencer to explore plenty of parallels between the changing face of warfare and the evolution of superhero comics. “That’s a big part of the fun for me, breaking free of formula to that extent,” he said. “I love a good superhero fight as much as the next guy, and I enjoy writing them, but I’ve always been struck by the inherent problems in that as a solution. I think that you’ve seen that a lot in comics in the last 10 years from writers, saying it’s not that simple any more.” Iron Man 2.0 starts in February 2011, with a prelude in Invincible Iron Man #500 the month before. Any chance of an EXISTENCE 2.0/IRON MAN 2.0 crossover?
War Machine Gets an IRON MAN 2.0 Upgrade
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