Friday, May 30, 2008

Friends... And Other Enemies (Marvel)
Iron Man #310 When: November 1994
Why: Len Kaminski How: Tom Morgan

The Story So Far...
Suffering a life-threatening condition that rendered his nervous system on the brink of collapse; Tony Stark fakes his death in order to retreat from the world, and his many enemies, in an effort to isolate himself during the pursuit of a cure.

Eventually Stark reveals his ruse to the world, but not everyone is pleased to see the playboy billionaire industrialist back among the living. After decades of struggle and servitude, including lengthy bouts as a substitute Iron Man; James Rhodes takes exception to be excluded from Stark's inner-circle of aids. Despite the industrialist's best efforts to patch their relationship, including the indefinite pledge of the War Machine armor to his partner, they are unable to reconcile.

Simmering tensions continue between the pair, eventually reaching boiling point when Rhodes finds himself in need of aid from the inventor of his damaged suit. Embittered and unwilling to put aside their differences, Stark opts to decommission the War Machine, but Jim Rhodes has other ideas...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Adi GranovARTWORK: Chuck AustenStrength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Draw 4 (Training)
Energy Power: Draw 5 (Lasers)

- While on a field tour to observe the effects of weaponry designed by his corporation for the United States military; billionaire industrialist, Tony Stark, soon finds himself face-to-face with the bold consequences of his actions.
Caught in a rebel booby trap, Stark suffers a near fatal wound that lodges a piece of shrapnel inches from his heart. The rebels take Stark hostage to demand he apply his genius to the design and construction of weapons built from their limited resources. In doing so, they provide Stark the means to construct a suit of armor that preserves his heart, and turns him into an invincible Iron Man!

Stark's mastery over technology allows him to bring his designs home, where the availability of rapidly upgrading technologies allow him to continue to refine the build to become increasingly mobile and efficient. Stark soon dons the Iron Man armor on a regular basis, not only as insurance against his life threatening injuries, but as an opportunity to atone for the wanton destruction delt by his weapons of death. Stark protects his secrets through the duality of a secret identity, projecting to the world the image of Iron Man as a hi-tech bodyguard.

Advancements in Stark's arsenal have advanced to a point where he has now undergone cybernetic synthesis on a genetic level. The armor now not only provides him with superhuman strength and an array of offensive weapons, but also gives Stark full wireless control over the armor and other peripheral devices, as well as access to information databases, including SHIELD resources under his control as Director of SHIELD. Iron Man remains a staple of the Avengers roster.

- When US helicopter pilot James Rhodes found himself shotdown behind enemy lines, he could never have imagined the way his life would be changed. Having just escaped the clutches of his kidnappers, an armored Tony Stark stumbled upon Rhodes in the jungle, and as Iron Man, helped aid their mutual rescue.

Promised employment as a pilot by Iron Man's "employer", Rhodes fullfilled his obligations with the US military, before taking up the offer. As an employee of Stark Industries; Rhodes developed a close relationship with Tony Stark persisting through the playboy's battle with alcoholism, and the reveal of his identity as the armored avenger, Iron Man. This relationship leads to Rhodes donning the Iron Man armor himself for extended periods, before eventually inheriting a specialist suit dubbed, the War Machine.

As War Machine; Rhodes possesses much the same abilities as Iron Man, including dramatically enhanced strength, endurance, onboard tactical systems, and advanced weaponry. Though subject to variation, the War Machine was originally idenitifed by it's increased durability and arsenal of weaponry.

The Math: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
Having been confronted by his once best-friend [in War Machine #8], Iron Man uses a trigger word to deactivate the War Machine suit. To his surprise, the override proves ineffective, the result of one of Rhodes' few customizations in the light of a previous encounter with similar results.

War Machine springs from his back, launching into a devestating blow that topples the Iron Man with authority! Rhodes challenges Stark to take him down the old fashioned way, to which his rival seems happy to pledge the original flavoured armor. A blast of repulsor rays soon explains his indulgence.

The Mandarin secretly observes the battle with glee, factoring his own machinations into the equaton, while the two armored heroes continue to mercilessly stretch the limits of their suits.
Stark continues his assault with little forethought for the intervention of more conventional enemies, unleashing the physical brutality of the suit's strength enhancements, as well as his patented repulsor ray blasts.

Iron Man presses his dominance, taking full advantage of maneuvrable superiority to attack the War Machine in flight with a dropping kick attack. The pair battle across the Stark Industries compound, taking the battle airborne when Iron Man launches himself with a missle-like tackle!

The pair spiral around each other, heading skyward as Iron Man continues to batter the War Machine like scrap metal. Having suffered a majority of the violence, Rhodes finally turns the tables on his counterpart, returning the battle to earth with a super-charged toss!

An Iron Man-shaped crater gets a little deeper as War Machine descends earthbound, colliding with the floored Iron Man with maximum impact!
Now suddenly on the ropes, Iron Man suffers a two-pronge attack of a devestating left hook that launches him into the air, and an emotional piledriver regarding Stark's perceived betrayal with his faked death.

With a hint of regret, Iron Man reminds that he's suffered considerably less damage throught the course of the fight. A repulsor blast topples the looming War Machine, but even as the pair anticipate their counter measures, a third party enters the fray to blast them both with a focused EMP!

Bethany Cabe, former girlfriend of Tony Stark and head of Stark Enterprises security, shows on the scene to put a stop to the lunkheaded feud between the armored heroes. Her strategy pacifies the situation, but goes pear shaped when the opportunity for verbal resolution is interrupted by the arrival of the Mandarin!

ARTWORK: Adi GranovThe Hammer...
When it comes to superheroes, you don't always get a clear cut resolution to a fight. In such circumstances it's up to the experienced discretion of the Infinite Wars judges to determine whether a fight be deemed a draw, or awarded on points. The latter is the case here, with Iron Man having held a dominant control throughout the fight, despite an aborted conclusion. No thanks to Bethany Cabe!

For those of you wondering what went down between IM, War Machine, and the Mandarin, you should scoot over to our review of Iron Man #312! Or, if you're too lazy to do that, rest assured that all any troubled relationship really needs is the healing intervention of an insane, mystic, technophobic, ecological terrorist!

This lagging entry into our month of Iron Man provides an interesting bridge between the developing interplay between Tony Stark and James Rhodes in the feature film; and the tumultous relationships experienced by Tony Stark in the pages of Marvel comics over the past few years.

PR and distracting mini-series have managed to gradually smooth over some of the malice felt toward the Iron Man character, post-Civil War.
Well documented was the divide in the Marvel Universe that, though not necessarily intended, painted a politically reactionary Stark as the antagonist to Captain America's ideaological rebel. Stark was arguably in the right, certainly from a real-world perspective, but never the less, you couldn't argue that the management of situations went considerably pear-shaped, even if only taking into account the fatalities of heroes like Black Goliath, and Cap himself.

Agree with the politics or not, we've discussed previously the notion that the volatile turn in Stark's relationship with his fellows (like Captain America), and the absorbed perspective from which he approached the situation, was not at all out of character. In the case of his rivalry with War Machine, I dare say it was Stark who had the emotional high ground, but I think this is just one of many back issues that lend weight to the theory that Iron Man has always been a self-absorbed user.

More pertinent to the point is the backstory between Rhodes and Stark, which includes Iron Man's character-defining battle with alcoholism, and his reliance upon, and abuse of his friendships. As by extension of his alcohol abuse, Stark has long had a penchant for pulling supporting characters into his problems with a self-important gravity.

Splinters in the Rhodes/Stark relationship go back quite a ways, dealing certainly with issues of inadequacy in the former. Division between the characters, however, never struck me as quite as real as after Stark faked his death.
Given that the industrialist was isolating himself to cure a life-threatning condition, it's difficult to fully relate to Rhodes' reaction, but when you consider the unnerving decades of dedication and servitude Rhodes had shouldered, the emotional response at least benefits from the weight of that history.

Like steps from a pamphlette, Stark attempts to smooth the situation over by buying off his friend, but it's not to be.

I do wonder how these relationships will evolve for the flim version of the characters. While the subject didn't seem to be particularly prominent, director Jon Favreau didn't particularly shy away from the prospect of a poignant onscreen battle with alcohol for Robert Downey Jr. One wonders if the inherent distance between the film versions might lend to a similar breakdown and physical confrontation. Fanboys certainly know to expect Terrence Howard in the armor sooner or later, with the film telegraphing such intentions with wanton regard for the fourth-wall.

I think one of the most intriguing struggles for these films will be the balance between suspension of disbelief, and the continued consistency of the Iron Man franchise. While there are plenty of IM villains to go around, most tend to revolve either around the juxtaposition of the fantastic to IM's technology, or flatout knock-offs that pit tech V tech -- something already achieved with Iron Monger.
If indeed another armor war is to feature, you'd have to think it should carry some sort of additional weight, like an internal rivalry between Stark and Rhodes.

I'm a big War Machine fan, and it's nice to come back to the character!
I haven't been reading Avengers: Initiative, but I'm sure for those of you looking to get more of the character, it's nice to know it's out there. I certainly hope the character can be reintegrated into a more prominent role in the Marvel Universe, akin to the titular role he held during this period of comics.

I wouldn't argue against War Machine's role as an Initiative trainer, but I do have a special affection for the superhero side of these characters. What can you do?

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5

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