Monday, May 02, 2016

Real Name: James Rhodes
First Appearance: Iron Man #118 (January, 1979)
Fight Club Ranking: #105

Featured Fights:
- vs BLACKLASH: Marvel Team-Up #145 (Sep 1984)
- vs FIN FANG FOOM: Iron Man #271 (Aug 1991)
- vs CHARNAL: What If...? #54 (Oct 1993)
- vs IRON MAN: Iron Man #310 (Nov 1994)
- vs MANDARIN & THE AVATARS: Iron Man #312 (Jan 1995)

About the only hard and fast rule of Hero of the Week is that a character can only appear once a year. The staggered global theatrical release of Captain America: Civil War is still the big story in my view, but most of the feature players demanding attention have already received their honors: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-man and Winter Soldier -- all previous HOTW's.

War Machine hasn't been front and centre in the film's promotion for a while, but he's a character I've been thinking about this week. Thar be movie spoilers ahead, so you may want to set sail for Cap 3 before you dock in port! (Not sure why we went nautical with that analogy, but there you go).

If you've been reading this year's Hero of the Week entries, you know I tend to view the Marvel cinematic universe as being built with seconds in-place. The headlining acts of Iron Man and Captain America both have their one-time comic book replacements beside them (War Machine and Winter Soldier, respectively). Thor has Lady Sif, with potential for Beta Ray Bill opened by the cosmic Guardians of the Galaxy: they themselves seconds of a sort. Hollywood back-ups for mortal actors who've been mostly compliant throughout Marvel's success, but may not always be.

As we've learned in recent weeks: Robert Downey Jr has flipped his briefly precarious position. He's now more hot than cold with regards to future appearances - confirmed for Spider-man: Homecoming and even flirting with the concept of an Iron Man 4! It's a change of pace that challenges the need for an understudy, especially with a new generation of heroes already burgeoning. In a world where you can count on your original Iron Man, what's the future of War Machine?

When trailers flirted with the prospect of War Machine being the sacrificial lamb of cinema's Civil War -- the Goliath or Cap of the movie version -- it at least raised the question of the character's mortality. It turns out Rhodey was actually just very badly injured in Cap 3 - paralyzed by friendly fire. Like Tony Stark, War Machine's now a part of his tech - dependent on an exoskeleton to walk.

We've seen the films devise and drop perils before, but this one feels like it might stick. Spinal injury is something that struck Tony Stark down, in the comics. Interesting that they'd play that card with War Machine. Is it to launch into an exciting new era of the mechanical man - or is this sidelining a hero who never quite lived up to his potential? A far cry from the early days, when I really believed he'd be a convenience for the then-whispered rumor of film Avengers.

When Stark was paralyzed in the comics, he designed and built remote robotics to pilot the Iron Man armor. Appropriating that idea for the air force officer could give him a point of difference to the other armored hero. Especially if he were able to operate multiple suits by remote, or new types of Iron Man designs, like the Sentinel meets Evangelion type he used in the late 2000s.

The fact that the paralyzing injury was dealt by a Stark creation (Vision) during Stark's (Civil) war could also be the seed from which new resentments grow. In the comics, Stark and Rhodes have had severe fallings out. We saw that idea played with in Iron Man 2 - the movie that introduced War Machine as a product of the US Air Force, and pitted the two against one another, before they teamed up for a cluttered finale. It would seem awful soon to do hero-vs-hero again, but it would at least be a more personal story - fodder for Iron Man 4, perhaps.

What ever happens in the future, I hope we get to see more out of War Machine. This seems like the perfect opportunity to get him out of Iron Man's shadow and into a strong new direction.

I highly recommend checking out a couple of the classic featured fights (linked top) for more! If you're hungry for more Civil War, check out Old Comics Wednesday: Captain America and more updates in May!

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