Lt. Col. James Rhodes is War Machine--the single most advanced one-man weapon of conventional combat. However, wars aren't fought the way they used to be, and Rhodey has to face a mysterious enemy he can't shoot, can't bomb, and can't even see.
Iron Man 2.0 could be held up as a laundry list of Nick Spencerís creative tics. To begin with, itís got freaking 2.0 in the title, a la the Existence series. Then thereís the plotís habit of jumping around in perspectives and frames; the story unfolds in a more linear fashion here than it does over in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents or Infinite Vacation, but the investigative aspects match up pretty squarely with Morning Glories. To cap it all off, Spencer again gives us a stable of artists whimsically tagging each other in and out of the creative arena.
That last part is what truly takes me out of this book and causes me to feel itís a big disappointment at the moment. Where other Spencer books, like T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, carefully segregate the moments by different artists, Iron Man 2.0 lacks that precision, with the art often shifting from page to page. Take a look at the first few pages of the book; we begin with a hospital scene that looks like Kano channeling Italian and Japanese comic artists equally, and then we jump into a fight scene that features Barry Kitsonís impeccably clean lines and fluid panel work before ending with a post-battle conversation thatís penciled by Carmine Di Giandomenico.
Giandomenico is the problem element in the equation since his style is not only vastly different from Kitsonís and Kanoís, but he is also far, far, far below their skill set when it comes to drawing techno-corporate robot books. In a comic that had a more personal narrative or that required less attention to detail, Giandomenico might be fine. However, his pages here look amateurish--like a deviantart fan page for Iron Man. That comment isnít meant to be a knock on Giandomenico, per se; itís just that drawing armored people flying through their own personal mech playgrounds is obviously not something he has a handle on.
Worse, the coloring is all different as well. Apparently, Kano colored his own pages while Matthew Wilson colored the rest, which means that we get Kano pages that have a super European feel with a water-color like treatment, Kitson pages that look exquisitely modern, and then Giandomenicoís bland-by-comparison minimalism. The reason for the art inconsistencies are apparently due to Kitson suffering from a bout of pneumonia. Thus, itís admittedly a little unfair to harp on this problem, but it would be a disservice not to let potential readers know what theyíre in for.
Even with that gigantic handicap, though, thereís still plenty to indicate that once this book stabilizes itíll be a must-read. As a character, James Rhodes has been woefully underused and mishandled for so long, but Spencer makes it immediately clear that he knows exactly how to present Rhodes, as he places the character in a position that makes him not all that dissimilar to Colin Powell.
See, Rhodes is a soldier who, like Powell, is eternally at odds with his own effort to be morally upstanding while trying to be loyal and faithful to his commanding officers. Those traits are not always able to co-exist, as Powell found out with the Iraq War situation and Rhodes found out when Norman Osborn wound up in power. For all his intelligence and ability, Rhodes now finds himself in a position where other military officers canít stand him, feeling that he forgot that a soldier should, above all else, always follow orders no matter the cost.
Rhodesís breaking point was more obviously explosive than Powellís real life one, but the effects were no less catastrophic for either; for Powell it meant falling out of political favor--likely in a permanent fashion, and for Rhodes it meant being seen as a rogue operative who is not to be trusted.
Spencer is already milking this conflict in Iron Man 2.0 by having Rhodesís position as a military enforcer at the whim of the Pentagon be a jail sentence of sorts--one that forces him to not just return to the site of one of his greatest struggles, but also be tasked with protecting the warmongers who forced him to take such extreme measures in the first place. While itís clear that Rhodes is most comfortable when heís working alongside someone he truly respects, like Stark, Spencer indicates that this book will chiefly be about Rhodes coming to terms with the need to sometimes work with, and make compromises for, the people he loathes.
Iron Man 2.0 might already be more action-packed than its brother book, but what makes it potentially more enticing is the way it handles the paradoxical nature of military service in a frank and unflinching way. There simply arenít enough books willing to delve into this territory, and Spencerís already heading in the right direction by doing so. That a storyline that features a disembodied mad scientist is the most boring part should really say something about how excellent Spencerís writing is. Now if he can just get the rest of the bookís creative side together.
Spinoffs are often bullshit--cheap ploys to cash in on a parent property with an unnecessary offshoot that can't sustain a story on its own. Despite the sly branding (i.e., not calling this series War Machine), Iron Man 2.0 isn't just a way for Marvel to roll in that sweet, sweet Iron Money. Rather, Nick Spencer and company have crafted the perfect companion to Invincible Iron Man.
While Fraction's book follows Tony Stark as he tries to use his technology to better the world, Spencer's book seems to offer a different perspective on the franchise as James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, goes on missions for the military. Spencer's a big idea guy (which tends to make for good superhero comics), so we get a few fun concepts here. First, we have a robot misleadingly and repeatedly fighting Iron Man due to convoluted comic book backstory involving clones and alternate future Iron Men. Then there's the main plot of this opening story arc, which involves a genius who managed to smuggle sensitive information out of his DARPA-inflicted isolation via suicide and some deliciously high-concept details that I won't spoil here.
More importantly, Spencer keeps the proceedings lively with some fun, witty dialogue. In the films, it's easy to write off Rhodey as the military straight man who has to keep Robert Downey Jr. in line. However, as Tony Stark's buddy, some of Stark's quirks are sure to rub off on Rhodey. One of the best character interaction scenes in the issue has Stark and Rhodey gently ribbing one another as they exchange necessary exposition. It's not easy to do, but Spencer pulls it off and creates the sense that these two guys are real friends.
There's only one problem with the book so far: the number of artists in this inaugural issue. Back in October, Marvel announced that Barry Kitson would be handling interior art. Due to a bout of pneumonia, Kitson draws five pages in this issue while two of the four Invincible Iron Man #500 artists, Kano and Carmine Di Giandomenico, handle the rest of the comic. This predicament is nothing new for Spencer--different artists handling different perspectives in a Spencer book goes all the way back to Forgetless. However, the transitions aren't nearly as clear in Iron Man 2.0.
For example, Kitson draws the battle scene with Iron Man and Blizzard, but Di Giandomenico takes over once our heroes take their masks off. Di Giandomenico also draws the ďmission briefing scene,Ē while Kano comes in to draw flashback and cutaway pages except one, which Di Giandomenico draws. I honestly can't tell if the transitions between artists are supposed to be subtle, or if Marvel just grabbed whatever artists were available to handle pages as needed.
Yet here's the thing: they're all great artists. So far Kano, with his thin, subtle line work and consistent figures, is my favorite, but Kitson handles the superhero action swimmingly, and Di Giandomenico's vaguely anime style is expressive and makes for some great panels. I like all three, but the effect of the division of labor is murky and therefore confounding.
Ultimately, Iron Man 2.0 is a bit more straightforward than Spencer's other ops-based superhero book, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and thus less of a challenge. However, it promises to be equally strong thanks to its intriguing first issue.
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