One of the problems you’ll encounter if you’re trying to launch a new “War Machine” series is how to deal with the Iron Man situation. Because, like Robin, War Machine is essentially a sidekick to a more prominent hero. Unlike Robin, War Machine is a militaristic metal weapon of near-mass destruction, but he’s still mostly a problematic character on his own. And though James Rhodes has appeared in hundreds of comic books since his debut a couple of decades ago, he usually isn’t presented with the most vibrant of characterizations. The core of the character seems to always end up like this: he’s a sentimental tough guy, an ex-military man who always tries to do the right thing.
That’s fine for a supporting character, but it isn’t flashy enough for the star of his own series.
And that’s probably why Greg Pak and Leonardo Manco give us a more extreme James Rhodes, a more extreme War Machine. In “War Machine” #1, we get a James Rhodes who has had his arms and legs blown off — I’m not up on my recent War Machine history, so I don’t know exactly when this tragic injury occurred in continuity, but they flash back to it in this first issue — and a new, cybernetically enhanced War Machine becomes like an international Punisher. He’s a one-man war on worldwide crime.
Instead of gunning down mobsters and white slavers like Frank Castle tends to do, War Machine deploys his ridiculously explosive arsenal on the warlords of Santo Marco, or whatever oppressive regime he comes across on his mission to kill all the bad guys, everywhere.
This War Machine does kill, make no mistake about that. He blows people apart, and Leonardo Manco doesn’t hesitate to show the effects of the violence on Rhodey’s targets. Manco’s work is a good fit for this series, actually, with its scratchy detail illustrating a world that is anything buy bright and shiny. This is a sordid, tarnished Marvel Universe, and Manco ‘s style suits it perfectly.
But even though the art fits the tone of the story, and even though the War-Machine-as-International-and-Super-Armed-Punisher concept is clearly established, that’s really all there is in this first issue. It’s quite possible that this series will take a turn in a new direction, since a hyper-violent War Machine seems like a pretty shallow basis for an ongoing series, but we don’t get anything other than grim declarations and explosions in issue #1.
Ultimately, this comic reads like a concept from 1992, when the way to make a comic more interesting was to load a couple extra rocket launchers on a character’s back. I hope Pak and Manco take the series farther than they imply in “War Machine” #1, but after one issue, it really just seems like an armored Punisher riff, and that’s just not enough.