When you're a solider armed with years of combat experience, advanced cybernetics, and one of the most dangerous weapons known to man, it's easy to think you can take on the monsters of the world and win. However, Jim Rhodes, the title character of Marvel Comics' new ongoing series "War Machine," is discovering that such a crusade, while noble, is highly dangerous to one's physical and emotional well being. CBR News spoke with writer Greg Pak about the series and what's next for Rhodes.
As part of his mission to exterminating the scum of the world, War Machine has adopted a complex ethical code when it comes to killing. In issue #1, Rhodes had no qualms about executing the soldiers of a dictatorial government engaged in ethnic cleansing, but in later issues he went out of his way to avoid killing the private army of a company called Eaglestar International.
"Rhodey's a bit like a rocket-launcher-equipped Santa with a one-track mind. He's not so interested in the nice, but he definitely knows if you've been naughty," Pak told CBR. "In Rhodey's internal monitors, a thing called a 'Kill Number' pops up when he eyes a new villain. That's not the number of people the villain's killed; that's a rating based on all the information Rhodey's downloaded from every accessible database on the planet that helps Rhodey decide who deserves the ultimate sanction. At the same time, Rhodey's not just mechanically blowing the heads off anyone with a high kill number. He's struggling to make the right decisions every minute.
"But he doesn't struggle too hard when he comes across monsters like the genocidal Santo Marcan death squad soldiers in 'War Machine' #1, who happen to be a split second away from shooting a five-year-old kid in the back. If you're literally murdering people in front of Rhodey's eyes, you're pretty much done."
Whether or not to kill an enemy isn't the only complex issue War Machine is wrestling with, there's lot of difficult and haunting things running through his cybernetic mind. "Rhodey's brain works differently from yours and mine. With his new cerebral implants, he's able to process insane amounts of information -- but he's also incapable of forgetting anything he's seen," Pak explained. "So every horrific act committed by the villains he faces is forever emblazoned upon his brain -- as fresh and searing as it was the first time he saw it. When discussing genocide and international atrocities, people often say, 'Never forget.' Rhodey literally can't forget.
"But it's hugely debatable whether Rhodey's willingness to use extreme violence can be attributed wholly to his new brain," Pak continued. "We've just entered a new phase with the book -- with each coming issue, we'll learn more and more about Rhodey's past and delve deeper into the events and decisions that made him the man he is today."
In "War Machine" #4, Rhodes revealed that to help himself prepare for his campaign against the dictators and genocidal madmen of the world, he directly downloaded into his brain information on **every** war crime recorded on earth for the past 70 years. "Rhodey didn't fully understand what he was in for when he started downloading all of that evidence," Pak stated. "Only after it was too late did he understand the terrible responsibility that all that knowledge would lay upon him."
War Machine's cybernetics aren't a complete burden, though. Over the course of issues #1-4, readers have seen James Rhodes use his cyborg parts to link up with and incorporate a wide variety of weapons and technology into his own body. "With a little hardware at his disposal, Rhodey's limited only by his own imagination and will," Pak explained. We'll see a pretty terrifying demonstration of that potential power in the climax of 'War Machine' #5."
In stores April 29, "War Machine" #5 picks up literally seconds after the cliff hanger of issue #4, which left James Rhodes with a seemingly herculean challenge to overcome. A cybernetic "Ultimo" virus was unleashed, turning the infected into blood-hungry murder machines equipped with superhuman strength and optic energy blasts. The infected are headed for the downtown area of the city of Mazikan in the Middle Eastern country of Aqiria. To make matters worse, leading the charge of the infected is Ares, the God of War, who had been sent by his master Norman Osborn to stop War Machine's activities in Aqiria. And if that wasn't enough, there's the fact that War Machine's earlier battles with Ares have overloaded his cybernetic systems and left him minutes away from organ failure.
"Yes, Rhodey's on the verge of death -- he has literally five minutes to do what has to be done. This issue is a huge test both for Rhodey and the ragtag team he's assembled. Everyone's going to make decisions and take actions that will change their lives forever, for better or for worse (heck, let's face it, probably for worse)," Pak remarked. "It's a key issue in explaining who Rhodey and his team have become and where they're going next. We'll also get a big peek into what Norman Osborn's angle is on all of this. And we'll see Rhodey face three monumental temptations. Dontcha dare miss it, True Believers!"
Norman Osborn ordered a U.S. Government forces attack on a facility operated by Bethany Cabe, one of James Rhodes' support staff. The reason for Osborn's attack appeared to be that he wanted to possess a clone body that was being grown to eventually house Rhodes's consciousness. "Norman has both short term and long term goals regarding War Machine. So it's certainly within the realm of possibility that everything Rhodey's done 'til now has been orchestrated by Norman from the beginning," Pak said. "At the same time, Norman's totally nuts, so you never know exactly what he's planning. I'll just say that the end of issue #5 will reveal some big things regarding Norman and War Machine."
"War Machine" #6 kicks off the series' second arc, a story called "Homeland." "It's the highest stakes fight of Rhodey's life, and the worst nightmare a patriotic soldier could find himself in," Pak said. "We're talking Rhodey versus the United States of America. Or, to coin a phrase, World War War Machine? Rhodey's discovered that the greatest threat to the safety of millions has found safe haven right here at home. But before he hits his target, he'll have to face Jason Strongbow, a.k.a. American Eagle. And, possibly even more terrifying, his own mother. That's right, Mother Rhodes plays a huge role starting with issue #6, and she's awesome."
"A huge number of Marvel superheroes are tragic orphans. Heck, even my own creation, Amadeus Cho, is a tragic orphan. But Rhodey actually has a mom," Pak continued. "She played a great role in an 'Iron Man' issue back in the day trying to help her son by keeping Tony Stark off the sauce for a few days. She popped up again in the first 'War Machine' ongoing when she not-so-nicely gave the cold shoulder to Rhodey's white girlfriend. And now she's back in 'War Machine' #6, cranky as ever and with a heck of a story to tell. We're about to learn a lot more about Rhodey's earliest days than we ever knew before."
The "Homeland" arc of "War Machine" will feature pencils by series artist Leonardo Manco, but Mahmud Asrar will also contribute to the story. "Leo's continuing to deliver incredible, detailed, dirty action alongside stunningly realistic and emotionally resonant character moments. I'm just now about to start working with Mahmud, but I love everything I've seen of his and I know he's going to do an amazing job with his pages," Pak said. "Each artist will tackle a different time periods in the books they're working on, which provides a great way for their different styles to shine and serve the story beautifully."
While Manco and Asrar have the interiors covered, artist Francesco "Matt" Mattina will continue to provide the cover art for upcoming issues of "War Machine, much to Pak's delight. "Matt's been doing an amazing job with the covers. I love that he's taken some liberties to play up some thematic elements -- like making Rhodey's armor look a bit like an ancient suit of armor in the Ares issues. And I love the external computer projections he created for War Machine. That's actually an idea we're stealing to use in the book -- a bit like the way Ladronn's tentacled monster on the cover of 'Incredible Hulk' #92 was too awesome not to use in the actual book."
The tone of "War Machine" is very unique for a book set in the Marvel Universe. It still has some superhero elements, but in a lot of ways the title is more of an action-packed science fiction series that examines morally murky questions. "The minute I first heard editor Bill Rosemann's pitch for the new 'War Machine' series, I was hooked," Pak revealed. "The fact that Rhodey would be confronting global atrocities meant the stories might be able to delve a bit deeper into real world concerns than the average superhero tale, and the sci fi elements were right up my alley as the guy who directed 'Robot Stories' a few years back. At the same time, 'War Machine' lets us get to the core of questions that drive a lot of superhero storytelling -- what are the motivations of, justifications for, and costs to a person claiming the right to enforce his or her own brand of justice through force? What makes 'War Machine' a particularly great venue to explore those questions is that the central character isn't just a superhero -- he's a soldier. So the stakes are raised exponentially -- he's not just making decisions about whether to beat up a villain; he's deciding whether to commit the ultimate, most irrevocable act there is by killing a fellow human being."
The series' tone may be unique, but James Rhodes's adventures in "War Machine" are integral to the larger tapestry of events in the Marvel Universe. "As 'War Machine' #6 begins, Rhodey's about ten minutes away from hitting his biggest target ever -- the United States of America! So he'll be right in the middle of the Marvel Universe -- but not in a warm 'n' fuzzy way," Pak remarked. "Keep an eye out for major clashes with some key figures from Rhodey's past as well as some of the biggest biggies in the Marvel Universe."
Pak tries to make each issue of "War Machine" as new-reader-friendly as possible, but at the same time he's also crafting a story that will reward longterm readers as well. "It's worth noting that all of this high-octane mayhem is part of a big character arc for Rhodey that will result in massive emotional, dramatic, and thematic payoffs that come to a head in issues #11 and #12," the writer said. "Every little character detail -- and every over-the-top explosion -- is building up to something pretty insane."
"War Machine" #5 is on sale April 29 from Marvel Comics.