War Machine: Iron Heart
written by Greg Pak
illustrated by Leonardo Manco
James “Rhodey” Rhodes is a living weapon. When he was blown halfway to hell during a conflict in the Middle East, his longtime friend Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) sought to help Rhodes the only way he knows how—by using that brilliant mind of his. Rhodey—who was missing both arms, both legs, and half his face—became more machine than man as Stark built him a new body out of gears and wire. Although Rhodey previously wore the black and gray War Machine armor, he now has become a literal machine of war: a cold, morally flexible cyborg with the ability to assimilate just about any weapon he encounters. No legs? No worries. He’ll just hook into that tank to get around. Oh, and don’t mind if he uses that gun turret to, in his words, “kill the %$#& out of [his enemies].”
In this bloody, merciless tale, collecting War Machine vol. 2 #1–6, Rhodey must seek the help of friends—some good, some evil—to help stop the havoc in Aqiria, a fictional area in the Middle East. While the massacre is ostensibly caused by a weapons manufacturer known as Eaglestar, Norman Osborn (the once Green Goblin) is soon revealed to be pulling the strings. As the newly appointed head of H.A.M.M.E.R. (formerly S.H.I.E.L.D., the world’s premiere spy organization), Osborn is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—his seemingly good deeds are masked with a vested interest in global domination. And part of his plan requires Eaglestar to continue production on their weapons no matter the casualty rate. But when War Machine throws a wrench in his operation, Osborn sends out his own agent of war to even the playing field. Oh, did I say “agent”? I meant to say “god.”
Ares, Greek god of slaughter (mythological deities are fairly commonplace in the Marvel Universe) and member of Osborn’s Dark Avengers, revels in the sights and sounds of war. Although the two are fighting on opposing sides, Ares sees Rhodey as his champion: a walking embodiment of destruction and massacre. And in a true “team-up” fashion, the two initially battle one another only to end up fighting together against a bigger threat. A classic comic trope, for sure, but Pak breathes fresh life into it by paralleling Rhodey’s current struggle with a classic mythical tale of Ares battling giants thousands of years prior. And Pak has been using this style of writing (recounting myths as a way to get a his story’s message across) to dazzling effect in the pages of Incredible Hercules, the critically acclaimed title that he cowrites with Fred Van Lente. The message is more often than not one that relates to the reader in the real world, and in this instance, it is a reaction on America’s conflict in the Middle East.
While the terms of the Middle Eastern occupation in this story differ from the real world, Pak subtly compares his fictional tale with the real conflict by showing ulterior motives and dubious intentions involved with both clashes. The analogue thankfully never becomes too heavy-handed, and, like any good writer, he leaves the reader pondering rather than groaning. Does the end really justify the means? Can a person truly stop evil by doing evil? And how can we really know what is right and what is wrong?
Leonardo Manco’s sketchy artwork isn’t normally the kind I enjoy, but it perfectly complements the tone of the story. Manco’s illustrations are muddled and may come off as “dirty,” but bright and clean pictures would have been jarring for this tale. For a conflict where the lines between good and evil are blurred, and it’s hard to tell the hero from the villain, Manco’s art helps to drive home the themes set by Pak’s writing.
A techno-thriller blurred with spy agencies, Greek mythology, and questionable wars, War Machine: Iron Heart stands as a truly unique tale of power and corruption.