James’ Pick of the Week: Iron Man 2.0 #4
Story by: Nick Spencer
Art by: Ariel Olivetti
It should say something that the best issue of Iron Man 2.0 so far has been the one without its supposed protagonist, Jim Rhodes. Sure, he pops up in voiceover dialogue for the first few pages, but this is an issue that relies on back-story, and writer Nick Spencer’s innovative writing style. Spencer has made his mark as one of the preeminent young writers in comic books over the last six months. Morning Glories has been a thrilling ride issue to issue, a compounding mystery series written with real panache. He wrote the book on how to make Jimmy Olsen relevant to the modern DC Universe in his Action Comics back-ups, collected and concluded in a one shot last month. And while his star has been shining brightly enough that I can’t help but pick up each book he’s writing, I simply have to admit that so far I really haven’t cared much for his run on Iron Man 2.0. The writing has been solid, and the concepts are stellar. Clearly Spencer is the man to match the intelligence of Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man. And yet something has been missing.
I should probably admit that I’ve never really been drawn to Jim Rhodes or the War Machine armor he’s been wearing for almost 20 years. Iron Man has always been about something more than the suit he’s wearing. The stories have been as much about Tony Stark’s intellect as they’ve been about his superheroism in the Marvel Universe. Rhodes, on the other hand, seems to be all about the armor he wears. He’s a military man, driven by the desire to do right by his own moral code. He’s written to be a good man, the sort of person you look up to, and perhaps that’s the real issue. Tony Stark is a troubled guy, he has major flaws that are hard to overlook, and because of those flaws he is charming and relatable. Rhodes, on the other-hand is clean-cut. You get a sense of that in the first issue of 2.0, where he’s stationed in a military base he personally attacked back when Norman Osborn was running the Government. You’d expect there to be some recoil from that, beyond the blowhard General Rhodes has been positioned under. But even the people who are supposed to resent them admit that he was in the right.
I think what stood out to me about issue four is that it’s the first time we’ve seen Spencer been able to tackle this smart, action-packed story without having to rely on the man who is supposed to be in the leading role. It actually got me thinking about the story beyond Rhodes, and led to me picking up the last three issues and giving them another read-through. I get the sense that Spencer might see the same issue with Rhodes, and so he’s trying to build up a supporting cast around him that we care about more than Rhodes himself. Suzi Endo is the kind of dynamic character you want to have in every issue, and Kaylie seems to be getting extra attention out of the Intelligence contractors Rhodes is working with. I bet we’ll be seeing a lot more of them moving forward.
This issue we see a portrait of the kind of man the Government doesn’t want to admit that they actively recruit. A true sociopath, revealed in one-page excerpts of interviews with the various people who knew the supposedly dead villain, Palmer Addley, in his years before joining the DARPA R&D team. Punctuating these closed room discussions are silent two-page spreads, giving readers time to let Spencer’s high-octane dialogue really sink in. It was a powerful issue, not quite standalone, but enough to stand out from what has come before. I’m more invested in the story now that it seems like Nick Spencer is back to thinking outside the box in his storytelling.
Moving forward, I’d love to see Spencer pierce Jim Rhodes’ nobility and actually break him down a little. Military protagonists can be hard to get a handle on, It’s an issue I used to have with Captain America before Ed Brubaker used the return of Bucky to really get inside his head and make us relate to the big guy. So far, the successes of Iron Man 2.0 have been in despite of the protagonist, and without giving us that crucial insight to why we should care about him, I think the series is going to have a lot of trouble down the line. I fully trust Nick Spencer’s ability to crack his shell, and hopefully we’ll see that happen soon. Any book with Nick Spencer deserves to be on the top of my pull list, and this issue proved that that is certainly possible.
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