Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wizard Insider: War Machine

Let's face it: Tony Stark is the one that's always had the coolest armour, out of all the armoured heroes (and villains) in the comics-verse. There has always been one set of armour that I've always thought was more awesome than Stark's customary red and golds though: the War Machine armour, piloted mostly by Stark's best friend, James Rhodes.

Looks like he's going to be in the Iron Man movie too, so here's the Wizard 101 on War Machine!

Become a James Rhodes scholar with this primer on Tony Stark’s bust bud!

By Jake Rossen

Posted December 18, 2007 3:40 PM

In panels or on the big screen, comic heroes never stand alone. When Iron Man makes his Hollywood debut next May, he’ll be accompanied by James Rhodes, an ally that fans may know better as War Machine.

Polishing Machine’s armor will be highly respected actor Terrence Howard (“Pride,” “The Brave One”), a self-professed comics fan who says he “jumped” at the chance to involve himself in a Marvel adaptation. Here are the specs on the man in the can, customized just for Wizard.

Rhodes was first introduced in 1979’s Iron Man #118. He and Tony Stark met just as Stark was escaping from the Viet Cong in his prototype armor. Piloting a stolen helicopter, Rhodes helped Stark escape, and the two forged a close bond. The billionaire industrialist hired Rhodes as his personal pilot; the two would frequently go airborne in tandem when Stark was faced with formidable threats like the Dreadnoughts.

If there’s one thing Tony Stark loves more than money and women, it’s the booze. Unable to control his urges, the recovering alkie allowed himself to devolve into a disgusting lush, depriving the world of an Iron Man. Sensing the need for replacement justice, Rhodes donned the armor, but at a price: because it was configured for Stark’s brain chemistry, the interface turned him paranoid and violent. Wiping the vomit from his shirt, Stark cleaned up in order to oppose him.

Distancing himself from Stark, Rhodes eventually adopted a suit culled from a symbiotic life form, a gift from aliens trying to prepare Earth for a pending invasion courtesy of Kang the Conqueror. Dubbed the Eidolon Warwear, it resembled nothing so much as a porcupine on steroids. While Stark would never approve of the style, the options are considerable: It can heal the wearer’s injuries, “grow” any weapon desired and had a sweet sound system that blared alien battle songs. Rhodes later destroyed it in an attempt to erase Stark’s armor designs before they could be uncovered and appropriated by rival businesses.

With “franchise” the word of the day in Hollywood circles, it makes sense to plan for the future. “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau chose respected thespian Howard to portray Rhodes because he felt the actor would have the necessary gravity to essay the character throughout a planned three-film arc. He’s in good company: The four principals in the film (Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Howard) have all been nominated for an Academy Award.

Upon his casting in summer 2006, Howard began chatting up news outlets with his take on the part. “[I’ll] be sitting there waiting—lusting for the opportunity to have my own power,” he told of Rhodes’ potential envy over Stark’s duds. “When I create my own War Machine stuff, I put some extra artillery on there.” Howard also believes his role as an ethnic superhero is an important one. “I feel like Jackie Robinson,” he told Crave Online. “Perhaps in the future they’ll green light other characters or other ethnicities will have a chance, based upon how this is accepted.”

Because director Favreau wasn’t up for a period piece, Stark’s wartime capture has moved to Afghanistan. What’s more, Howard told Ain’t It Cool News that he and Stark don’t meet under those desperate circumstances. Instead, he’s slotted in as a military liaison between Stark Enterprises and the Air Force. “We went to MIT together,” he explained. “I actually see his (character) change.”

This past March, Howard went to visit Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to examine planes like the HH-60G Pave Hawk and the F-22A Raptor. He also chatted up pilots, presumably in an effort to get a handle on their demeanors. This in addition to the physical training, which, he told Wizard, has resulted in an alpha-male showdown between him and Downey. “Robert and his competitive ass. I almost pulled my shoulder trying to keep up with him.”

Cognizant of how a rabid online fan base dissects news, both Favreau and his cast have been keeping their cards (and storyboards) close to their vests. While Favreau has hinted that the War Machine armor won’t show up until future installments, Howard told that “we start getting into it” in the first film. “War Machine is a very intricate aspect of the future franchise,” he said. Sounds like someone’s taking evasive action.

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