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This article contains spoilers for Civil War II #1, so be cautious if you have not read that issue and plan on it.
James Rhodes has been Tony Stark’s good friend, confidant and armored partner for many years. That is, until recently. In Civil War II #1, Tony Stark is told that Rhodey had been killed in a battle with Thanos (depicted in the “Free Comic Book Day” preview issue of Civil War II). It’s certainly possibly that this is a red herring and Rhodes is still alive. Even if he has actually been killed (a decision I would not like), it’s probable that he will come back at some point. In any case, let’s celebrate — in chronological rather than subjective order — the life of Philadelphia native and former Marine James Rhodes, also known as War Machine.
Created by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, James Rhodes appeared in Iron Man #118 in order to be Tony Stark’s personal pilot. However, the two had a history together that dates back to Iron Man’s origins. Rhodes helped Stark, as Iron Man in his original grey armor, during the Vietnam War. Though this origin was told later, and Rhodes didn’t necessarily seem like an long-lasting character in his debut, many of his character traits are there from the beginning.
During the period where Stark’s drinking was at its worst, he was becoming less effective as Iron Man. Following Iron Man’s defeat from the villain Magma, Rhodes got into the red and yellow suit of armor and took over for Stark in issue #170. Tony himself felt that he needed the time away to deal with his alcoholism. However, most other heroes did not know that Rhodes was now Iron Man. Rhodes was in the Iron Man armor during the original Secret Wars mini-series.
One of the earliest offshoots of the original Avengers line-up was a team based in Los Angeles, California and lead by Hawkeye. While Mockingbird, Tigra, and Wonder Man rounded out the founding line-up, Iron Man provided some of the biggest star power and fire power. However, his teammates did not know that Iron Man was James Rhodes during this time, though he would eventually reveal his identity to the group, who accepted him openly.
Rhodes and Stark had gone through some ups and downs, but with Stark back in the Iron Man armor, Rhodes would only occasionally suit up in a separate suit Stark had designed for him. Although he had worn the armor before, Avengers West Coast #94 (the name of the series had been changed slightly so that it would be listed alphabetically near the other Avengers series) was the first time he went by the name War Machine. Though he has occasionally gone by different names (such as Iron Patriot), he has mostly been known as War Machine for the last twenty-plus years.
In 1994, there was an Iron Man animated series that featured Rhodes/War Machine as a supporting character. The same year, War Machine got his own starring title for the first time with War Machine #1 from writers Scott Benson and Len Kaminski and artist Gabriel Gecko. War Machine lasted a respectable twenty-five issues, going until 1996. He has had a number of tie-in series since then as well as a regular series in 2009-2010 that lasted twelve issues.
Although he mostly gets viewed as a supporting character and auxiliary hero, James Rhodes, as Iron Man and War Machine, has had an important role in Marvel Comics since the 1980s. He also has many fans, even if his solo series have not lasted hundreds of issues, such as Iron Man. Hopefully, it turns out that Rhodes is okay after the conclusion of Civil War II, or that he returns quickly. It seems unfair in some ways that he would be the main casualty of both the 2016 Civil War comic and movie (in Captain America: Civil War Rhodes as War Machine suffered partial paralysis). What are your favorite Rhodey and War Machine moments?