Friday, July 14, 2006

One characteristic of Tony Stark's that has remained more consistent over the years, is that he's a control freak. To put it mildly. Eventually, though, no matter how strong your stranglehold on the world, there will come something you will have no control over: death, and then what happens to the world after your death. And Tony had a plan for that.

Today's panels are from Iron Man #285, "Ashes to Ashes" written by Len Kaminski, penciled by Kevin Hopgood, inked by Andrew Pepoy. The issue starts with Tony Stark's funeral, so it's understandable how you might think Tony's plans aren't working out so well, but read on...

Shot by the stereotypical psycho-ex around issue #245, Tony had been in a wheelchair for a bit, then using his armor to be able to walk as Iron Man, then correcting his spinal injury with a microchip, then pretty much blowing out his nervous system. The whole thing was a bit of a throwback to the days when he had to wear the chestplate to keep his heart beating, but between that, the alcoholism, the shooting, and fighting as Iron Man; it just got to be a bit much.

Tony knows he's in bad shape, so he makes some arrangements. First, he turns over both Stark Industries and the mantle of Iron Man over to longtime friend (and former replacement IM) James Rhodes. Although he doesn't have the business experience, Tony trusts him to do the right things. Moreover, instead of just drunkenly throwing a secondhand suit at Jim (rereading the issues, I saw he was usually called "Jim" this time around, instead of "Rhodey") like he did last time, Tony gives him a suit more specifically built for his strengths, a modified version of the "War Machine" armor. Tony then "dies," and is placed in cryogenic freeze, until such time as he can be cured and brought back. Only a couple of Tony's doctors know the plan, to the rest of world, including Jim and the Avengers, Tony is dead. He would have a variety of flashbacks while in deep freeze, to work out his daddy issues, and foreshadow his inevitable return.

This isn't a long run of comics, but it's one of my favorites: Jim Rhodes has a great arc, unsure of himself as a CEO, but getting more and more confident. And his Iron Man is very different than Tony's. In a tight spot against any given villain, Tony would be thinking something like, "If I reroute power away from the structural integrity field, I should be able to set up a magnetic resonance to shake him." Jim would just punch him in the face. Work to your strengths, is the lesson you should take away here.

The best illustration of this would be Coach Spymaster's attempt to take scrubs Blizzard, Blacklash, and Beetle; and turn these benchwarmers into a team that could beat Iron Man. Part of their training is watching their old fight videos, presumably to desensitize them to their inevitable beating, but also to see their mistakes. I can't imagine how depressing that would be, to watch yourself lose over and over again, long enough to realize, "Of course! Every time I feint left, he hits me with the repulsor rays! It's so obvious now!"

So, Team Spymaster attacks Stark International during the scattering of Tony Stark's "ashes," which were probably old coffee grounds. (Also, I'm pretty sure Stark had a chip or two or shrapnel or something in him; shouldn't Jim have noticed they were missing?) After starting a fire and trapping civilians for a diversion, the team is pretty psyched (and surprisingly casual) when Iron Man arrives, figuring they now knew all of his moves. All of Tony's moves. It must completely suck to be 100% prepared to duck under that unibeam blast when it comes, only to get punched in the face, repeatedly, with a big metal fist.

Spymaster, utterly unsurprised by this turn of events, had a weapon in reserve: an electromagnetic pulse weapon, which reduces the mightiest weapons system on earth, to about 200-300 pounds of deadweight on Jim. Confident he's won, Spymaster takes his time gloating, giving Jim time to get up and clock him. Tony would have had to clever his way out of this, Jim sucks it up and muscles through.

Still stuck in the armor waiting for it to reboot, the first thing Jim sees when it comes back on is the Avengers West Coast, who don't know squat about this "Iron Man," and are really, really pissed about it. Ironic, since Jim was the first Iron Man to serve on the West Coast team, during their debut mini-series. (There's a good scene in there, where Tigra thinks she's talking to the Iron Man she knew. Rather than mislead her, Jim "unmasks," by taking off his glove, to reveal he's black, thus not Tony Stark.)

Running a little short on time today, so the next issue tomorrow!

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