Iron Patriot #1
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Garry Brown
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Review by Joey Braccino
James “Rhodey” Rhodes is just one of those characters that everyone loves but can’t seem to hold an ongoing solo series for longer than a handful of issues. He’s always been a strong supporting player in a wide array of titles—from Avengers West Coast to Secret Avengers to Avengers: Initiative multiple iterations of Iron Man—but in the last decade alone, Rhodey has starred in at least two marquee, eponymous titles: War Machine by comics superstar Greg Pak and Iron Man 2.0 by up-and-comer Nick Spencer. While these series spun out of ongoing comic events—Secret Invasion for the former and the climactic issues of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man for the latter—at least some of Rhodey’s newfound spotlight must be attributed to the character’s warm reception in all of the Iron Man films. Sure, Terrence Howard gave way to Don Cheadle, but the character was treated well in all three films and rumors swirled after each entry of a War Machine spin-off. After the immensely successful Iron Man 3—which featured some of the strongest Rhodey material to date—it came as no surprise that Marvel would launch an Iron Patriot title as part of its All-New Marvel NOW! initiative with Rhodey in the suit.
Now, as I mentioned in my review of Secret Avengers #1 a few weeks back, I love writer Ales Kot’s work on Zero from Image. His dark and moody but still quirky take on the espionage-thriller made me think that he would be the perfect fit for the genre and tone of Secret Avengers. Unfortunately, that series missed the mark for me, so I was hesitant picking up Iron Patriot this week. I wondered if the more rigid editorial system of a big company like Marvel would inhibit Kot’s eccentricity.
For the most part, my hesitation was for naught; Iron Patriot has a much better debut that Secret Avengers and, perhaps, much stronger potential than previous volumes of Rhodey’s solo adventures. That isn’t to say that it’s a stellar first outing—there are some serious flaws that really hamper the excitement—but it’s a promising one.
The basic premise sees Rhodey—now donning the Iron Patriot armor after last year’s Secret Avengers storyline—choosing to shift his modus operandi from large-scale military operations to homeland security. As Iron Patriot, he wants to protect America specifically. Meanwhile, Rhodey grapples with issues at home as his father, Terrence, urges him to spend more time with his niece, Lila. Lila, a tech prodigy, seems to have more fun tinkering with computers than being a teenager, and Terrence wants Rhodey to hang up the repulsors and spend time with family. It’s an interesting dichotomy to frame the series around—duty to country; duty to family—that should provide some fascinating conflict down the line.
Kot spends the most time (successfully) with the family drama, establishing this supporting cast instead of jumping to explosions and war scenes. It’s a welcome departure from what previous War Machine volumes have been all about, but an unfortunate consequence of the grounded focus is the ultimate lack of any larger narrative conflict. There’s no time spent establishing apparent villains or problems or a larger world. Kot teases the obvious foreign outrage that would arise from Rhodey’s security declaration, but doesn’t really capitalize on anything in particular. The cliffhanger to the issue comes completely out of left-field purely because of the lack of any shadowy hand that could potentially instigate the problem at hand. Finally, the opening sequence—a stunning, nerve-wracking “I couldn’t save you…” flashforward—isn’t mentioned again after the first few pages. So while the family conflict with Rhodey and his father is fascinating, Kot’s structure for the rest of the issue fails to really establish anything meaningful. There are glimmers, sure, but nothing meaty enough just yet.
One undeniable high-point of the debut, however, is Garry Brown’s artwork. Reminiscent of Michael Gaydos’ work on Marvel’s critically acclaimed series, ALIAS, Brown’s aesthetic is equal parts moody pulp and rugged realism. It’s exactly the type of artwork I would associate with Ales Kot’s grounded drama, and I’m almost tempted to come back for issue two just to see more of Brown’s gorgeous artwork. Jim Charalampidis’ color art is equally stunning as its solid naturalism perfectly complements Brown’s thick linework. Absolutely gorgeous.
Wait and see. Rhodey is an excellent character with a lot of mileage in both supporting and lead roles. Marvel hasn’t quite found the perfect formula to get his solo series clicking for the long-run, but perhaps Ales Kot’s emphasis on the duty dynamic and family might just hold the key to success. Of course, to do so, Kot will have to find ways to truly capitalize on and establish an appropriate, intriguing threat for the Iron Patriot. Or just have Garry Brown and Jim Charalampidis keep drawing us in with their gorgeous artwork.