This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is James “Rhodey” Rhodes, an Iron Man supporting character who’s best known as the superhero “War Machine.” Rhodey first appeared in “Iron Man” #118 (January 1979), and was created by David Michelinie and Bob Layton. His debut as War Machine came in “Iron Man” #284 (September 1992).
Rhodey’s backstory states he served in the military as a Marine on tours of duty in southeast Asia. While he was originally involved in the Vietnam War, comic book time’s retconned the war involved in Iron Man’s origin into a “generic Asia-based conflict” (as shown in the movies). Anyway, Rhodey’s helicopter was shot down by Viet Cong (or “generic Asian conflict enemies,” I suppose); while grounded, Rhodey encountered Tony Stark (fleeing in his prototype armor from his captors). Rhodey and Tony teamed up to fight their way through the various war threats and got back to safe territory. Afterwards, Tony offered Rhodey a job as his own personal pilot, which (after several other post-war jobs), Rhodey accepted.
During an early 80s storyline that saw Tony temporarily incapacitated (due to alcoholism) from both running his own company (due to a hostile takeover) and functioning as Iron Man, Rhodey assumed the role. Rhodey fought against various Iron Man foes, and took part in the classic crossover “Secret Wars.” Eventually, Tony regained control over his personal life and business career and resumed functioning as Iron Man, though Rhodey would substitute for him on several other occasions.
In the early 90s, Tony was suffering from a nervous system failure, and turned over control of the company to Rhodey, along with a new experimental suit of armor nicknamed “the War Machine.” Rhodey took over Stark’s company and became Iron Man again, but discovered that Tony was alive and secretly undergoing an experimental life-saving procedure. Insulted that he was lead to believe Tony was dead, the two’s friendship became strained, with Rhodey quitting, but keeping the War Machine armor. The two eventually made amends, and Rhodey continued to have various adventures on his own (and in his own ongoing comic series) as War Machine. A 2013 storyline found Rhodey leaving the War Machine identity to take on a new armored identity, “Iron Patriot.”
As a major Iron Man supporting character, War Machine’s appeared both in his own comic series and in pretty much all Iron Man-related media to date. War Machine’s most high profile media appearances would be in the “Iron Man” trilogy of films. There, Rhodey was played by Terrence Howard in the first film and by Don Cheadle in the next two films. Despite a lot of online speculation as to the change (which became a running gag in the “I’m a Marvel, I’m a DC” series of YouTube parody videos), it turned out Howard was replaced by Cheadle merely due to a contract dispute.