Iron Man #287-289
Issue(s): Iron Man #287, Iron Man #288, Iron Man #289
Issue #287 starts with James Rhodes' first meeting with Stark Enterprises board as the president. It goes better than you might expect. Rhodey doesn't start any confrontations with the board, instead saying that Stark isn't broke and he's not going to try to fix it. He just wants to get out of the way and let them do their jobs. The board members leave pleasantly surprised.
After the meeting, Rhodey goes out to dinner with Rae LaCoste, who tells him that while she and Tony were friends, she "had something else in mind" for her relationship with Rhodey. In a post-coital scene, Rhodey tells her that she hopes she knows what she's getting into, since interracial couples are still a concern.
But corporate politics and romances are cut short by the arrival of a new Atom Smasher at a nuclear power plant still labeled "Stane".
Atom Smasher demands to be put in contact with the media, and he announces that he's going to shut down the poisoning of the world by radioactive materials by destroying the Stane nuclear facility.
Stark Enterprises owns Stane's holdings, so Rhodey goes to the scene as Iron Man. Atom Smasher sounds a lot like a modern day Firebrand, and i'm kind of disappointed that this is his only appearance.
When Iron Man doesn't come out with Atom Smasher in a timely manner, the army sends in their own armored agent, Firepower.
Iron Man, meanwhile, winds up deeper in the Stane complex, where he finds poorly stored and leaking radioactive material, which is labeled as being part of "Project Morningstar".
After Firepower is knocked out, Rhodey returns to the fight, using his energy knife.
Atom Smasher's armor gets cut upon, revealing a highly radioactive person inside.
It turns out that Atom Smasher is a former Stane employee. When he found the leaking barrels, he threatened to blow the whistle, and he wound up getting shot and put into a barrel and dumped into the sea. Which of course isn't the smartest move in the Marvel universe, since instead of killing the guy it turned him into Atom Smasher.
But Rhodey has seen the leakage and he agrees to close down this site and all others like it under (now) Stark Enterprises' control. Firepower recovers at this point and blasts Atom Smasher, calling him a terrorist. Iron Man uses his EMP blast to take out both himself and Firepower, putting them both at Atom Smasher's mercy. Atom Smasher agrees to trust him, and leaves (never to be seen again). Iron Man recovers before Firepower, and carries him out of the facility, threatening to bust the army for trespassing.
Rhodes' next meeting with the board isn't so pleasant. He tells them to get Stark Enterprises and all of its holdings out of the nuclear business "and back on the right side of the law". Hopefully in reverse order; i.e. just selling off the nuclear holdings won't really fix the problem.
After the meeting, Rhodey is approached by, uh, one of his employees (who goes unnamed) and confirms that people have been seeing Tony Stark wandering the corridors since he "died".
"Tony" turns out to be the Living Laser.
The Laser is unaware that Stark is dead, hence the "disguise". Rhodey, calm in the face of the Laser's super-villain rage, informs him.
He then borrows a page from Stark's handbook and offers the villain a job.
This is all part of an elaborate trap that Rhodey has set up after hearing about the weird Stark sightings.
You can almost feel sorry for the Living Laser and wish that the job offer was legitimate, since it might not be a bad way to deal with a villain like him. But the Laser is somewhere between unstable and evil, so it probably wouldn't have worked out.
Rhodey returns wearing the War Machine armor covered in refractive paint.
And after a fairly long fight...
...the Living Laser is defeated and shot into the Andromeda Galaxy.
The Living Laser calls Rhodey "cruel" at least twice, and he may be, but he did give Laser a chance to surrender before the end. He's still affected by it, and goes to LaCoste for comfort after the fight.
Also in these issues, Marcy Pearson begins taking bribes from Morgan Stark. However, the people he's working for decide that Morgan is no longer reliable.
And Stark continues to have flashbacks to his childhood while he's in cold storage (that's what the back-up in #288 is entirely about). He wakes up at the end of the back-up. And at the end of issue #289, the day after the Living Laser fight, Rhodey is summoned to the cryogenics lab and learns that Stark is alive. He doesn't take it well.
The way things are plotted, there isn't really a lot of time where Rhodey is president of Stark Enterprises and acting as Iron Man while Stark is "dead", which doesn't leave much room for Rhodey to appear in that status in other books. I'm allowing for some time between Rhodey taking on that role and his first board meeting at the beginning of this arc, but that probably wasn't what was intended. And from there we go directly to the Atom Smasher and Living Laser fights. Which is all fine; i'm just thinking about how writers probably ought to leave room for their characters to appear in other books, like Rhodey does in X-Force.
I've said before that i don't consider Stark's death and return to be much of a cheat, since it was telegraphed in advance and we check in on his dreams throughout these issues. And the real purpose of all of this is to spin Rhodey off into a new role, but more on that when we get to the next two issues.
In the meantime, i really like the two villains that Len Kaminski uses here. Atom Smasher's motives make him sympathetic and not as villainous as he first seems. I'm actually surprised that he doesn't have any more appearances. Maybe it means that Rhodey was good to his word or maybe Atom Smasher just dies of cancer. But i could totally see Fabian Nicieza having him join up with the Forces of Nature in New Warriors or something like that. I also really like Rhodey's handling of Living Laser. It's really nice to see Laser considering going back to pure science, and you wind up feeling like it's a shame that Rhodey didn't actually try Laser out in that role, which is how Kaminski wanted us to feel. The art works well in that issue. I haven't liked a lot of Tom Morgan's stuff (his Power Pack run probably soured me on him), but the cartoonish expressions he gives the Living Laser's unreal body actually work nicely, and in general his cartoonish style is dialed back a bit.
Quality Rating: B
Historical Significance Rating: 1
Chronological Placement Considerations: Tony Stark returns from the "dead" this arc, but his return is still under wraps. Next issue doesn't continue directly, but James Rhodes quits as Stark Enterprise's president here, so issues showing him in that role, like X-Force #20-23, should take place prior to this. Despite the fact that he has his first board meeting at the start of this arc, Rhodes can have been acting as president prior to this.
The MCP has VOR/TEX (Virtual ORganism/Turing EXperiment) appearing behind the scenes in this issue.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Iron Man: War Machine TPB
Inbound References (4): showAbe Zimmer, Erica Sondheim, Firepower, Iron Man, Living Laser, Marcy Pearson, Morgan Stark, Mrs. Arbogast, Osamu Moroboshi, Rae LaCoste, VORTEX, War Machine
I was disappointed that Stark came back so quickly. Yes, it was obvious that he wasn't really dead, but it seemed pointless for him to fake his death only to pop up again just a few months later. It felt to me like a huge missed opportunity to have Rhodes in the spotlight for a longer period of time, maybe for a year or so, until #300, which would have been a good time to bring back Stark. Yes, Rhodes had filled in as Iron Man once before, years ago. But this time he was going to be both Iron Man *and* the CEO of Stark Enterprises. I was looking forward to seeing how Rhodes would have fit into that later role, so I was annoyed that it only lasted three issues before he was out the door. I had been following this series regularly since "Armor Wars II" but this was such a letdown that I dropped it just two issues later.
Posted by: Ben Herman | October 3, 2016 4:23 PM
Fnord, it is just the Living Laser, right? Because you called him Living Lightning a bunch of times. Not trying to point out an error (I know that's for the forum) but just trying to get some clarification.
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 3, 2016 5:04 PM
Yeah, it's just Laser. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 3, 2016 5:17 PM
Great insight, fnord. I had the first issue of this set so I didnt learn too much about Atom Smasher. As you say, he makes for an interesting and sympathetic villain in the Firebrand mould.
I'd hazard to guess he was just too late to catch on. By the 90s, nuclear power wasnt seen as the new danger, as it had been in the 80s, circa chernobyl. By the 90s, it was being parodied on the Simpsons. So he probably already felt a bit out of date. Missed potential to be sure but probably for the best considering how subsequent writers screwed up Firebrand.
Also, I wondered what Rae laCoste had up her sleeve. She was clearly shagging Tony when she was alive, even though she denied it. She then jumped into bed instantly with Rhondey as soon as he became the boss. Im a bit surprised a clever guy like Rhodey didnt smell a rat. But it fits in with your theory of Rhodey being oversexed.
Also, it was annoying the way the artist never drew Rhodey with an open mouth when he spoke. He always had the same closed mouth expression in every panel.
Posted by: kveto | October 4, 2016 3:23 PM
"Rhodes' next meeting with the board isn't so pleasant. He tells them to get Stark Enterprises and all of its holdings out of the nuclear business "and back on the right side of the law". Hopefully in reverse order; i.e. just selling off the nuclear holdings won't really fix the problem."
Posted by: Michael | October 4, 2016 7:23 PM
This story inspires one of the better stories from the second volume of What If?, showing three variations on what might have happened if the Laser really had decided to keep working at Stark's company.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 8, 2016 4:53 PM
Comments are now closed.
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