By Kieron Gillen, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Chris Sotomayor, Agustin Padilla, Scott Hanna, Val Staples, Marcos Marz, and Esther Sanz
Annuals are great. They allow creators to explore characters beyond the restrictions of continuity driven storytelling. We can get different perspectives, see more experimental storytelling methods, maybe even witness a test of a character’s durability outside their dedicated genre. Iron Man Annual #1 does a good job of adhering to a couple of virtues of annual style storytelling, as a whole it doesn’t completely hit the mark. One story is outstanding, creative, and unique for Iron Man; the other two feel more like parts of something greater than foundational beginnings.
“Two Cities”, the first story of the set, is easily the most rewarding and engaging piece of the issue. It mixes an insightful stream of logic consciousness, reminiscent of Isaac Asimov, and surreal, existential mind games, reminiscent of Philip K. Dick. The combined inspirations culminate in an imaginative sci-fi deviation for Tony stark, dropping him into a world of desperation where his trademark wit only serves to highlight an overwhelming sense of isolation throughout the story.
Solitude is inescapable through every page of “Two Cities,” even if it revolves around a conversation between Tony and Udarnik. Tony is slowly being driven mad by a toxin in his blood and the encroaching madness has taken a dominant role in subduing his psyche. Trapped by an inescapable situation, Tony must appeal to the sentient Crimson Dynamo’s robotic sensibilities despite a significant conflict between the two.
As its told the story portrays Tony’s desperation and Udarnik’s despair with an outstanding sense of realism. Even if both characters are on the panel at the same time, even when dealing with a hallucinated vision of Yinsen, every page forces the bleakness of space to enter the mind of the reader.
Apart from “Two Cities,” the other two accompanying stories, “Orbital,” and “By Moonlight,” have a much less pronounced impact. Where Gillen’s stagnated dialogue worked for the cold darkness of “Two Cities,” it makes the other two stories feel disjointed. Beyond the dialogue the pace of the annual’s latter portion don’t really add anything insightful or dramatic to its excellent beginning. The Pepper romance story is awkward, which suits the nature of both Ms. Potts and her suitor, but is mostly benign, not expanding on or developing either character. Likewise the middle story, “Orbital,” contains some relatively good laughs but lacks any sort of oomph. It was hard to care about any of the characters, thus the drama felt superficial.
All in all “Two Cities” makes the Iron Man Annual #1 worth reading. Borrowing themes and methods of storytelling from two giants of sci-fi it tells an immersive story between man, machine, and the desolation of space. As a whole this issue feels muddled, unsure of what story it’s really trying to tell.