Writer Kieron Gillen brings readers the first Iron Man Annual of the Marvel NOW! era, but rather than deliver an extra-sized single tale, Gillen writes three smaller pieces to provide an annual-thology of Tony Stark's adventures. The first of the three pieces is really the only tale where Tony takes center stage, while the rest of "Iron Man Annual" #1 features the supporting cast around Mr. Stark. Gillen ties the three stories together around and under the moon, but even with that thread woven through the Iron Man moments, this book hardly feels worthy of an Annual. Maybe that would have changed had the originally solicited artist Carlos Pagulayan drawn the issue, but what hit stands was one Annual, written by Gillen, with three stories from three different art teams.
The first story, "Two Cities" is the most Iron Man-centric of the three tales. Unfortunately, that simply means readers see Tony Stark in Iron Man armor. Dealing with the ramifications of the "Fatal Frontier" Infinite Comic, this tale opens with Iron Man on the moon, teetering on the edge of insanity due to Phlogistone (moon mercury) poisoning, begging Udarnik to help him. Over and over, Udarnik, a Soviet Shockworker robot responsible for the city on the moon shows an amazing amount of hurt and a surprisingly large grudge against Stark. That leads to some smacking around, wherein Tony simply takes it and slips into hallucinations. That's where the story peaks. From there, the resolution is a bit predictable and sleepy. Alvaro Martinez's art also hits its best during the hallucinations. Martinez brings the best art for the entirety of "Iron Man Annual" #1. Letterer Joe Caramagna, the only other creator in addition to Gillen to touch all three chapters, also brings his A-game to "Two Cities." Caramagna's treatment of Udarnik's word balloons in juxtaposition with the more slick, more polished, higher-tech word balloons from Iron Man are sublime, emphasizing the lapse in time between Udarnik's assignment and the present day.
Tony Stark appears in the second chapter, titled "Orbital." He only appears in three panels, with dialog stretching into more, but "Orbital" puts Arno Stark in the lead role. Negotiating with Eli Warren and the New Modernist Army, Arno holds his own. Agustin Padilla's art is reminiscent of Rick Leonardi, but works Scott Hanna's inks enough to tread closer to Phil Hester's art with heavily spotted blacks. This story is propped up for further developments down the road, leaving less of a mark on the Iron Man mythology as of this Annual.
Tony Stark and Iron Man are never even mentioned by name in the third installment, a six-page Pepper Potts story drawn by Marcos Marz. Marz's design elements are pretty and his linework is clean, but his panel construction and storytelling could use a little more finesse. In several panels, Marz displays the skill to render scads of detail, but some of the figures lose impact, like when Marc Kumar is explaining the origins of public relations. The storytelling suffers right from the start as Pepper gets puked on and makes no effort to wipe it off, despite the fact that her dress is apparently made of unstable molecules since the straps keep disappearing and reappearing in different sizes in the two-page scene where the vomiting occurs. The gestures and layouts look nice, but the figures are too distant to be impactful and the lush, textured coloring from Esther Sanz is really what makes the courtship of Pepper Potts visually striking. All the same, this is a story best served as a subplot in a regular issue as opposed to rounding out the collection of an Annual.
Call me a stick-in-the-mud or a traditionalist, but I prefer my Annuals to be encapsulated events, toppers to a long story or an extra-long, extra-fun self-contained adventure. "Iron Man Annual" #1 is none of those. It's not a terrible comic, it's just not a comic worthy of Annual status, nor will it prove to be an overly memorable one. Essentially, "Iron Man Annual" #1 sums up the unadorned nature that the series has delivered of late: it's mechanically fine, but it's mechanical.