Iron Man Annual #1 Review: An Entertaining, But Shallow Detour

Annuals are an interesting thing in the world of superhero comics—at their best, they can use extended page counts and inherent novelty to strengthen their respective main series. That isn’t necessarily the case with this week’s Iron Man Annual #1 which, instead of providing a jumping-off point from Christopher Cantwell and Cafu’s ongoing Iron Man series, focuses instead on a Tony Stark-centric first chapter in the "Infinite Destinies" story, which is set to be told in a series of annuals across different Marvel books. While the ambition of the overall event can be felt, and there are some intriguing creative decisions on display, Iron Man Annual #1 feels like an anomaly in ways both good and bad.

Iron Man Annual #1 opens with a superhero team-up between Tony and Miles Morales, which leads to Miles speaking about the trauma he previously suffered at the hands of The Assessor, a tech-based villain with a penchant for kidnapping. As Tony decides to singlehandedly fight The Assessor—and his muscle, a mysterious villain named Quantum—he and readers begin to discover a conspiracy that could have a profound impact on the larger Marvel universe. The final few pages of the issue kick off an eight-part backup story "Infinite Fury", which ties Nick Fury into the new fight for the stones in an unconventional way.

The very idea of having major Marvel heroes fight villains from other books is intriguing in its own right, and should definitely be one of the big selling points for "Infinite Destinies", beyond the shtick of finding out the current state of the Infinity Stones. But for those who may not have read the Miles Morales: Spider-Man issues that The Assessor and Quantum first appeared in, the duo seem like a relatively conventional fit to battle Iron Man. As a result, this issue establishes a tone that is nowhere near as enthralling as it could have been and a conflict that feels completely unconnected from Tony’s characterization in the main title. While Jed McKay’s script is well-executed and generally well plotted, large swaths of it essentially boil down to quips from Tony and scientific nonsense from The Assessor. Granted, the culprit is likely scheduling more than anything, as the publication of "Infinite Destinies" was delayed a full year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the style of Iron Man Annual #1 does feel much more in line with the tone the series held in early 2020 when Dan Slott was at the helm. If anything, this issue does bring more earnest nuance than the Iron Man title had a year ago, with Tony waxing poetic in between the quips about his role in a cycle of abuse between heroes and villains. Compared to the profound emotional core that readers have become accustomed to in Cantwell’s run, it’s underwhelming, but it’s still significantly more engrossing and clever than many recent, inconsistent Iron Man characterizations.

Returning to the threat at hand, there are only small increments of detail that Iron Man Annual #1 provides regarding the larger hunt for the Infinity Stones. The end-of-issue reveal teeing up the larger plot is interesting, but executed in a way that might not land the emotional punch fans are expecting. Still, this issue seems to indicate that there will be a decidedly humanizing element to the overall conflict, which could give the event a new layer of emotion that previous quests for the stones were divorced from. If anything, the Nick Fury story at the end of the issue—despite also having little to reveal about the larger plot—is so chock-full of cool character beats that it is sure to keep readers intrigued.

On an aesthetic level, Iron Man Annual #1 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it's intriguing enough. There’s something entertaining about seeing Alex Ross’ recent redesign for the Iron Man armor in such a prominent context with a wildly different art style, and the end result grounds the visual nature of the series when it really needs to. Ibraim Roberson provides a dynamic quality to the action sequences—one that doesn’t necessarily flow perfectly from panel to panel, but is still captivating to read. Once the second half of the issue commences, and Tony’s action in the fight scene requires more detailed visuals, the art really gets a chance to sing. Juan Ferreyra’s art in the Nick Fury backup has a decidedly sketchy flair that compliments the grittier nature of this story, but as is the case with Roberson, the more detailed the visuals get, the more awe-inspiring they become. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors are vibrant, but occasionally bog the art down in excessive amounts of shading or shininess. And Joe Caramagna’s lettering ties both stories together cohesively, while still finding opportunities for some flair.

While an argument could be made for telling "Infinite Destinies" in its own miniseries instead of a string of annuals, Iron Man Annual #1 kicks off the event with some intriguing style. The narrative balances the snappy dialogue fans have come to associate with the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Iron Man, as well as the more profound potential that Tony Stark’s solo stories have shown recently. With art that’s inspired, albeit a little predictable, and a number of unanswered questions regarding the larger event, Iron Man Annual #1 is far from a perfect interlude from Marvel Comics' Iron Man, but it proves to be a reasonably well-executed, sorta-standalone story.

Published by Marvel Comics

On June 2, 2021

Written by Jed MacKay

Art by Ibraim Roberson and Juan Ferreyra

Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg

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Letters by Joe Caramagna

Cover by Nick Bradshaw and Morry Hollowell