Digital comics are the future of comics, so says everyone on the Internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle continues the following, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.
Iron Man ANNUAL 1999
Writers: Kurt Busiek and Joe Casey
Artists: Terry Shoemaker (pencils) Bud LaRosa & Terry Shoemaker (inks)
We begin with the Thunderbolts rescuing some people from a burning building whilst Lloyd Bloch, aka Nefarious and before that the first Moonstone stares daggers at the current Moonstone. Before he can do anything except look constipated and make his teeth all spit-drooly, he falls over and dies, as his ionic power has been drained from his body. As this is Nefarious we're talking about, really, it's not that big a loss.
Cut to Iron Man flying through the skies and trying to beat traffic on his way to a meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. for a bit of infodump--turns out some one or someTHING is wrong on Saturn 3--oh wait, no, I meant to say that something is killing people and leaving little traces of ionic energy everywhere and seems to be targeting other people with ionic powers, and Iron Man twigs that whoever or whatever is doing this, they're targeting ionic-powered individuals. Naturally, Iron Man gets on the horn to Hawkeye and warns him that fellow Thunderbolt Atlas may be a target (SPOILER: he is) and also warns Wonder Man, who lets him know about the Crazy 8 (from the old Gerard Jones' Wonder Man title--yes, Busiek went that obscure. You can't tell me you're surprised.)
Meanwhile a shadowy figure we're supposed to conflate with Dracula, but who isn't actually looms over them and makes vampire faces. Like you do.
Soon after, Iron Man does a little grave robbing and manages to pick the one burial plot that had booby-traps installed (fuck a quality coffin, I'm putting in traps when I die) Iron Man handles the guns unusually well for a Busiek comic, only to come face to face with the Death Squad (from issue 1) and Whiplash (in his new gimp suit from . . .well, don't ask) Oh, and Nitro, too. Iron Man realises that these guys have all been trying to kill him recently and wonders about a possible connection, and then gets about the business of getting slapped around until the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents he's been canoodling with manages to hit Nitro's "don't make me explode" button which causes him to explode a lot.
The Death Squad and co. escape and Iron Man hightails it after them, taking the time to ruminate on whether being in his armour has become as much of an addiction as his alcoholism (this kinda goes nowhere, but echoes the Denny O'Neil run wherein being in his armour was as much of an addiction as the alcoholism, and it's a worthwhile idea.) Iron Man shakes it off and chases the Squad back to a castle which he recognises as familiar, but can't place it yet.
None of this stops him from wrecking the joint, naturally, and demanding the Squad tell them who they're working for. Ponytail-Wearing-Douchebag steps out dramatically and monologues about how he's going to kill him Iron Man rather than, you know, killing him, which buys Iron Man time to Unibeam him in the face which is a lesson to all of us to shut the fuck up and fucking kill people when you have the fucking chance.
Anyways, we finally meet the mastermind behind all this: Count Nefaria, who looks mighty spry for a dead guy. Iron Man suddenly recalls everything about him in a nifty page-sized recap and Nefaira lays out what's been going on--he's been draining ionic energy to restore himself to full power, and is now using that to kick Iron Man's ass up and down the woodpile because that never happens in Iron Man when Kurt Busiek is writing it.
After a few definitive ass-kicking moments up to and including getting a ship dropped on him, Iron Man is saved by the cavalry--well, S.H.I.E.L.D., anyways, who put Nefaria under arrest because his powers run in proportion to the number of pages left, and wouldn't you know it, he just ran outta the stuff.
After that, it's time for the wrap-up, wherein we learn that Nefaria wasn't allowed to be extradited and he was let go with immunity from prosecution. Stark frets but figures as long as he he doesn't have access to any more ionic energy he should be fine and really, what are the odds of that happening, anyways?
Pretty good actually, because Nefaria is busily killing off Therak from the Death-Web (hoo boy, how obscure can you get?) and restoring his power, and readying himself for a rematch with Iron Man, the Avengers and the Thunderbolts, which we covered elsewhere, if you remember.
So, yeah, this is an Annual that manages not to slough off an inventory and call it "good enough," which is . . .nice? I guess? The problem is, as happens so frequently at the tail end of Busiek's run, it's setting up stuff in other comics that he actually writes and all his Iron Man stuff just seems like marking time until Quesada takes over and undoes everythi--er, I mean, starts writing his definitive game-changing "Mask In The Iron Man" story. That's not to say that this is not competently done, mind you, it just feels like a trailer for another book that's wandered into my Iron Man, y'know?
Art this time is by Terry Shoemaker, who you may remember from filling in on dozens of Marvel books around this time. He's a pretty good hand, actually, and you can see him gradually shaking off some of the Image-y-ness in the course of the book (and that Larry Stroman-esque stuff he picked up when he filled on X-Factor) and what remains is something very sleek and dynamic.