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 #318
Writer: Len Kaminski
Artists: Tom Morgan (Pencils & Inks)
The cover says "still 1.50." I don't know whether to laugh or cry about that, frankly.
Anyways, we open with Iron Man, fresh from killing the Titanium Man (again) last issue, frantically shifting debris and praying to God that he's wrong. Nope, this is the last Kaminski issue and from here on in it's all "The Crossing" all the time, I'm afraid.
The person he's trying to find is Ted Slaught, who's been a recurring plot thread for the past couple of issues, as he's been working for Stark, but suffering from Alzheimer's and thus making mistakes that could put people in jeopardy, which of course, they did. It transpires that Slaught is another one of those people who were critically important to Stark that we never heard about.
In Slaught's case, he apparently was Stark's favourite professor at university, who encouraged him to have an open mind and comforted him when his parent's died and all that, as our flashbacks helpfully fill in.
In the present, Iron Man fights Slag, who, if you pay close attention to things like text, you can pretty much figure out what's going on already. Slag is, to my everlasting amusement, composed of goofy Venom-like faces and the Chrome filter in Photoshop, which is so very 1995. He beats the crap out of Iron Man and burns the words "mysterium tremendae" into Stark's armour as a message to him.
Stark mulls that over as he fixes the armour, and again we get--as gently as possible--more about this very important guy we've never really heard of. As it happens, it's not so bad, but really, this kind of stuff is a bit of an eye-rolling plot device--critically important person made a difference in our main character's life so significant we've never heard about it until now, but if I'm willing to accept the notion of something like the Matrix of Leadership being the most valuable damn thing in history and not hearing about it until Optimus Prime got hisself killed, well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
Plus, when you consider in about seven issues time, I will be expected to swallow the notion that, thanks to Kang messing with Iron Man, that's what caused him to drink and turn evil, accepting a long-lost and completely unknown friend is small potatoes by comparison.
Oh yeah, the plot--Slag attacks Stark, but Stark outfoxes him and, when Slaught begs Stark to run away because he can't control what happens with Slag, Stark uses magnetism to pull Slag apart and kill him.
Really dejected--and who can blame him?--Stark decides to gather his senior staff and tell them how much they mean to him and thanks them for tolerating him (man, you'd never have this today, would you) and the issue closes with Iron Man flying off to his arctic bunker and saying oblique stuff like "no one escapes their past" in a somewhat forced set-up to make the beginning of "The Crossing" feel somewhat natural. Spoiler: it doesn't work.
This is Len Kaminski's final issue on the book, and also the last time Iron Man will be at all readable until Heroes Reborn raises it back to levels of serviceable mediocrity. It will be three years until Kurt Busiek, for all the ropey bits that held his run back from being all it should be, will make it readable again.
Kaminski does a really good job with making Slaught really seem important to Stark despite the fact he's a walking continuity implant, and Photoshop follies aside, Slag was a pretty interesting villain I was rather surprised no one else had tried, given the slag=iron duality. The bit at the end where Stark thanks his supporting cast is also a rather good bit. One of the things I liked about Kaminski's run is that he really "got" Stark in a way that most writer's hadn't, especially in terms of not making him such a smug asshole.
As mentioned about a million times in this post, this is the final issue before "The Crossing," and honestly, there are no words for the disaster this was back in the day. Gary M. Miller--whose three-part breakdown of "The Crossing" is linked at the top of the article and, in fact, is well worth your time to check out if you want to know how much of a disaster "The Crossing" was--in terms of what it did to Iron Man (seriously, it was like a smaller version of Civil War, and the only reason that it didn't do as lasting damage is because barely anyone read "The Crossing.") one could argue the character's never entirely recovered from it.