Friday, July 22, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN ANNUAL #14

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 #14

"Unfamiliar Faces"

Writers: Len Kaminski
Artists: Tom Morgan (Pencils) Fred Fredricks (inks)

We open with Stereotypical Business Man Creighton McCall (No relation to Robert Call, the Equalizer) opening up his latest eBay purchase, a rather ugly mask which cuts his hand and releases a demon which soon kills him and starts eating the body. I knew that "buyer protection" stuff was bullshit Naturally, someone walks in on this and also gets eaten, because if there's one thing that demons released from ancient masks hate it's being walked in on while eating someone by some asshole who won't knock.

Back in Japan, "where a mystic warrior attuned to the unseen worlds experience a prescience of events half a world a way and feels a chill in the marrow of his bones." Because it just couldn't be gas, of course. Immediately, he tells everyone else in the building that "it's time," though not the usual "Vader Time," "Island Time," or even "Miller Time." These are the Masters of Silence, recently seen getting their asses kicked in the first War Machine issue a bit back. The mask-monster is their blood enemy, as is modesty, as one of the Masters is using a gym in a loincloth, which, thankfully, is never a trend that was picked up in other gyms.

Back at Stark Enterprises (why yes! The main character shows up ten pages in.) Iron Man, using his remote control armour that he pilots with his Skype headset, confronts the Masters, who are all like "what's up dude-san?" and Iron Man says "Never mind that shit, where's Mongo?" Oh, no wait . . .not that. They exposit at length about the Masters, their enemy, the Face-Thief (who, as you can tell from the name, steals people's car keys. God I'm punchy today. Must be the heat) and Stark types on his computer and finds out Creighton McCall, and suddenly it's his turn to exposit.

Creighton's daughter, Meredith, and he were lovers, only her father and his father were business competitors and forbid the relationship going forward, and this was before he had all the Iron Man stuff going on. The man who got eaten (the second one) was Meredith's husband Stevenson, and he's having a funeral soonish and Stark decides to investigate via a LMD (the Marvel Universe equivalent of the RealDoll, I reckon) at the Funeral, Creighton (who is actually the Face-Thief) acts all weird, Meredith gets all hysterical and RoboStark comes to comfort Meredith.

Stark decides from here on in to get to the bottom of it (hell, it's nearly page twenty) and sends in Iron Man to get to the bottom of it. Creighton sends out an army of mooks with guns, but they're so lame that Iron Man zaps them all off-screen and we cut to Creighton about to do god knows what to Meredith. Meredith rakes his face and he goes all Face-Thief again, but before he can do anything to her, the Masters of Silence show up and business, as they say, is about to pick up. The Masters call the Face-Thief a "foul excrescence," which is just damn harsh, really.

Iron Man finally gets to the house, and Meredith runs in to him (literally) and the Masters (figuratively) and they decide to go after the Face-Thief, telling Meredith to stay behind. Meredith calls them all chauvinists, takes the clothes and gun of a guard (which, in the best tradition of the Bad Girl era, is completely form-fitting and causes her bust size to shoot up to like, GG, or something. Oh 1993. You so crazy.) and runs off to get a piece of the ass-kicking before the boys get it all.

Back to the fight, and it's not going well. One of the Masters has been killed, the Face-Thief melts Iron Man's armor and things are generally sucking out loud until Meredith breaks in and shoots him with a gun. The Masters bail her out and compliment her on her spirit (you see where this is going, don't you?) Iron Man works out what to do and hurts the Face-Thief enough to cause him to leave, vowing revenge (he has, to date, not returned, which is just fine) and Meredith replaces the fallen master, and again, in the best tradition of the Bad Girl era, her outfit gets all rippy so we can get a good look at her cleavage (oh 1993, you so--oh, wait, I did that one, already) and she and the Masters vanish. Iron Man makes this seem like a Bad Thing, but as Meredith had been seen for nearly 20 years before this and we haven't got the greatest picture of her as a character in this issue, so the tragedy is sorta lost.

Tony Stark feels a bit bummed out, and the story ends. I have more to say about this, but let's deal with the backmatter before we get there: "While The Band Plays On" is a short story featuring War Machine breaking up a hostage situation and argues with Hawkeye about being compared to Iron Man and all this is generally trailing the direction of War Machine's own title. It's . . .wow. The story's sound, but Jim Rhodes' new "angry guy" persona never really worked that well for me, as it felt so tacked on. The art tries to be a bit too stylised and exaggerated for the needs of the story and doesn't work so well.

"Heritage of Vengeance" is the Masters of Silence origin story, as now that they've added Meredith McBoobs to the group, this is a perfect time to put on the Druid robes, wander out in the woods and indulge in some good old-fashioned exposition. We learn a lot about the Masters' past history and their mission of vengeance (Ghost Rider was big during this time, y'all. Vengeance was a growth industry back them) John Czop gives everything a misty sort of Gene Colan look to it, but the story's pretty thin, as are the characters of the Masters, so it's not altogether surprising that this is . . .well, a typical "back of the Annual" story in that it's rushed, thin, and more than a bit inconsequential.

Okay, let's tie this up in a bow: 1993 was an odd year. Marvel and DC both had this burning need to make new characters, and apart from a few, my God, they were all so very very forgettable. The Face-Thief is firmly on the "forgettable" side of things--he makes a poor Iron Man villain (except in terms of Stock Iron Man Plot #3--Iron Man fights magic guy, says he hates magic, triumphs anyway) he's the arch-villain to a group of character who are, themselves, not terribly interesting (The Masters of Silence) and given this is primarily a Masters story and not an Iron Man story, that's a problem.

I think Kaminski had big hopes that the Masters would be spin-off characters, but it never happened. If they or this annual had any legacy at all, it's this--two years after it's published, Marvel decided that Iron Man needed to be shaken up and decided the best way to do it was "The Crossing," or if you're an Iron Man fan, "a hard kick to the nuts." In the wake of the frankly awful "Crossing" issues, the role of Iron Man was played by a teenage Tony Stark, who went back to college in New York and had, as a professor . . .Meredith McCall, who was not, in fact, a boobalicious ninja, or even the redhead she was portrayed as here (these little niggles being the least of issues with her character back then) she was also married to a different guy who also died. I won't tell you where this happened specifically--I am not going anywhere near those goddamned issues ever again.

Needless to say, this proved one immutable fact: No one reads Annuals (well, except us anoraks) not even the people who make the comics.

Much as like Kaminski, he's not really at his best here, though he gamely tries to make it work and make Meredith's committing her life to other people's vengeance tragic, but there is nowhere near enough in-story justification for it, and never really feels earned. He's not the only person at less than full force, however, as Tom Morgan's art feels a bit rushed and doesn't help the story overcome its limitations. Annuals, by this time, had become something of a bad word, and were seen as cheap cash-ins meant to wring some more money out of the punters with rushed/bad art, inconsequential stories, and a general sense mediocrity about them. This Annual will probably justify that feeling.

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