To date Matt Fraction has been very skilful at taking Iron Man’s old foes and weaving them credibly into his material. As most were never of the top drawer, that’s quite the accomplishment to start with. An exception was the Mandarin, around whom creators have tended to pussyfoot over the more recent past due to belated bouts of political correctness over his origins and racial stereotyping. However, by 2011 it was known that he was due the third Iron Man film, and so back into the comics he was funnelled.

The opening tale is the first to date not illustrated by Salvador Larrocca, and it’s strange switching from his style to the more traditional Carmine Di Giandomenico. Fraction’s plot is a clever play on the nature of truth, as the Mandarin abducts a noted film maker to deliver a movie version of his life. This, though, is to be propaganda at considerable variance with the truth, which is simultaneously portrayed and explained alongside the testament to vanity. It’s also an exercise in the display of power. The Mandarin is able to kidnap a celebrity with ease, and not concern himself about discovery or consequences. For those unfamiliar with the character it’s a decent introduction to him and his ten rings of power, but would have benefited from a little trimming.

We then have Iron Man in several incarnations, one of whom is in the future, where we have an iteration of the Mandarin possessing very similar implanted technology to that keeping Stark alive. In the present day, after discussions with Peter Parker, it becomes apparent that before his memory was wiped Stark was toying with the designing a weapon of mass destruction. Did it serve a purpose, or was it idle intellectual stimulation? That’s no longer certain, but it appears plans have leaked, and someone is attempting to construct the device.

Fraction cleverly ties this into a visual design running throughout the series, amid other well-delivered sequences. Overall, though, it’s dull, and that’s interesting in itself as a consistent nagging voice about Fraction’s run to this point notes Iron Man himself doesn’t feature much, and this is very much the widescreen superhero action thriller. It’s ambitious, an attempt to construct a story over several different eras, and it’s almost all action, with few of the well defined character moments that characterise the series to date. The supporting cast is replaced by Spider-Man, and Larroca for much of the time by Di Giandomenico, Nathan Fox and Kano, whose wildly contrasting styles define wildly contrasting environments.

That’s followed by a run through of Tony Stark’s life and career, which may be very familiar to some, but not the way it’s delivered here. Fraction starts with Stark attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and weaves the tale around his pre and post-alcohol life as he describes it to other attendees. It’s a nice contrast to the Mandarin’s tale with greater honesty and self-deprecation, and the book’s highlight.

Howard Chaykin illustrates a brief closing tale exemplifying a satisfying aspect of Fraction’s Iron Man. He’s like the plasterer filling in those little gaps between the tiles. You could live with them, but it’s nice to have them sorted. This brief episode supplies the origins of the Stane/Stark enmity, and throws in a surprise at the end.

If My Monsters doesn’t match the overall quality of the series to date, it may seem no matter if it’s skipped to move onto The Unfixable. Those doing so, however, will miss a glimpse of nicely foreshadowed elements crucial to Fraction’s concluding volume, The Future.