Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Is Your Ex Machina Mess?

Brian K. Vaughan, of Y: The Last Man fame, has another award-winning comic as well: Ex Machina.

Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred. Given the power to talk to machines in a freak accident, he became a superhero called the Great Machine. That was years ago, however: now, he's the mayor of New York. But his past doesn't just leave him behind...

I only read the first seven issues back when they first came out, so I was excited to catch up on the series and see what it had become. Unfortunately, it didn't exactly live up to my expectations of what I thought it would be. This is not to say it's bad; it's just very different from Y.

Some of Vaughan's trademarks are evident. First of all, the judicious use of non-linear storytelling. Every single issue weaves multiple stories together. There's the current story, which is very politically oriented, and then there's a story about Mitchell's past, which could take place in one of three times: before he became the Great Machine, during his stint as the Great Machine, and the interim between his retirement from superherodom and his rise to the office of mayor. Then there's Hundred himself, who, like Yorick, is fairly idealistic and prone to making obscure references. Instead of pop culture, he busts out with obscure political and legal trivia, and it seems unrealistic at times (because, seriously, WHY would anyone know that sort of thing off the top of their head?), but what's great is he often gets called on it and even corrected when he has something wrong.

The storytelling overall, though, is somewhat maddening. It's not the high adventure of Y, and the stories seem to be more focused on Mitchell-as-mayor than Mitchell-as-dude-who-can-talk-to-machines. I have no doubt that that this might actually appeal to some people, and I think it's an interesting thing for Vaughan to do, but I like more superhero in my superhero comics. This is like 80% West Wing, 20% Alias (the Bendis comic, no relation...of course, Jessica Jones didn't go around using her powers either, but the mysteries were more engaging than political crises). Vaughan tackles all kinds off issues like racism, censorship, 9/11, anti-war protests, terrorism, marijuana regulation, the Blackout, and religion, among other things. He wisely makes Hundred an Independent so that he's allowed to play both sides, not beholden to a particular party's views. The political business is interesting rather than annoying and mouthpiece-y, but it's not really what I read comics for, you know? I want a little more action and excitement. The cliffhangers usually lack the oomph that Y's did, and they have a tendency to be sort of off-kilter, ending on a downbeat.

The actual Great Machine stuff, however, is pretty, er, great. Because, hilariously, he kind of sucks as a superhero. He has trouble using his jetpack, and he's not very strong or in shape, and people aren't superdupergrateful for what he's doing. It's a neat perspective on how a superhero like that might be received in the real world. And the different ways he uses his powers are way cool, of course. There is still the continuing question of where those powers came from, but it's hanging around in the background most of the time (when I wish it were more at the forefront). Also, Mitch even has an archnemesis. Or had, anyway. There are all sorts of intriguing bits of information dropped in everywhere, and they don't entirely connect just yet, but I trust that Vaughan knows what he's doing and where it's all going.

A word on Tony Harris's art: it's rather strange and unlike anything I've seen. Because it's simultaneously unreal, surreal, and too real. I think what strikes me most is that characters have facial expressions. Like, honest-to-God facial expressions. He uses actors for photoreferences, which explains why the characters look like real people. And yet, the art is still stylized. It's an odd mix, but, hey, people love it and give him awards.

I don't think I'll be able to fully evaluate my feelings on Ex Machina until it's over. The first couple trades were really cool, and then the next few didn't capture my interest as greatly. But the last ten issues or so have stepped it up a bit, which is good, since he's passed the halfway point (issue #36 came out yesterday, and it's slated to be fifty issues). One of the trades touts the fact that it was named one of the "best comic books for adults," and I think that's a pretty good description. It's definitely for an older audience, given the political content, and it's also good for an older audience that might not give a superhero comic the time of day. A rowdy teenager would probably get bored of the story of a man who's trying his damnedest to run New York City.

Read the first issue, which has, to paraphrase my friend Angelo, a way more powerful last page than any first issue deserves to have. That final page really informs the rest of the series in many ways. If you're interested, six trades are out, with the next coming in November.

Goddamn you, Brian K. Vaughan, you talented bastard.
Tags: books, comics, pimpings
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