Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest – Ex Machina #5

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2004
By: Craig Johnson

"State of Emergency, Conclusion"

Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Artist: Tony Harris (p), Tom Feister (i)

Publisher: DC Wildstorm

Average Rating: 8/10

Jason Cornwell:
Michael Deeley:
Dave Wallace:

Jason Cornwell

After seeing the controversy involving the painting is resolved in a rather unexpected manner, we look in on Hundred as he pays a visit to his old ally Kremlin to investigate his possible link to the snowplow murders. However, the answer to the whole snowplow killer mystery takes an unexpected turn as the true killer is revealed, and the discovery of certain information looks to have seriously damaged Hundred's friendship with Kremlin.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed by this final chapter, largely because the direction that the snowplow murders plot looked to be heading at the end of the previous issue was far more engaging than the actual resolution that this issue offers up. Now I guess I should give the issue credit for taking an unexpected path, but truth be told when the actual motivation for the murders was revealed I have to say I found it to be a be cheesy, and no where near as dramatic as I suspect Brian K. Vaughan was going for. However, the confrontation scene between Hundred and Kremlin was nicely done, as the betrayal of trust made for a powerful moment, and I look forward to seeing the fallout from this scene. If nothing else it does leave one to wonder if Kremlin hasn't been given ample reason to become the monster that Hundred went into this issue believing him to be. The secondary plot involving the controversial painting benefits from a clever resolution, and I also rather enjoyed the revelation later in the issue regarding who was responsible for the attack on the painting. I also rather enjoyed the attempt at art criticism that we get early in the issue, as it makes an amusing comparison to another controversial stunt, and I also enjoyed the reaction that the couple has after the attack. The subway plot that's introduced in this issue also sounds promising, and it serves to show how wide open this series can be when it comes to it's plots.

Tony Harris does a great job of keeping this book grounded in the real world, as even the more fantastic elements of the series such as the Great Machine have a believable appearance. The art also does a fine job of conveying the emotional reactions of the cast, from Journal's expression when she makes her masked vigilante comment, to the series of panels where the snowplow killer makes his final statement to the police. The tension of the scene where Hundred confronts Kremlin is also a pretty powerful sequence, as is the scene where Kremlin and Bradbury have their quiet little moment after Hundred storms off. Also I have to say I absolutely love the look of the Great Machine, as it's a wonderfully utilitarian design that is quite unlike any other costume that's ever been offered up previously. The cover image is also quite eye-catching and it deftly captures the conflicted nature of our lead character.

Michael Deeley

The first story arc of ‘Ex Machina’ concludes with Michael Hundred confronting Kremlin, his old friend and partner, about the recent murders of snow plow drivers. The real killer is revealed, but his arrest goes badly. Meanwhile, the controversial painting is removed thanks to the efforts of a not-so-mysterious vandal.

The reason Michael Hundred said he quit being a super-hero and ran for mayor is he believed he could do more good for the city as a politician than as a masked man. But after thinking about this issue, I realized that’s not true. Kremlin works out who the plow killer is through detective work. If Hundred had confronted the kid, he would have used his powers to save the kid. As for the controversial painting, Hundred was powerless as both mayor and a superhero to calm down picketers. It took a sharp intern and a few choice words to spur the artist herself into taking action. So Hundred, in the end, really doesn’t do anything. At least not directly. He puts the right people on the right jobs, but that’s all. Hundred indirectly ends an artistic controversy, but could have saved a life. Which do you think is more important?

I think that’s part of what Vaughn’s trying to say with this series. The problems that Hundred can best solve as mayor aren’t as important as the problems he could solve as a superhero. As The Great Machine, Hundred saved, well, hundreds of lives. He stopped the airplane from crashing into the second World Trade Tower. As mayor, he has to worry about budgets, public image, labor unions, and all the other “necessary evils” that come with government. The only problems he could solve as a politician are those created by politics. A superhero can’t raise minimum wage, but he can keep you alive another day.

As a ‘Starman’ fan, I thank God Tony Harris is drawing a monthly series again. His work is elegant, beautiful, and very human. When Harris was inked by Wade Von Grawbadger, their combined art looked heavy and dark. The inking here by Tom Peister is much lighter, giving the art a more open, breezy feeling. The story looks and feels more like the real world than a comic book.

‘Ex Machina’ is a thought-provoking look at the differences between heroics and politics. The art of Harris and Peister combines with the elegant and mart writing of Vaughn to create a wonderful comic book experience. Fans of Vaughn’s ‘Y: The Last Man’, and Harris’ ‘Starman’ should read this right now!

Dave Wallace

I’ve been a supporter of this book since picking up the first couple of issues on a whim, and I’m very glad that I did. It’s good to see the title getting the attention it deserves so early into its run – partly due to the pedigree of its creators (I must get round to reading Y: The Last Man soon) and partly due to its sheer originality and intelligence. It’s the same elements that have made this book such a joy from the beginning that continue to shine through here: whether it’s the strong political backchat which brings humour and intellect into the mix in equal measure; the strong characterisation and unpredictable twists which resolve the first arc this issue; or simply Tony Harris’ gorgeously simple and effective art, capturing talking heads with passion and Mayor Mitch Hundred’s past as “The Great Machine” with a subtly nostalgic flavour.

This issue brings more new elements even as the initial plot strands are tied up: the uncertain dynamic between the friends at the series’ core continues to evolve, keeps the reader guessing and leads to a far more complicated solution than we might have guessed last issue; the “Nigger Lincoln” is removed from public display (although not for the reasons you might expect); and we get to the bottom of the mysterious snowplough attacks. Harris’ illustrative skill is allowed to cover such wildly divergent scenes as a talk between the three old friends at a sombre run-down amusement park, a colourful attack on the controversial artwork that forms one of the arc’s subplots, the superhero exploits of the now-mayor and a coldly chilling representation of teen suicide. All of them are handled with aplomb, Harris managing to find a suitable tone for each scene without any of the elements feeling disjointed. The colouring helps to tie the issue together, with muted blues used in various pages to give the issue an overall consistent atmosphere despite the many different threads.

There may be criticism of this issue to be found in places: the artist subplot ties up a little too quickly and neatly (although is pleasingly autonomous and unconnected to the central mystery) and the resolution of the bomber thread comes a little out of the blue, almost backing out on a potentially more interesting possibility suggested by last issue’s cliffhanger. However, the other side of this is that Vaughn is taking time to introduce shades of grey into his characters at an early stage and is striving to be continually unpredictable: both qualities which epitomise the best writing in comics today.

As an overall arc, this book has already given us a superhero origin story, a taste of dark things to come, some great writing and art and already a change in the status quo. It’s a great book which has made a sterling start and for once lives up to the buzz. Try it.

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