Friday, June 25, 2010

Trade Waiting - Ex Machina HC Vol 3

It took Amazon an extra 3 weeks or so to ship my pre-ordered copy of the third Deluxe HC of Ex Machina compared to my LCS who had it just on, if not before, the advertised release date. That gripe aside, I still got to read this fine hardcover collection, and I loved the experience. Brian K Vaughan continues to write the superhero who can talk to machines as he transitions into being the Mayor of New York. Tony Harris draws the hell out of this series and I’m unashamedly a fan. Hit the jump to skip the hyperbole and find out the real details as to why this is so damn fine.

Written by Brian K Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris, with a John Paul Leon assist
Inks by Tom Feister & Jim Clark
Colours by JD Mettler

The time frame of the narrative is still well and fractured as we see exploits of Mitchell Hundred when he was still wearing a back pack and calling himself the Great Machine intertwined with the adventures Hundred faces every day after becoming an elected official. Vaughan always works to make the two reflect each other extremely well.

The opening arc concerns Hundred having been asked if he had ever smoked pot and him admitting to having tried it. He doesn’t want to be the usual politician, he tells the truth where he can. This is juxtaposed against a previous scene of the Great Machine going to very extreme and dangerous lengths to apprehend a few pot dealing gangstas, as well as some current pot smokers poorly dealing with a home invasion by a man in fireman’s garb ‘taking something back’. If you hadn’t read Ex Machina before I think you could read the first issue in this collection and be pretty good to know nearly all that is going on. It’s a fantastic draw, and made even better when a lady sits down on the City Hall steps, douses herself in gasoline and lights up her cigarette. That final, empty eyed, splash page will guarantee you get straight into the next issue.

It’s a three issue arc and yet Vaughan manages to squeeze a very high amount, and quality, of material into the pages which is amazing because he still only uses about 4 panels per page, on average. It’s economy and execution given to you in an insanely perfect manor. The arc continues by showing us the crazed man who has stolen a fireman’s suit from a tv show and is using it to gain access to homes and steal cash, and whatever other perks they might have laying around. What he does with his gas mask and vacuum cleaner in personal hours is something that shouldn’t even be written about, quite honestly.

We get the major central story through various timelines and the drug bust made by the Great Machine affects how Hundred has to be mayor later on through the immolating woman on the steps of his work. The loon raiding homes is enjoying a nice doobie, that he stole from one home, when he gets busted and all of this sort of thing is building up the pressure in Hundred so much that he freaks out and power surges from the stress. The only thing that can calm his nerves for a night, you guessed it, a nice big fattie. It’s all circular and everything will mean something or juxtapose well with another thing.

The next issue is a bit of a done-in-one story about Hundred’s personal guard and one of the few people kept closely informed in his circle, Bradbury. We see Bradbury stumble along with a bottle in hand and fresh ink up his arm. He is accosted by a man who says he has been sent to take Bradbury out because that will make Hundred just that bit easier to then get to. This scene is played out as we see a flashback of Bradbury being told by Hundred, back when he was the Great Machine, that he is going to run for office. Bradbury talks of how the system always let him down throughout the many different troubled eras of his life and he doesn’t think he could ever work for a system that he has no faith in. It leads to a great non-verbal answer where he asks Hundred why he should work for something that is broken and the reply is simply a lifted wrench. It’s this sort of set up and knock down that Vaughan does so well. He can explain motivations of a character with just a line or a panel. It’s sublime to watch.

The next arc has a look at what happens when our beloved Mayor loses his powers. There is a massive blackout caused by the appearance of a strange suited man and this coincides with Hundred suddenly not being able to hear machines, or talk back to them. The city is in a state of chaos and Vaughan finds delightful ways to drop in knowledge and statistics of previous citywide blackouts to enrich the story. Hundred tries to work out how to save the day, even if he is unsure of what he is saving it from.

The man in the Jules Verne-style suit is a traveller from somewhere, and somewhen, very far removed from where Hundred lives. It’s a great little arc that gives a lot of knowledge while also opening up plenty of new questions and concerns for our overall story. The basic bit you have to get it; Hundred got his powers from a strange artefact left on the Brooklyn Bridge. The beings who left whatever it was there that gave Hundred his powers will see that as being like a donation, much like voters donate to a political campaign, and eventually these beings will expect to be able to call in a favour as such. It’s a brilliant premise and one that will pay off later, I am sure.

The final issue is the third special and it features art by John Paul Leon. In the story of Masquerade we see Mayor Hundred having to go deal with a branch of the KKK wanting to be allowed to legally protest while still keeping anonymity with their iconic hoods in place. They are hoping to exploit the fact that the Mayor had previously hidden behind a mask in his time as the Great Machine. This problem is, of course, contrasted by a previous adventure Hundred had just after being shredded by the blast from the artefact that gave him his powers. He is stuck wearing full head bandages and resembles somewhat the invisible man.

As the wounded but recovering Hundred goes to fill out a prescription, the pharmacy is held up by thugs wearing costumes and masks and hoping their crime spree will go unnoticed in the midst of massive Halloween celebrations. Hundred manages to begin to hone his mechanical powers to track the criminals down. There is an interesting splash page where Leon shows us Hundred’s head and the circuitry that floods his temple before he gets plastic surgery to cover most of it up. It’s a very intriguing and complex look. Then we cut back and see that Hundred has figured out his solution for the KKK and has also just been asked to grand marshal a Halloween parade.

This done-in-one special is possibly one of my favourite Ex Machina issues because Vaughan manages to tie everything so neatly together, even more so than usual, and his idea of the anonymity behind masks and the legitimacy that gives a cause is absolutely brilliant. John Paul Leon also draws a very cool bandaged head, and I could even go out on a limb and say I like his style just a bit more than that of series regular Tony Harris. I think Harris does a great job, and I can see how people love him, but his artwork just isn’t my preferred style. But it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of this series one bit.

There is also a very special issue included at the end of the trade titled Inside The Machine where Tony Harris is extremely open in showing his process for the series. We see the actor he uses as source material for his illustrations and the depth of effort he puts into the entire job. It’s fascinating to look at and we also get some script to page samples for his work as well as that of Leon. I like seeing script to page comparisons because you can see how a smart writer can leave certain moments to the artist’s discretion. A writer, or artist, could really learn from it.

Verdict – Must Read. This series continues to be dominant and I have no hesitation that I’ll be picking up the fourth HC for this that was just solicited for a November release. The writing is still a masterclass of how to make everything count, how to foreshadow and countershadow events, and how to still fit everything on the page with a perfect blend of words to art. Vaughan and Harris have created a smart comic that plenty more people should be reading. This is the sort of thing you wish there was plenty more of for $2.99 a month.

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Ivan said...

You might wanna fix the title of the article.

Great read, I'm more and more a fan of Vaughn after each read of Ex Machina and Y. I'm thinking about tracking down his Runaways work.

grifter said...

Ex-Machine? are we missing an S here? :-P

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Heh, not missing an S as much as needing an A to replace that E, whoopsie... :)

@Ivan - I've read the first digest of Runaways and it was pretty cool. Not Y level greatness, but pretty cool.

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