Ever since getting on board with Ex Machina after its first volume, I literally cannot wait for each new volume to be released. That’s why, after months of looking forward to Ex Cathedra, I couldn’t help but initially feel a little disappointment. However, after a second reading, my opinion changed drastically. More on that in a moment.
Like I said, because I count down the days until certain books come out, I tend to pick them up as soon as possible and tear right through them. I did that with Ex Cathedra, neglecting to let it sit on my tongue and savor it. I forgot what originally drew me to Ex Machina was the fact that it was really unlike anything else, and so when I first read Ex Cathedra and didn’t get it, I thought, “What is this? I waited for this?” It seemed directionless, pointless, and haphazard to me.
But then I decided I read it too fast, and (as much to get my money’s worth as anything), I determined I should give it another go.
On the second read, I picked up on a lot of parallels that I missed the first time around. In Ex Cathedra, Mayor Hundred (a former super hero who stopped the destruction of one of the Twin Towers) is invited to the Vatican to visit the Pope before his death. When Hundred arrives, a Father reveals he arranged for Hundred’s visit to investigate the origins of Hundred’s abilities, even claiming the mayor may be the antichrist. However, the Pope still wants an audience with Hundred, which prompts a Russian conspirator to use Hundred as an assassin by tapping into Hundred’s machine-friendly mind. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s say that Hundred has some incredible revelations as he tries to resist killing the Pope.
Brian K. Vaughan offers a very brief story (four issues) full of nuance and punch-if read carefully. As usual, Vaughan interrupts the present-day unveiling of the tale with flashbacks to Hundred’s The Great Machine days (his super hero identity). In this volume, those flashbacks each deal with a different perspective on religion, which amplifies the main story, the one unfolding in Hundred’s here-and-now. This author technique is effective because it continues to give us insight into Mayor Hundred’s character, his days as a super hero, and his various reactions to different situations involving religions. This, of course, helps us understand his motives and reactions when meeting the Pope.
Artist Tony Harris continues to rock on Ex Machina. His figures, clothing, architecture, and layouts are charismatic without being distracting. His art works to supplement and progress the story, which is the idea in such a visual medium. Harris, in my opinion, is one of the best in the business and deserves more recognition.
Finally, Vaughan takes the time to help us get to know Commissioner Angotti a little better by giving us some background on her all-the-while moving she and Hundred’s professional relationship forward and in a new, less combative direction. While this stand-alone issue has some very serious themes, there’s also quite a bit of comic book in-jokes, especially involving another famous hero and Commissioner team.
In Ex Cathedra, I was initially guilty of forgetting what draws me to Ex Machina on a regular basis. I forgot I love this title because it’s like nothing else, and once I slowed down and gave it the time it deserved, I really saw it for the gem it is.