Ex Machina: Ex Cathedra (Volume 7) – A Graphic Novel Review

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.

Ex Machina, Vol. 6: Power Down – A Graphic Novel Review

Ex Machina is one of those titles that should never work in the comic book medium. Former and short-lived superhero abandons his super-persona to become mayor of New York. And that happens before the start of the series. Let’s be honest, if anyone but writer Vaughan and Harris were involved, this series simply wouldn’t have worked.

Ex Machina: Power Down is a return to greatness for the creative duo. The storyline deals with Mayor Hundred struggling against a city-wide power outage just as a mysterious visitor takes his mother hostage in order to deliver Hundred an important message. That message has fascinated me and worked expertly as a bit of foreshadowing. In addition, as always, we are given flashbacks to Hundred’s involvement with 9/11 as well as some back-story during his training days.

The Ex Machina series started with a bang, utterly captivating me with every panel. However, the last storyline in particular focused a little too much on Hundred’s mayoral duties and not quite enough on the more fantastic elements of the series. Power Down is back to what makes Ex Machina work best–an equal blend of the realistic world of politics and the surreal world of super heroics.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the art! Harris’ artwork is extraordinary and this series simply wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is without him. He gets better with every issue he draws, and he was excellent to begin with! Moreover, Mettler, the often-ignored colorist, is truly responsible for giving this book in particular much of its flavor. The colors demand your attention in such an unassuming yet powerful manner; it’s astounding.

Finally, Power Down also offers a “special features” section in the back of the book with some background information given by both Vaughan and Harris. Very fun stuff if you’re into the production aspect of the book.

Ex Machina is a must-read series for all lovers of literature.

Ex Machina: Fact vs. Fiction – A Graphic Novel Review

Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris continue to impress with the third trade paperback of the Ex Machina series. In this installment, a new hero emerges in New York City calling itself the Automaton. This being claims to have been made by Mayor Hundred when he called himself The Great Machine. However, there is more at work here than there seems.

The second half of the volume deals with Mayor Mitchell Hundred heading west to visit his mother as she finds herself in a spot of trouble. This storyline is a bit more enjoyable for me as it gives us some insight into Mitchell’s upbringing and his relationship with his mother.

While I greatly enjoyed Fact vs. Fiction, the stories did not compare to the first two volumes of this series. However, as I found those collections stellar in execution, perhaps that is only to be expected.

I will say this, while Vaughan’s stories are just a bit under whelming compared to his usual outstanding work, the artwork of Tony Harris more than makes up for it. Harris is a master of his medium, and while he certainly knows how to draw superheroes, it is his attention to detail in clothing and facial expression on normal, everyday people that amazes me. You must remember, Ex Machina is more political drama than superhero adventure, and so therefore the artist must be especially talented to keep readers coming back for more. Harris fits the bill and then some.

So, while I don’t think Fact vs. Fiction was as good as The First Hundred Days or Tag, I certainly think it is still better than much of what’s on the market. I cannot recommend Vaughan and Harris’ Ex Machina highly enough.

By the way, is it me, or does Mitchell’s friend Ray look suspiciously like one mild mannered news reporter?

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days – A Graphic Novel Review

Pronounced mah-kin-ah, this little ditty I picked up only because I saw it had recently earned an Eisner Award, which in the world of comic books, is a very big deal. The story is about a former hero turned politician. Not the stuff of captivating reads, in my opinion. On top of that, the writer, Brian K. Vaughan, was someone I was previously unfamiliar with. But, the buzz was big, the accolades were huge, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The result was quite shocking.

I loved it. If you’d told me I would enjoy a book whose main character was the mayor of New York City, I’d have told you that you were nutso. It’s simply the writing and the artistry. I honestly think Vaughan and his artist, Tony Harris, could put out a comic book about an agoraphobic farmer and it would still win awards.

Mitchell Hundred is a civil servant of NYC who happens across a strange device at the base of a bridge’s, er, base. It explodes literally in his face, thus granting him the singular ability to converse with machinery of almost any magnitude, the utterly simplistic to the drastically complex. For instance, he can command a gun to jam, preventing its detonation. Eventually, he dreams of a rocket pack allowing him to fly. His older friend and role model, Kremlin, helps him build it. He becomes a hero, calling himself The Great Machine. However, after only a year, he gives up the hero business, deciding that he’s causing more harm than good. Instead, he runs for mayor. And he wins.

The arc of The First Hundred Days deals with a portrait of Lincoln with the n-word written across it debuted in a museum funded by the tax payers, someone killing off snow plow drivers, as well as many flashbacks to Hundred’s days as The Great Machine.

As stated, this doesn’t sound terribly interesting, but it is! I believe it is Vaughan’s pacing and script that forces us to keep going, as well as Harris’s perfectly executed sequential art. The dynamic characters, the mystery of who is murdering city workers and why, plus the conflict of the portrait’s controversy creates an entrancing plot. On top of it all, Vaughan seems to know just enough about the workings of city government to make us believe that Hundred really is the mayor of NYC.

Oh, and there’s a really, really interesting sub-plot (although I can’t help but think it will develop into a major plot) dealing with 9/11. Yes, 9/11.

If you pick this book up looking for the stuff of Superman and Batman, you’ll be disappointed. If you pick it up looking for a political drama with a touch of super hero flair, you’ll be quite pleased.

I highly recommend you pick up Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days.

Starman: A Comic Book for People Who Don’t Like Comic Books

Though the series concluded several years ago, Starman will forever burn bright as one of the industry’s great accomplishments.

Set firmly within the DC Universe alongside Superman and Batman, Jack Knight is the son of Ted Knight, otherwise known as the retired superhero Starman.  Ted has grown far too old to wear the red and green tights any longer, so his oldest son, David, is more than willing to carry on the family legacy.  Jack openly mocks his brother and finds the capes and tights crowd too ridiculous to stomach.  However, after David is killed soon after his unveiling, Jack finds himself in a race to save his father’s life.  Though he refuses to wear the gaudy costume, Jack masters the Cosmic Rod, his father’s invention that grants them their powers.  Their home, Opal City, dubs Jack the new Starman and he begrudgingly becomes the city’s plainclothes protector and even comes to relish the title.

The series ran for almost one hundred issues and was entirely written by James Robinson.  In Jack Knight, Robinson created one of the best-rounded characters you’ll find in not just comic books, but any form of literature.  Jack has as many nuances as do we all, and Robinson isn’t afraid to explore even those that don’t make him the most heroic of protagonists.  However, while a master of characterization, Robinson also knew how to bring the adventure.  Jack finds himself from the alleys of Opal City to the furthest reaches of time and space. 

Consequently, the title isn’t Jack’s alone.  Robinson made a point to include any and all who bore the name “Starman” over the years, and he developed a cast of characters so interesting that they almost stole the spotlight from Jack.  In reality, Ted Knight had been Starman in the comic books since World War II, and Robinson made ample use of such a rich and diverse history.  He even took a laughable Flash villain called The Shade and turned him into one of the most charismatic accomplices you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet.

Robinson specifically delivers wonderful interactions between father and son-Ted and Jack.  Initially the two could not be more different, but in the end, they both realize they had far more in common than they could have possibly imagined.  Jack must also balance a complicated love life as well as a rather unconventional role as a father himself.  And all the while, he’s trying to run an antique store.  As you can see, this is not your normal comic book. 

The primary artist for the series was the incredibly talented Tony Harris who can currently be found working on Ex Machina.  Harris worked his tail off at giving us a setting unlike any other, and so Opal City became an instant classic, far more visually recognizable than Metropolis or Gotham.  And like Jack, Harris seems to have little interest in conventional appearances.  His renderings are truly artistic, and he pays special attention to anatomy, lighting, and architecture.  The mere shapes and styles he uses to border and embellish his drawings are astoundingly detailed and aesthetically alluring.

Starman is a comic book for all connoisseurs of literature.  It tells a complete story from the first issue to the last with such panache, such style, and such uniformity that it will boggle your mind.  And best of all, it avoids all the comic book clichés and offers authentically identifiable and appealing characters that will remain in your heart long after you’ve read their adventures.

Best of all-it’s just flat-out cool.  When all is said and done, it’s just a cool piece of art that everyone will benefit from having experienced.

Now is the perfect time to get acquainted with Starman as DC has given it a terrific honor and released it as an omnibus collection.  You can find the first installment here:

http://www.amazon.com/Starman-Omnibus-Vol-1/dp/1401216994/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1212018565&sr=1-1

Ex Machina: Power Down by Vaughan and Harris – A Book Review

Ex Machina is one of those titles that should never work in the comic book medium.  Former and short-lived superhero abandons his super-persona to become mayor of New York.  And that happens before the start of the series.  Let’s be honest, if anyone but writer Vaughan and Harris were involved, this series simply wouldn’t have worked. 

 

Ex Machina: Power Down is a return to greatness for the creative duo.  The storyline deals with Mayor Hundred struggling against a city-wide power outage just as a mysterious visitor takes his mother hostage in order to deliver Hundred an important message.  That message has fascinated me and worked expertly as a bit of foreshadowing.  In addition, as always, we are given flashbacks to Hundred’s involvement with 9/11 as well as some back-story during his training days.

 

The Ex Machina series started with a bang, utterly captivating me with every panel.  However, the last storyline in particular focused a little too much on Hundred’s mayoral duties and not quite enough on the more fantastic elements of the series.  Power Down is back to what makes Ex Machina work best—an equal blend of the realistic world of politics and the surreal world of super heroics.

 

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the art!  Harris’ artwork is extraordinary and this series simply wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is without him.  He gets better with every issue he draws, and he was excellent to begin with!  Moreover, Mettler, the often-ignored colorist, is truly responsible for giving this book in particular much of its flavor.  The colors demand your attention in such an unassuming yet powerful manner; it’s astounding.

 

Finally, Power Down also offers a “special features” section in the back of the book with some background information given by both Vaughan and Harris.  Very fun stuff if you’re into the production aspect of the book.

 

Ex Machina is a must-read series for all lovers of literature.