Ex Machina: Term Limits by Brian K. Vaughan – A Book Review

Few conclusions have been as utterly satisfying as Ex Machina: Term Limits.

Ex Machina has always been one of those titles that demanded both patience and commitment.  With its myriad flashbacks, labyrinth plotlines, and complicated subject matter, it often required several readings.  I assure you, in this tenth and final volume, your dedication is rewarded in full.  Vaughan not only answers the series’ major mysteries, but he also grants a sense of finality to virtually every major character in this title.

I came down hard on Vaughan for his final installment to Y: The Last Man.  I felt it was too pedestrian and insignificant.  Not so with Ex Machina.  Vaughan managed to shock me over and over again in Term Limits.  As a reader, I couldn’t have asked for more.  Though I couldn’t believe he dared to do what he did in this volume, I absolutely appreciated his willingness to let the characters organically go where they must, even if that destination was not pleasant.  His boldness is both refreshing and admirable.

Vaughan also shows great maturity as a storyteller.  Yes, on the surface, we get our answers to many lingering plot points.  We even get several jolts that put us on the edge of our seat.  However, there is also a deeper message in Term Limits.  I believe Vaughan made not only several political comments in this work, but also drove home a hard fact about human nature.  The depth of this particular volume delighted me.

As a long time fan of Ex Machina, I can seriously say that I could not have imagined a more satisfying conclusion to Mitchell Hundred’s odyssey.  Vaughan thanked his audience by delivering a tightly-woven finale that, like the entire series, proved intelligent, meaningful, well-crafted, and insightful.

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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.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ll never forget when I first read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I knew Alan Moore was a god among men in the comic book world, but even I wasn’t prepared for the majesty of his storytelling, the potency of his intelligence, or the power of his inspirational imagination.

Thus, when news surfaced that a new League adventure called Black Dossier was in the works, I could not wait–COULD NOT WAIT–until its release.

Finally, after more than a few delays, it was unbound, and while I won’t say I’m disappointed in it, I don’t love it as I did the other two League volumes. That being said, I respect Moore all the … more … for Black Dossier.

Alan Moore is not afraid to create art on his terms, and his terms alone. While Black Dossier does not have the charismatic story or sheer excitement of its predecessors, it absolutely pushes the limits as to what has traditionally been accepted in comic books the last several decades.

For example, Moore has said for quite a while he’d like to write a comic that made use of 3D glasses, and so Black Dossier does (no worries–glasses included). There are postcards, comic strips (like in the newspapers), excerpts from single spaced files with handwritten notes upon them, unreleased editions of works written by popular authors or featuring well-known characters, and pamphlets. Seventy-percent of this book literally duplicates the innards of a dossier. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Consequently, I feel I also must comment on the exorbitant amount of nudity in this book. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been a book for mature readers and on par with an R-rated movie. Like every other aspect of Black Dossier, Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill challenge conventions, and I admire them for that. However, even I found the level of nudity gratuitous. For some characters, the nudity made perfect sense when looked upon in a historical light (of which Moore is an aficionado), but at times it seemed the nudity was thrown in for simple orneriness. In other words, this is probably not a book you’ll want your children to get hold of. And if they’re unfamiliar with Alan Moore and his rebellious inclinations, I also wouldn’t expose it to your parents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends.

Even so, because of the willingness of author Moore and artist O’Neill to put forth so much effort into an undeniable work of originality and fearlessness, they earned my unending respect. However, I’d be lying if I said the nontraditional embellishments were enthralling. True, they work in a roundabout way to complete the overall story, but in the end, taken as a whole, the story wasn’t terribly interesting, and the accompaniments served as an impediment to an already deficient plot. My disappointment originated from the impression that the plot served the concept, rather than the concept serving the plot.

As an artist, I absolutely loved the boundaries Black Dossier annihilated and believe Moore and O’Neill should be looked upon as artistic liberators. As a reader, though, I found Black Dossier dull and plodding.

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.

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.