This Week’s Haul

Haven’t felt like posting lately, so here’s three weeks of comics to catch up on.

Best bets from the last few weeks: Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #2, The Sixth Gun #3 and Ghost Projekt #4. Oni is publishing some good stuff, huh?

Three Weeks Ago:

  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #1, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasaron & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Superman #702, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #16, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Zatanna #4, by Paul Dini, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #2 of 5, by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • A Skeleton Story #1, by Alessandro Rak & Andrea Scoppetta (GG Studio)
  • The Sixsmiths #1, by J. Marc Schmidt & Jason Franks (SLG)

Two Weeks Ago:

  • Batman Beyond #3 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Brightest Day #8, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Rebecca Buchman & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #4 of 10, by Len Wein, Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez, Dave Gibbons, Scott Kolins & Joe Kubert (DC)
  • Ex Machina #50, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #97, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Dan Green (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #51, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #42, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Power Girl #15, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Chew #13, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #3, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)

Last Week:

  • Justice League of America #48, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #4, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #26, by Matt Wagner & Chrissie Zullo (DC/Vertigo)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #2 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #602, by J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer & Eduardo Pansica (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #35, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Captain America #609, by Ed Brubaker, Jackson Guice & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #582, by Jonathan Hickman, Nail Edwards & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #24, by Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #3 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)
  • Invincible #74, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Ghost Projekt #4 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston & Dean Trippe (Oni)
Brian Vaughn & Tony Harris’ Ex Machina came to an end this month. It’s been one of those rarities, a long-running series published less than monthly (bimonthly, in this case), I believe because Harris isn’t quite able to keep up with a regular monthly schedule. (James Robinson wrote many of the “Times Past” episodes of Starman to give Harris time to catch up or get ahead, I understand.)

The premise of the series is that Mitchell Hundred is the only man in the world with superpowers: A strange encounter in New York harbor gave him the ability to communicate with and command machines. He embarked on a brief and controversial career as a superhero, the “Great Machine”, until he saved one of the World Trade Towers from being destroyed on September 11. Retiring from adventuring, he is elected Mayor of New York City, where he has a controversial term as a populist leader who holds strong positions, always annoying the left or the right. Meanwhile, his two friends from his heroing days have different opinions about his new position (one becomes his bodyguard, the other thinks it’s a waste of his talents), and Mitch gradually learns about the origins of his powers.

The series often felt at times like a mouthpiece for Vaughan’s political views. Actually I have no idea if they’re actually Vaughan’s own views or not, but they were by far the least interesting part of the series, repetitively presenting Mitch as the voice of reason while various people were freaking out around him about his positions. It got pretty dull pretty quickly.

I always saw the political milieu as a mundane backdrop to the more interesting story, that being: Why did Mitch get his powers, and what did it mean? But Vaughan clearly didn’t see the series in the same way, as he spent most of the series dealing with the very mundane details of Mitch’s life and friendships, none of which are really deep enough or complex enough to be very compelling, and only one of which (with his bodyguard Bradbury) has a really rewarding payoff. So the more fantastic elements get shoved aside for most of the series, but completely take over the stage when they do come up. For example, the man who’s able to command animals. And then the explanations and drama over the last four issues. We do eventually learn the source of Mitch’s powers, but ultimately it’s kind of disappointing.

I think my fundamental disappointment in Ex Machina is that it feels like it was a lot of text and noise, but not very much happened. Despite Mitch (and a handful of others) with fantastic powers, they don’t really change the world (or even New York City) very much. Indeed, Mitch’s tenure as Mayor doesn’t really change him very much, besides putting some of his friends and family in harm’s way. It doesn’t feel like he really grew or changed as a character or person.

Vaughan’s other major work in comics is Y The Last Man, which is, by far, the superior series of the two. The characters are more engaging and more fully-realized, and despite characters with strong positions it rarely felt like the writer was preaching to us. The fantastic elements are omnipresent (since the premise is that every man on the planet save one has died), but serve to drive and inform the story, while still allowing plenty of space for drama and character development. Things happen, people go places, and change the world (and their lives) through their actions. And while there are some rough edges around the ending, it was on the whole moving and satisfying. Really, the polar opposite of Ex Machina in nearly every way.

To be sure, Ex Machina had one major asset, that being Tony Harris’ always-outstanding artwork, which has grown and evolved, retaining his touch for realistic figures with a stylized veneer, while slowly shedding the awkward facial expressions and compositions. Harris is one of the better artists in comics today, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

But overall I have to say it’s been a disappointing series. It feels like it’s been playing out the string for the last couple of years, and I can’t really recommend to anyone to go back and read through it, because I don’t think you’ll find it rewarding. Pick up Y The Last Man instead, because it’s going to stay on my bookshelf, while this one’s probably going up on eBay.

(As usual, Greg Burgas and I felt quite differently about this series.)

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