“Tag: Part Two”
Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Artists: Tony Harris (p), Tom Feister (i)
Publisher: DC/Wildstorm Signature Imprint
Ex-Superhero-Mayor-of-New-York Mitch Hundred is used to dealing with complex problems, and this issue sees him delicately dealing with a few thorny issues surrounding gay marriage and the public school system. As if that wasn’t enough, strange alien signs have begun to appear in the city’s subway, with horrific results….
Writer Brian K. Vaughn seems to delight in gradually piling social and political pressure onto the central character’s shoulders to see how he responds, and it makes for some entertaining scenes here. Mitch’s headstrong (almost naïve) conviction that going ahead with the performance of a gay marriage ceremony is clearly the right thing to do provides a beautiful set-up for his later reaction to Journal’s suggestion that people might think he’s gay, and the PR solution to that problem looks to bring one of the supporting characters into the mix a little more regularly. The direction of the subplot involving the public school system is still somewhat unclear, though, and is neglected in favour of more flashbacks to The Great Machine’s dealings with the NSA and the development of the gory, gruesome, horror-film subplot which sees the same alien symbols that relate to Hundred’s powers showing up in the city’s subways. This plot element shows promise for further issues, and the visual execution of this ‘alien code’ (and its subsequent visceral and violent effect) is perfectly judged to be disturbing yet intriguing – shocking, but never offensive enough to make the reader lose interest in learning more. It invites the reader to ask questions about the true nature of The Great Machine’s powers and how Mayor Hundred will end up falling so desperately from grace as the first issue suggested – and adds depth to an already three-dimensional and well rounded central character.
What I love most about Ex Machina isn’t the superhero-turned-politician concept, though. It isn’t the characters. And it isn’t even the gorgeous, understated art by Tony Harris, who here provides more perfectly judged and consistent character work, along with another trippy cover to complement last issue. My favourite element of the book remains the political discussion, its integration into the story and the subtext that it provides for nearly every exchange in the book. The idea that big political issues affect each end every one of us is a great message for such a popular medium to spread, and it is no surprise that the creators – who were so vocal about the right to vote during this year’s American presidential election – have chosen to represent this so inevitably through their plotting. Perhaps there is also a parallel between Mitch’s ability to command only complicated machinery (not simple, inanimate objects) and the inescapable truth that - however good you are at dealing with the technicalities, the spin and the intellectual dance of politics - in the end, it’s the simple core issues that are going to split people one way or another. Either way, the novelty of a comic which is prepared to tackle real-life social issues without making them seem dull or forced has still yet to wear off.
However, whilst some writers can get away with slipping a set-up issue under the radar, making it feel like things are really moving along, Vaughn doesn’t quite manage it here. There’s too little advancement and too much setting up of conflicts for later on in the arc for this to be a really stunning issue, but a merely good edition of Ex Machina is a lot better than the best that other comic books have to offer. On its own terms, Ex Machina #7 is a middling instalment, but in relation to everything else out there it’s still definitely well worth checking out for the uninitiated and Ex Machina fan alike.
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