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Ex Machina #9

Posted: Monday, March 21, 2005
By: Jason Cornwell



"Tag, Chapter Four"

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artists: Tony Harris (p), Tom Feister (i)

Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm


Plot: The book opens in the aftermath the 9/11 attacks, as survivor guilt becomes a source of great tension between Hundred and Jackson, his FBI handler, and their last meeting ends with Jackson telling Mitch that he never wants to see him again. Back in the present day, Mayor Hundred is attacked at a press conference, and during his recovery he learns some uncomfortable news about the subway attacker. However, as the issue ends this information about the attacker is wrong, and Mitch may pay the price for this bad information.

Comments: I can't think of another writer working today who has embraced the idea of the monthly cliff-hanger as effectively as Brian K. Vaughan, as he continues to deliver some amazingly harrowing endings that make waiting between issues sheer torture. I've been reading comics for long enough to know that next issue will likely involve Mayor Hundred making a narrow escape, but that doesn't rob the final moment of this issue of any of its impact. This issue also gives us our first look at the raw emotion that rests at the core of this series, as the issue opens in the hours after the events of 9/11, and the events serve to shatter what had been a pretty solid friendship. The issue also manages to deftly sell the idea that in stressful times people will often look for people to lash out at regardless of whether their targets are deserving of this anger. Brian K. Vaughan offers up a great little sequence where Jackson blames Mitch for the tragic events, though it's nicely established that his accusations are clearly driven by a sense of guilt rather than logic. As for the events that play out in the present day, the attempt on Mitch's life was an unexpected plot development, and while the crazed nut case was a bit on the cartoonish side, I did find myself smiling at Mitch's good natured reaction to the event. Now it did feel a bit like Brian K. Vaughan was repeating himself when Jackson looked like he was the mystery attacker, as this plot device was already used in the opening arc, but the discovery of the body took the story in a powerful new direction, and the cliff-hanger erased any concern that Brian K. Vaughan was guilty of recycling his opening arc.

Tony Harris turns in some lovely work on this issue. There are some lovely character moments in this issue that are well presented by the art, from Jackson's misplaced anger in the opening pages, to the expression on the FBI agent's face in the final panel of her visit to Mitch's hospital room. The art also manages to nicely capture the abrupt nature of the press conference attack, as the pained expression on Mitch's face is a convincing indication of a serious attack. However, the real impact of the art would have to be the way that it sells the growing sense of danger that comes from the subway attack, from the highly disturbing reveal shot of what is discovered in the subway, to the tremendous impact of that final page. How can this image not leave one counting the days until the next issue? I also loved this issue's cover image. It should be released as a poster.



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