Review: Ex-Machina #50

By | August 19th, 2010
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

It is well known along the halls of Multiversity that Brian K. Vaughan is my favorite writer. His work isn’t just my favorite but it was got me back into comics. In many ways, it made me realize that there was more to the world of comics than just capes, tights and superfights. To think of a comic world without BKV is one that I don’t like, but that is what we have after the finale of Ex-Machina, his Wildstorm series with artist Tony Harris (and colorist JD Mettler!).

A lot of comics have problems living up to the pressure of wrapping up a series. With Ex-Machina being one of my most beloved series, the pressure would be even higher. How did BKV and Harris and the rest do? Find out after the jump.

Note: This review is spoiler-tastic.

Ex-Machina #50
Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by: Tony Harris

When I finished this comic, I knew one thing: I had no idea how to review it.

The difficulty in reviewing this book is that it very much is the culmination of everything that happened in the previous 49 issues. How do you develop a review of a book that effectively tied every thread together from the entirety of the run? It’s a tough proposition, especially considering the sheer volume of things that happen in this series – I’ll do my best to skim through it and focus on the core of the story.

I think the most interesting thing about this book is the fact that it is, at its core, about Mitchell Hundred and those people closest him. Most importantly his team from his superhero days – Bradbury and Kremlin. I know that Brian K. Vaughan developed it as a reactionary story to the direction the government is/was taking America (we’ll talk about that more later on), but deep down its about Hundred and his failings not only as a politician but as a person.

In this issue, those failings hit their apex. In two remarkably powerful scenes, Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris bring his relationships with those two characters to a head in way that permanently destroys them in perhaps the most painful way possible. Let’s start with Bradbury.

In the open that wraps up the events of issue #49, Hundred makes his great escape as The Great Machine from the bow-and-arrow carrying NYPD. As part of a plan to save his own bacon, his boy friday comes in to quickly pretend he was in the costume all along. It saves Hundred and it also has the unforeseen side effect of setting Bradbury up as “New York’s Newest Hero.” Another unforeseen side effect is that this lie sets a rift in the friendship, and all of that culminates in a very destructive scene between Bradbury and Hundred in which the latter denies the former in the worst ways possible and implicitly because of the effect the two of them seeing each other could have on his burgeoning political career. It ends in violence and a classic case of rage developed from self-loathing by Bradbury (BKV’s word choices here are impeccable).

Kremlin on the other hand has long considered Hundred to be wasting his time with his political career and that he should focus on being New York City’s great protector in his superhero alter-ego. He’s so convinced of this fact he’s worked at sabotaging his career throughout, and in this issue Kremlin escalates it to a point of no return. The scene develops all of the animosity and basic differences in life that the two characters have felt for each other for most of the series, and the culmination of it is heart wrenching for both the reader and Hundred himself.

Ultimately, Hundred sold out the two people he was closest to in the world to bolster his political career. As a person who always tried to stand for what is right and not what is the best for himself early in the series, Hundred appeared to us as both an idealist and a hero in his own right. By the end though, Hundred became everything he hated: a person who would do anything to achieve his goals, to protect his public identity, and in many ways the villain of his own story.

Continued below

The turning point of the series in many ways was Hundred’s visit to the Pope. With one faction insisting that Hundred is basically the devil incarnate and the Pope himself suggesting Hundred should be the President, Hundred is thrown for a loop. Oddly enough, it also becomes a driving force in his life to become the latter while that same driving force led him to become some sort of facsimile of the former.

The personal tragedy in the story lies in the last pages. When you realize that with all Hundred has done, with all he has sacrificed, that the realization of his dreams (even his divine right, in the Pope’s eyes) is to be John McCain’s Vice President…it is about as shocking and deflating to a character as anything I’ve ever seen in comics. Hundred becomes a cog of “The Great Machine” of American politics, a tool when he wanted to become a champion. I mean, when you get down to it he became a more successful version of Sarah Palin, an ineffectual, youthful patsy used to bolster the career of a stodgy candidate, and that is a scathing turn for the hero of this series. That it all works organically and logically when you take the whole series into consideration makes the sequence all the more powerful.

An even more fitting end is when Vaughan uses Hundred’s powers to bring the story to a close – Hundred simply states “Fade to Black” with his powers as the image slowly fades away, revealing a final page with a title that is absolutely pitch perfect: “Vice.”

Tony Harris and his stalwart colorist JD Mettler knock the entire issue out of the park, creating an issue that is as visually powerful and haunting as the issue is from a written standpoint. Harris and his photo referencing style is something that causes a divide amongst readers, but for myself I honestly couldn’t imagine this book with anyone else. His style brings a blend of realism and surrealism that fits perfectly for the tone of everything that happens.

Mettler’s coloring in this issue is perfection as well, and there isn’t a sequence in the series that shows Harris and Mettler working in concert more than the final meeting between Kremlin and Hundred. The muted gray filter over the scene, the costume choices (I’d like to think Harris dressed Hundred in that suit specifically because it makes him look like a member of the SS), the power in the storytelling – it’s an exquisitely staged scene that would work with the worst artists but shines with this team.

This is one of the most perfect finales to a series that I’ve ever read. It is an incredibly rewarding read for fans of the series, referencing small things from the series throughout (I loved that Vaughan brought himself and Harris back into the series – if only in a conversation – to illustrate McCain/Hundred with Spider-Man) and tying up all of the loose ends in the most powerful ways possible. This is serialized comic book storytelling at the highest of levels. This is everything I wanted the finale of one of my favorite series to be. This is…well, perfect.

Final Verdict: 10.0 – Buy

David Harper