Script: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Tony Harris/Tom Fiester; Chris Sprouse/Karl Story; JD Mettler
(MARCH TO WAR covers EX MACHINA #17-20 and EX MACHINA SPECIAL #1-2)
I buy most of Brian K. Vaughan’s work in trade paperback. His tendency to spend months stringing along multiple plot threads, with frequent sidetracks, make the trades a more satisfying read for me. Unfortunately, this will probably be the last EX MACHINA trade I buy as lately Vaughan seems to have gone completely astray of the direction he set in the first year or so of the series. At this point he’d need an ATV with a hoist and ninety feet of manila climbing rope to get back on path.
I may be guilty of imposing my own interpretation of what EX MACHINA’s direction was to be and this is what Vaughan had planned all along. You see, I thought the title was about a guy who gets a strange power, uses it to fight evil, gets a crazy idea to run for Mayor of New York and wins. Then the really weird stuff happens. I didn’t realize the whole talks-to-machines ploy was really Deus ex machina (sorry, couldn’t resist) for wedging a character into a position where Vaughan could roll out all his pet civics theories. I suppose it could be he’s slowly working his way back around to the elements that made this book so enjoyable in the early going, but since it’s now being promoted as a “political thriller”, I doubt it. And while I like a political thriller as much as the next guy -- I’ve seen Enemy of the State five times! -- for Vaughan that seems to mean character’s spouting off like freshman poli-sci students and creating a chain of straw man plot hammers so he can throw out buckets of what I’m sure seemed like clever rejoinders to all the base CNN/FOX/CNCBC reactions and responses to the Iraq War. It’s his book and he’s certainly free to use it as a bully pulpit for any topic he fancies but by the end of this arc I couldn’t tell where most of his characters, or Vaughan himself, stood on any issue. I think he bent over a bit too far trying to cover the angles or at least to appear that he had. On the whole it could have used a lot more intrigue and less monologuing.
The art as usual, is wonderful. I don’t know if Tony Harris is underrated -- because I don’t really know how he’s rated -- but he handles facial expressions and distinct characters better than anyone I can think of. And his storytelling is excellent. I credit him with making a number of Vaughan’s slower scenes at least visually interesting. One thing I found odd was the way some of the scenes were shaded. If I recall, in previous issues a sort of sepia tone was used to help indicate a flashback sequence but it was used here in a couple of places that were part of the normal plot sequence and my conditioned little brain got confused. A small quibble at best.
At the back of this trade is the two issue special, LIFE AND DEATH which is a far more interesting read and much closer in spirit to the EX MACHINA I enjoyed early in the run. In one of those odd twists, I had planned to stop buying this title after the last trade but picked up the special in floppy, because it was only a two-issue commitment (I’m easy and have a short attention span) and I really had to see what kind of story Vaughan could tell in two issues. I liked it so much I decided to give the book one more go. Sadly, because Vaughan is an extremely talented writer and capable of better, the rest of the book is a waste.