Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina starts to plod a little in the latest episode. In it, New York sees a protest against the war in Iraq attacked by a Ricin-wielding terrorist, and Mayor Hundred’s superhero abilities are called in by the very police who found his powers something of a pain when he was a vigilante.
This story is stretched out across four chapters of this six chapter book, using the defection of the Mayor’s attractive young ex-intern Journal to add a bit of spice to the personality side of the storyline, though all she actually does is go on the march and become a victim of the attack. Vaughan’s plot device for placing her at the scene of the disaster – getting her romantically involved with a faceless soldier – demeans her character’s political status though. Surely she’d have decided whether she was pro- or anti-war before a charming young man in a uniform appeared on the scene?
The second story in the book examines the origins of the Great Machine’s arch enemy, Jack Pherson, whose special power is the ability to talk to animals. It was originally published as a two-volume special and feels a lot like a filler.
Perhaps we’re being a little harsh on Vaughan – this is still a superior comic, that’s well scripted with authentic dialogue. And maybe the story is lining up for something deeper about the war in Iraq in future books, but after the relative high-class of the previous volumes, the politics and characterisation here felt watered down.
Harris’s art is as strong as ever though, and Chris Sprouse takes the reigns in the second story and does a great stand in job – you’d hardly notice Harris was missing.
But the shallowness of the plot left us feeling unfulfilled – something we’ve rarely found with Vaughan’s work and it’s certainly a disappointing volume in this otherwise excellent series.
Other titles in the Ex Machina series: