Ex Machina #40


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Ex Machina #40


  • Words: Brian K. Vaughan
  • Art: Tony Harris
  • Inks: Jim Clark
  • Colors: J.D. Mettler
  • Story Title: Ruthless
  • Publisher: WildStorm Productions/DC Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Dec 24, 2008

Ex Machina is four fifths over. As it turns the corner to come into the home stretch, BKV and Harris give the loyal reader a little treat by placing themselves in the book.

Comic books need a gimmick. Whether it be a man from Krypton wearing tights or a guy dressed in pajamas who got bit by a radioactive spider, there has to be a reason to read it. Morrison went all meta on the readers with Animal Man by breaking the fourth wall and placing himself in the narrative. Naturally, anyone who does that trick after him has to put up with the comparisons. Truth be told, Morrison didn’t invent it either. Chuck Jones used to have an anonymous artist pester his creations in the old Looney Tunes cartoons and Jack Kirby used to introduce stories with himself at the easel. Eisner even wrote an autobiography of being in the business.

Taking that leap of placing yourself on the page is a hard thing to do. It takes a certain amount of fortitude that the average person just doesn’t have. Even the most talented writers tend to try to trivialize their own place in their work. Hemingway would usually give a fictitious name to his protagonist and then recount the adventures of his life. Jonathon Ames writes of a fictitious Jonathon A. This maneuver allows him to call what appear to be memoirs novels. In the end, most of these kinds of fiction point to a truth that is centered on the importance of the author as a part of the world

When Brian K. Vaughan places himself in this book, it is more than just a gimmick. The book is as much a love letter to New York as Brian Wood’s DMZ or Woody Allen’s Manhattan . There is a reverence to the city that is imbibed in the very core of this story. The true gimmick of the book is using a hero to give the most pivotal event of the modern comic reader’s generation a context to do good. This book is as much about healing the wounds of September 11, 2001 as it is about superheroes or politics.

BKV does an admirable job of placing himself in the book. He shows himself through the filter of the neurotic New Yorker. From interviews and personal appearances, it would seem that he is very similar to the guy on the page. He certainly resembles the guy found at Vertigo booths at larger comic through conventions through the great talent of his partner in this story, Mr. Harris.

What is more important than the wonderful job he does in portraying himself (even when its humor becomes self effacing) is the fact that by placing himself in the book, Vaughan manages to make himself less important. It gives him a chance to witness what that day meant to natives of the city. How the aftermath affected people. By placing himself in the story, the author makes the reader remember what this story is really about. It is a reaction to a significant piece of history and its effect on the world, even seven years removed. In his own way, Vaughan is not only providing therapy for himself, but also for all those who are brave enough to join him in his voyage.

Nowhere is this clearer than when Mitch tells his chief of staff about his own lesson in the importance of "controlling the narrative." Certainly the lauded writer of this comic is the vessel for the story, but one must wonder how much this story drives him. This comic has been a transformative book. It has reached outside the typical comic stereotype in readership. It has touched those who have read it in various ways. It may not be a revolutionary book, full of new and big ideas, but it is important and groundbreaking in its ability to affect the reader. This story, while not advancing the narrative that is surely to be chugging along like an out of control bullet train for the next ten issues, is just as important as any other issue. It resets the reader. It places the story back in context after misguided Popes and vengeful villains took us from its core. There is no reason to doubt that Vaughan will finish the series in fine form. One need only look to Y: The Last Man #60 to know that he is capable of not only breaking our hearts but leaving a story in the midst of chaos closed with spectacular satisfaction.

Harris as usual, makes the story about the characters. Giving them the sense of reality. The idea that they are real. He is a master of storytelling and has a study line. He helps give the book a movie feel with close-ups and angles that are indicative of good filmmaking. He only gets better and better. The style is as fresh now as it was at issue one and while it has morphed over the past few years, it retains all the detail and beauty of the first issue while looking substantively different. The pages of The Great Machine in action are done in such a striking style that it has lead a few people to question the validity of the credits on the last page. A careful eye will see differences.

Those last two pages also point to BKV’s sense of humor and his humility. They are a perfect way to end the comic. Given that this is a perfect comic, it is fitting. One can only hope that the writer is bitten by the need to write more comics after this last project is finished. Not that he doesn’t deserve a break, mind you.

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