Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: Ex Machina v4 March to War

Ex Machina: March to War takes place at the onset of the Iraq war.  Mayor Hundred, as mayor of New York City, must decide whether or not to let peaceful anti-war protests to take place in his city streets.  Though the risk for some sort of terrorist situation seems highly possible, Hundred allows the protests to take place and is left to pick up the pieces when many of the protesters are killed or hospitalized due to a toxic dust cloud attack.

As bad as the attacks are, they hit extra close to home as one of Hundred's cabinet members is severely injured in the attack.  To make matters worse, in response to toxic dust cloud attack, which may or may not have been the work of terrorists, a few New Yorkers have decided to deal out some street justice by killing people they assume to be "terrorists".

So, while the police are doing what they can to find these killers, Hundred and his chief of police team up to find the person or persons who built the device that delivered the toxic dust.  Hundred and Chief Angotti don't exactly go "by the book" to crack the case either.  Instead, we get an impressive display of how Hundred's ability to talk to machines can be used in subtle ways.

Also added into this fourth volume is the two-part Life or Death story line that delivers some great insight into Hundred's life while he was The Great Machine.   We finally get to meet Pherson, The Great Machine's archenemy, a man with the ability to talk to, and command animals.  Pherson is pretty much the antithesis of Hundred and for that reason, makes a great archenemy.  The guy is pretty damn creepy all bad-guys should be.

Not surprisingly, this was another solid Ex Machina trade.  I thought the peace protest story line was quite engaging since it represented a piece of fairly recent history that I have strong memories towards.  Vaughn does a great job of placing this narrative in an engaging context and then also delivers a story that is not only exciting to read but also packs an emotional punch.

I like to think that I'm not one who usually gets excited for reading about politics, but I actually really enjoy the way Hundred goes about his mayoral duties.  He pretty much handles shit the way a normal person would, and doesn't pander to anyone, including constituents, fundraisers, or political parties.  When a crisis does come up, and they tend to hit him all at the same time, he is all about taking care of business by any means necessary.  The way these scenes are written with the character interactions come across as incredibly sincere and real.  The characters talk like real people, not like action heroes or dramatic performers.  I really appreciate that quality.

On the other hand, I also like to think that I'm not the kind of guy who gets excited for super hero comics, but the super hero bits of Ex Machina  are also quite awesome.  Simply said, Hundred is, at best, a pretty amateurish hero... Aside from the time when he saved one of the Word Trade Centers.   In the flashbacks to his hero days he always seems to be saving someone who doesn't want to be saved, or messing up and doing something like saving a mom before he saves her children.  Once again, all this comes across as genuine and realistic.  I like that Hundred struggles to do what he thinks is right, even though that isn't necessarily what someone else wants him to do in the heat of the moment.  I like that The Great Machine isn't just some perfect, omnipotent do-gooder.  It makes the flashback scenes extremely entertaining.

As per usual, Tony Harris' art is top level in this installment.  I don't have any complaints, and though I could easily gush, I'll spare you and just say that Harris' work on Ex Machina is consistently great and a perfect example of a top flight artist working at the top of his game.  Sexy-sexy stuff.  (Yup, two sexies!)

Ex Machina: March to War is a return to form for this series.  I was pleased to see the writing half of the series step its game up and deliver a story line that was interesting and engaging.  The extra two-part Life or Death arc was like a delicious icing on the cake.  Alone, the March to War arc was one of the best in the series so far but adding Pherson, The Great Machine's nemesis into the mix gave this graphic novel some extra juice.  All around good stuff.

Grade: A


Conor said...

I read the first volume of Ex-Machina. I will have to get back into though. It's an interesting story for sure.

Ryan said...

Hey Conor!

I think the first volume did a good job of capturing my attention for the series. If you like character driven stories with an emphasis on politics and a bit of super hero stuff mixed in, this is a great series for you to check out.