Page 45 Review by Stephen
Never have I been so surprised - absolutely stunned - by any other comic series' final chapter, as you shall see. But in retrospect, a decade ago, it all made perfect sense. Perfect.
Here's what I wrote when each constituent part of this second half was originally published
Ex Machina vol 6: Power Down
Political comedy thriller, highly successful in all three aspects (it's politically realistic rather than a big wet dream for pinko liberals like myself; it's very, very funny, and it's tense as hell).
Mitchell Hundred is mayor of New York City, but for some he will always be remembered as The Great Machine, a man who saved one of the Twin Towers from destruction using his ability to communicate with mechanisms. Until now we haven't known exactly how he managed that; until now we haven't known where the powers exactly came from. All that changes at this half-way stage and the signs are ominous. A man in what looks like a sophisticated yet old-school deep-sea diving suit materialises by the harbour; the city is plunged into darkness as the electricity go out; and the machines stop talking to Hundred.
He's here with a warning, but where's he from? Another planet? Another time? And what does he want with Kremlin, Mitchell's old friend currently conspiring to sabotage his administration from within?
Ex Machina vol 7: Ex Cathedra
"Dear Lord in heaven, if you let this work, I will owe You for the rest of my life."
If you believe in God then you already owe Him, but how many times have we each uttered a sentence ending in something like "... then I swear I will stop crank-calling my mother." Kept many of those promises, have we?
All you need to know is that Mitchell Hundred, Mayor Of New York City, can talk to machines and make them do what he wants. Unfortunately for him, someone's worked out that it may be a two-way communication: that a machine might be able to make him do what it wants. All this just as a dying Pope John Paul II requests a private audience with Mayor Hundred at the Vatican. Why would he do that?
It's not just the slick wit of the dialogue, although that's here in abundance, it's the lateral thinking that Brian brings to the table, the very real world politics (here, for example, ex-President Vladimir Putin's history of covert overseas assassinations), and his interest in stepping outside of his own political viewpoint and giving eloquent voice to others'. It makes for genuine surprises and Mitchell, a natural sceptic, is in for a real revelation. But then sceptics are different from cynics in that deep down, don't a lot of them rather hope that beneath their doubts something might be true? Here's some of that deft verbal juggling:
"I'm Father Chetwas, the Vatican's chief astronomer."
"Is it so shocking that a Nigerian would be interested in space?"
"I'm not surprised that you're an astronomer, Father, I'm surprised the Vatican has one on retainer. I have a feeling the guy who said the Earth moves around the sun would be surprised, too."
"It may have taken The Church three hundred years to apologise for what The Inquisition did to Galileo... but it's worth noting that your host is the one who made that extraordinary gesture."
Pope John Paul, by the way, turns out to be the real hero in the book, in two scenes I found profoundly moving, and we all know what a sceptic - or even cynic - I am, particularly when it comes to organised religions.
Meanwhile Tony Harris' art manages the improbable trick of filling each page with big, solid forms whilst letting them breathe in plenty of space. His sense of light is impeccable.
Ex Machina vol 8: Dirty Tricks
In which Mitchell Hundred raises his sights from Mayor to a considerably higher office. Also: Bush visits New York and a young woman inspired by an encounter with the Great Machine conducts a novel protest against Dubya's presence using a motorbike, the surviving Twin Tower and a parachute. Also, also: more hints about Mitchell's connection to machines and what he's supposed to do about it. I'm as baffled as he is, but loving every second. You get two more books after this, then it's over.
Ex Machina vol 9: Ring Out The Old
Rats. A lot of rats. Also a rat catcher with an eye-patch sporting the words "Out Of Order".
As Pherson, - the man who can command animals the way Mayor Mitchell Hundred can command mechanisms - returns again and again with a message for Mitchell which he simply won't listen to, we finally learn exactly what all the colour-coded control systems are all about, and why they've been given. It's not good news, nor is the White Box. In fact it has serious implications not just for the future but for Hundred's original election way back when.
News is what this penultimate volume is all about as a leading reporter heavily critical of Hundred's environmental initiatives - and whose paper has refused to conform to the edict that they print on recycled paper - is murdered by a man claiming the Mayor told him to do it, and that comicbook publishers are next.
"What did you say?"
"They're the worst offenders of them all. At least newspapers are eventually recycled. But comics are virgin paper going into virgin hands that tuck them away into poisonous plastic forever."
This book opens with the magnificent conceit of Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris applying, some years earlier for the gig of turning comic fan Hundred's biography into a comic. Thing is, Mitchell's more into WONDER WOMAN and Brian Michael Bendis's superhero work than he is anything as cerebral as Vaughan might come up with, and the last two pages will make you howl when you realise, umm... oh, I can't tell you!
Best superhero series of the last three years; best political fiction since West Wing. That's quite the accomplishment.
Ex Machina vol 10: Term Limits (£10-99, Wildstorm/DC) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris.
The finale to my favourite superhero series since ULTIMATES Seasons One and Two, and my favourite piece of political comicbook fiction of all time.
Hundred may find his tenure as Mayor of New York City coming to a close more abrupt than he'd planned. He's already declared that he won't stand for a second term so that he can concentrate on finishing his job rather than campaigning for re-election. But the power of the media is demonstrated in an unexpected fashion when a radio show compels the citizens of the city to rise up en masse and it's not very pretty.
All of that is as nothing compared to the final issue set several months later where we witness the separate fates of Bradbury, Kremlin and Hundred himself. Not one of them will you see coming.
I almost dropped the book when reading the Bradbury scene, I did drop it during the Kremlin confrontation and my mouth gaped wide after my mind had fully processed the final page and its preceding phone call.