Friday, April 22, 2005

Ex Machina - Not As Pretentious As The Title Would Suggest

Come on, even if you love this book, you have to admit that "Ex Machina" is a pretty pretentious-sounding name. When your title is a reference to both Greek and Roman drama and literary devices, you are going a bit overboard with the pretension.

Luckily, except for the name of the superhero in the comic (and the answer for that can easily be resolved as "Yeah, but the character in the comic IS pretentious", so it is okay), there is none of the same pretentiousness in the actual comic itself, only wholesome comic goodness.

Thanks to Matt for choosing today's "You Decide," which is Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days (collecting the first five issues of the Ex Machina ongoing series).

The story is written by Brian K. Vaughan, with art by Tony Harris and Tom Feister.

It is about a man, Mitchell Hundred, who gains the ability to speak to machines through an accident. He becomes a superhero named The Great Machine, and fights crime until he decides to run for Mayor of New York in the 2001 election. Due to events surrounding 911, he is elected Mayor. The book begins in "the present" and details the events of Hundred's four years in office.

I have always had two main complaints about Brian K. Vaughan's writing, and both of them are present in this opening storyline.

1. The (in my opinion) over use of endings designed purely to shock. This is something Geoff Johns does a lot as well. The difference between the two is that Vaughan appears to have weened himself OFF the approach, while Johns continues to use it in his comics. There was a great interview with Vaughan at AICN a ways back, and the following question really got me:

You've got a rep for kick-ass cliffhangers. Do they come easy or with much gnashing of teeth? Ever feel constrained that cliffhangers are such part and parcel of serial entertainment, and therefore part and parcel of nearly all comics?

Thanks. I think good cliffhangers are easy to write, actually. Doing one every 22 pages is simple. It's TV shows like BUFFY and ANGEL that usually have an incredible cliffhanger every commercial break that amaze me.
I loved that, because that was exactly my problem with the endings (what he refers to as "cliffhangers"). I think they ARE easy to write, as I believe that that particular style ("ending out of nowhere") is almost cheating, style-wise. And that was my problem with the ending of the first issue of #1, and I have to say, reading it collected makes it stand out even MORE to me in terms of "a scene plugged in there not because the flow of the story, but rather, just to shock you," because it really does NOT flow with the overall story.

Luckily, it only happened in #1, so that is cool.

2. The whole "characters' dialogue sounding like they came out of an encyclopedia." This is something peculiar to Vaughan, and it is present throughout most of this volume, but has NOT really popped up in more recent issues of Ex Machina. What I am referring to is the little factoids that he peppers his dialogue with. It just strikes me as a weird shtick, as every character is apparantly a historian, as they all throw out all these lines that read like they came word for word out of a history book.

Still, both of those complaints are very minor in the grand scheme of things, so please do not let my need to rehash my problems with some of Vaughan's shtick (both of which he has pretty much eliminated from his writing today, which is extremely impressive to me) deter you from the fact that Ex Machina is one of the best books DC is currently producing.

The art from Tony Harris is awesome (although, I will admit, I did not know that he had people pose for his scenes....that is....different).

There are also two major things that make Ex Machina such an awesome book...

1. The realistic portrayal of politics, without making it boring.


2. The characters are so well defined.

Really, #2 is the key to the book. For instance, the mystery in #2-5 is, well, pretty boring. However, it is MADE interesting by all the character interactions that go on in those issues.

Every character is a gem, and is defined and given depth so quickly that it will make your head spin.

Great, great stuff.

Also, there is some decent humor in the book. Much appreciated.

All in all, this is a book that is well worth reading.


Blogger Ed Cunard said...

I read the first issue, but it was something I thought I might follow in trade.


Come on, even if you love this book, you have to admit that "Ex Machina" is a pretty pretentious-sounding name. When your title is a reference to both Greek and Roman drama and literary devices, you are going a bit overboard with the pretension.

I wouldn't go that far--"deux ex machina" is pretty much common parlance by now, isn't it?

4/22/2005 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I love the title. "Out of the machine" - he's no longer a superhero. Good stuff.

You're right - one of the best comics out there.

4/22/2005 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"'deux ex machina' is pretty much common parlance by now, isn't it?"

Ya think?

I don't think it has gotten that far yet.

But to put it another way, I do not think it is as well-known as "denouement" or "cathartic", and I think a comic with "denouement" or "cathartic" in its title would also sound pretty pretentious.

4/22/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Anonymous plok said...

Catharsis Man! Shows criminals the error of their ways by purging them of pity and fear!

4/22/2005 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I don't have a problem with either of the things you mentioned. In the case of the cliffhanger endings, it's a great device for serial fiction, where you have to have some kind of hook to bring them back next time. And most of the cliffhanger's I've seen Vaughan use (and I've seen lots of them) are pretty organic.

As for the dialogue, well, everybody's an expert in something. Yorick's weird factoids usually cover escape artistry or literature. 355 knows, surprise surprise, US military history. And so on. And, as "The Muppets Take Manhattan" taught us, "It's exposition. It has to go somewhere."

4/23/2005 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

People do not talk like encyclopedias/history books.

And I think even Vaughan knows it is a bit silly, as he does not do it really anymore (and he didn't do it at ALL in his Ultimate X-Men stories).

4/23/2005 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

"'deux ex machina' is pretty much common parlance by now, isn't it?'

Ya think?

I don't think it has gotten that far yet."

I think Ed's right. I see people using it on message boards all the time, at least, so I'd say it's entered the lexicon.

4/25/2005 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

Lexicon would be a good name for a comic series, too.

4/25/2005 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger tim said...

I don't feel it odd that these people know the things they know or that they let everyone know what they know.

I know at least three people who can talk about specifics like these characters when it comes to U.S. politics and one that can do the same for Minnesota politics (where we live). He's in that system and he studies that system. Knowing stories that are 50 years old comes with the territory.

4/25/2005 05:41:00 PM  
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