September 5, 2010

Now what do I read?

I'm a bit of a comic-book geek. That statement shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog (seeing as how I know all of you...), but I just wanted to get that out there. I was introduced to the form by my friend Rajeev waaaaaaaay back in the long-long ago time of childhood. It wasn't long before I was hooked. Like sugar coated crack. The X-men were my four colour drug of choice, and I followed those spandex clad mutants through some crazy mid-90's adventures. Eventually though, I grew out of them. Grew out of their endless skin-tight posturing and overly ridiculous plots. I couldn't drop the habit though. And that's, eventually, when I discovered Ex Machina.

Although I had read (and enjoyed) more grown-up funny-book fare before, Ex Machina was the first I ever collected. I have all the issues from #1 right through to the just released final issue #50. You see, Ex Machina is not a continuing super-hero type of comic book. It's a finite story, told in sequential art and in periodic issues. While it doesn't necessarily have anything as simple as a beginning, middle and end it does have arcs within the larger story. Or did. So, what is Ex Machina and why am I taking the time to write about it here? Well ok, we'll start off with what the series was actually about.

Ex Machina takes place in a world similar to ours: there are no men in capes or women in spandex (except for the loonies). But while this world is similar to ours, it is not ours. Quite blatantly not. See, in this world, there is a man named Mitchell Hundred who, after a horrific accident, finds he can talk to machines. He is the world's first, and only, super-hero. He's... not all that great (despite going by the name of The Great Machine). He's a civil engineer by trade, and not all that fit. He does, however, have a wicked jetpack and a couple of crazy sci-fi pistols. What separates this book out from the rest of the super-hero fare is this: he hangs up the jet-pack and becomes the mayor of New York City. So what Ex Machina is, is a sci-fi West Wing super-hero melodrama. And to really drive home the point of this being not our world, the first issue's final frame is:

Not the only twist to come in the series. Not by a long shot.

Yep, one tower is still standing, the other saved by Hundred in his guise as The Great Machine. And that was a great hook; a great intro to the series. But it was the wit and intelligence that kept me: from 2004, all the way until now. There's political intrigue, wacky science and a great cast of characters; including Hundred's bodyguard, deputy mayor, estranged mentor and various supporting characters. It would be an amazing TV show, with flashbacks to The Great Machine's hero days juxtaposed against Mitchell Hundred's mayoralty (no surprise that the writer, Brian K. Vaughan was also pulled in to write some episodes of Lost). The art, by Tony Harris, is frankly gorgeous. He pulls off a lot of the crazy weird visions and fever dream stuff, which is balanced by the gruesome (and realistic) depictions of violence.

Now, dammit, the series is finished. There will be no more. Vaughan and Harris have said all they're gonna say with these characters. Which leaves me without a series to read. Sure, I'm currently picking up a couple of the new Avengers books but there's only so much you can take of characters who don't age. Or who de-age, re-age, die, resurrect, are replaced by clones from another dimension who are then de-aged, re-aged, killed and resurrected. As bad guys. What I want now is an intelligently written (non-superhero centric) series. It helps if the art is top-notch and if they're wholly original characters, free of decades of pointless continuity. I don't know if I can quite give up comic-books. Not the good ones. Not yet. There'll be something out there: some new series that'll suck me into it's bordered pages. And that's the thing: superheroes are, and have been for too long, the predominant genre of comic-books. But comics aren't just superheroes. There's work like Brian K. Vaughan's Y:The Last Man, Jeff Smith's Bone, Ed Brubaker's Criminal and Bill Willingham's Fables. Just as in every other art form, there is something out there for everyone.

I'm still a geek. Still addicted.

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