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Ex Machina: Smoke, Smoke by Brian K. Vaughan

Ex Machina: Smoke, Smoke

by Brian K. Vaughan

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Better than Vaughan's better known later works (Y The Last Man and Saga.) ( )
  valzi | Sep 7, 2016 |
Having read and loved Brian K. Vaughn’s Y the Last Man series years ago, I was excited to finally get around to Ex Machina. Hoping for the same attention to character and detailed US cultural atmosphere as the dystopian series, Mitchell Hundred and his alter ego The Great Machine did not disappoint. Combining the worlds of preternatural hero and mundane civil governing may not strike one as a recipe for riveting storytelling, but Vaughn delivers a tale that is more human than super.

His strength lies (particularly in the early volumes of the series) in his almost painfully real characters. Reluctant superhero turned mayor of New York City Mitchell Hundred is neither unbelievably altruistic nor abusive of his powers. His love for New York reigns above all else, and there’s a fierce loyalty to his hometown to which many will relate. Oddly for me, he is genuine is such a way as to drain tension from the story. I had no anxiety about where the series was headed, and I even liked the characters I didn’t like- if that makes any sense. I guess I should say that Vaughn outlines motivations of his characters so clearly that even when I’m against the character’s actions, I can’t fault him/her for following that course.

At the same time, the series serves as an interesting snapshot of US political and cultural trends in the early 21st century, exploring everything from taxpayer-funded birth control to political protests to the legalization of marijuana. Most striking perhaps for our nation in 2015 is Hundred officiating a marriage of two men in New York’s city hall. This story arc also showcases Vaughn’s awareness of nuance and his skill in humanizing what some consider more esoteric political battles. In this case, one of the grooms is a firefighter who was a first responder at Ground Zero. Indeed, the terror attacks of September 11th shadow the entire series, and Vaughn makes an honest attempt to explore the reality of New York City in the wake of tragedy.

Unfortunately, the series begins to lose its detail and complexity as it wraps up. Characters and situations grow ever more one-dimensional, and what made the story feel so real in the midst of the incredible disappears under a layer of cynicism and bitterness. I’m not sure what causes this shift, but it transforms a powerful, poignant narrative into something brutal and primitive.

Overall, this series is a must-read for fans of Vaughn, and if you like superheroes, politics, or New York City, you’ll fall in love as well. ( )
  porcupineracetrack | Aug 15, 2015 |
Surprisingly funny. The artwork is fantastic. ( )
  lesmel | Apr 19, 2013 |
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Mitchell Hundred, mayor of New York City, faces impossible decisions regarding the city's controversial drug laws, when a string of brazen home invasions and a shocking suicide threaten to derail the debate.

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