On top of the hundred or so comics I read every month, I also go through quite a few trade paperbacks. Recently, I started picking up Ex Machina in trade. I’ve finished the first five trades so I guess it’s about time I talked about them.
Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred, the first superhero of his world. One day, a group of terrorists decide to ram a couple of planes into the World Trade Center towers. In our world, we know exactly what happened next. In Mitchell’s world, events play out quite a bit differently. You see, Mitchell was able to save one of the Twin Towers. Soon after, Mitchell gives up playing hero and runs for mayor. Not surprisingly, he wins.
The book primarily concerns itself with Mitchell’s term in office, with the occasional flashback to pre-911 times to give up back story and villainous origins. One can assume that means this book is extremely politically motivated. It’s actually much like reading an episode of the West Wing, I would guess (since I never watched that show).
Framed in such a way that isn’t immediately as accessible to mainstream readers like Y: The Last Man was, Ex Machina is an educational if not always entertaining read. Sometimes, it feels too much like homework or watching some dude’s hastily produced Youtube diaries. No jokes, Vaughan comes off like a politically snarky know-it-all and it can get on your nerves. Maybe this plays better if you collect this book as a monthly, but reading 5-6 issues in a row can be tedious. If you can stand being preached to regarding the hot button issues of the day, then this may be the book for you. As for me, I like the main character to stick with it for now. It passes the ultimate test: I would vote for Mayor Hundred.
Oh, and the art by Tony Harris is pretty sweet too.
Switching gears slightly but still staying within the realm of social commentary, I’ve also been catching up on Brian Wood’s DMZ. This seems like the prototypical book that no one is reading, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s so fucking good. It’s got the mainstream appeal of a Y mixed with the politics of an Ex Machina. It’s controversial, honest (maybe I’m biased) and on top of all that… it’s a fun read! Brian Wood, is really, really good. And so is his partner, Riccardo Burchielli. His figures look great and the grim and gritty backgrounds truly propel you into this world. Oh crap, I haven’t even said what the book is about yet…
With overseas wars bogging down the Army and Nation Guard, the U.S. government mistakenly neglects the very real threat of the anti-establishment militias scattered across the United States. Like a sleeping giant, Middle America rises up and violently pushes its way to the shining seas, sparking a second American civil war, coming to a standstill at the line in the sand – Manhattan. Or, as the world now knows it, the DMZ.
Matty Roth, a naïve aspiring photojournalist, lands a dream gig following a veteran war correspondent into the heart of the DMZ. Things soon go terribly wrong, and Matty finds himself lost and alone in a world he’s only seen on television. There, he is faced with a choice: try to find a way off the island, or make his career with an assignment most journalists would kill for. But can he survive in this savage war zone long enough to report the truth?
The first trade is all about getting you, the reader, and Matty, our protagonist, acclimated to this brave new world. He builds friendships as he gets to know the players on each side of this civil war. In the second trade, shit gets flipped on its head as we learn not everything or everyone is what it seems. Expectations are reversed and Matty sees that it’s not about which side is right; it’s about the people stuck in the middle. His people. One of the great things about DMZ is Wood’s ability to stay impartial. One side is never portrayed as more evil than the other, or vice versa, and I think that’s where the power of this story truly lies. Shit, the entire story is summed up in the title. A demilitarized zone… that’s all it’s really about.