by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (pencils), Jim Clark (inks), JD Mettler (colors)

The Story: After a long wait, the final arc of Ex Machina begins.  Mitchell Hundred has a shocking announcement regarding his political career, dark secrets from Hundred’s past are hinted at, and an ending you won’t want to miss suggests the possible return of a character from Hundred’s past.

The Good: Though I do wish we’d see more of his writing in comics, Vaughan is still razor sharp.  Writing-wise, this is the Ex Machina we all know and love: tight and witty dialogue, enjoyable action, and great plotting.  The “conversation” between reflecting panhandler and comically “out of it addict” is great, as is Mitchell’s declared love for NYC and its people.  Vaughan’s cast of characters is as enjoyable as ever.

With this issue, Vaughan has crafted a first chapter that really does its job as the opener of a new story arc.  Several hooks are planted and several mysteries are suggesedt that will all leave you salivating for issue number 2.  What is this dreaded “white box?”  What is Hundred’s coming announcement?  It’s not all merely hooks and hints though, as Hundred’s press conference and the “uh oh” ending of the issue move the plot along, with the latter in particular introducing what will no doubt be a central conflict in this arc.

With so many hints of things to come, the only fault of the writing is that it’s left me wanting issue 42 so very badly, and that’s exactly how it should be.  It got me hooked and despite revealing very little, I’m sure curtains will begin to drop next month.  I also really enjoyed the concerns of economic crisis.  Indeed, it is only 2004 in the comic, but, as Vaughan no doubt intended,  it plays very nicely with the current recession.

The Not-so-Good: While Vaughan hasn’t missed a step, Tony Harris sure has.  Unfortunately, this issue reeks of an artist cutting corners and rushing it through.

For those that don’t know, Harris is an artist who uses photo-references.  Regardless, I’ve always been a fan of Harris’ work.  He captured the series’ tone and delivered a high degree of realism and detail.  I’ve always liked his stuff.

However, things are just off here, as some frames are just flat out rushed and end up looking sloppy (see the press conference, particularly the reporters).  At other times, the issue shows the worst of photo-referencing; characters come off as static and posed (the conversation with January), a problem I’ve rarely had with Harris before.

Even Harris’ storytelling/plotting is off-kilter.  The crucial scene between Bradbury and Suzanne Padilla is just a mess, feeling as though each character was a separate image, all of them shoved into the same frame with the subsequent interactions feeling unnatural and forced.  It’s very disconcerting, particularly when some of these characters feel reproduced from previous frames with only minor adjustments.

It also appears that Harris is having some difficulties drawing eyes.  Several times, with Hundred and the panhandler, a characters sports one eye that is freakishly larger than the other.  Even worse, the panhandler starts his scene looking exactly like Mitchell Hundred, only with a beard.  Then by the scene’s end, this is halted, leading to the poor panhandler looking like two entirely different people.  It’s a damned shame considering how great Vaughan’s writing/dialogue is in this scene.

Lastly, Mettler’s colours also are a bit off, coming across as weirdly and incongruously bright during a brief portion in the middle of the issue.  It’s almost as though he had someone else take over for a few pages.

The Bottom-line: The same great writing we’ve come to expect is accompanied by a parodic, slapped together version of the art we’ve also come to expect.  Considering how long this took, it’s a bit shameful.  Vaughan’s always excellent writing saves this from being a total disaster and makes this issue still worth picking up if you’re an Ex Machina fan, but I pray to God that Harris pulls himself together.

Grade: C

-Alex Evans