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

The Story: The mystery of the white box deepens as preparations are made for the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The Good: This issue is “slow-burn” at its finest. Vaughan knows how to thicken the plot without frustrating the reader by writing a comic that is incredibly engaging. My curiosity regarding the “white box”– what it is, and the history behind it,  is reaching a fever pitch. Vaughan, through the suspense he delivers in this issue, really caused me to become invested in the mysteries surrounding this arc. I need next month’s issue and I need it now! From the veiled dialogue to the hints of how incredibly high the stakes are, this is build-up at its finest and an ideal example of how to get one’s readers sucked into a story arc.

Speaking of that “veiled dialogue,” the conversations and dialogue in general in this issue are incredibly well done. As always with Ex Machina, every character has his or her own unique voice. That said, what makes the dialogue so strong here is the mystery, weight, and/or foreshadowing that Vaughan makes every exchange carry. Every conversation elicits a strong sense of foreboding, either hinting at horrific things to come or at dark deeds of the past. Of course, this is only further aided by Ex Machina’s continual delivery of some of the smartest writing in comics today; especially when it comes to things conspiratorial or political.

Art-wise, I’m happy to say that Harris and friends have gotten it back together after a rushed misstep last month. The static and “posed” feel of Harris’s pencils are gone, as are the strangely bright colours. This issue returns to the Ex Machina we know and love. Also, it needs to be said that I really do like Harris’s Bioshock-esque design of Pherson version 2.0. Well, that is if that ominous figure at the end of the issue really is Pherson.

The Not-so-Good: This issue does a fantastic job of doing what Vaughan wanted it to do in crafting a clinic in foreshadowing and heightening suspense. However, that does by definition mean that not a lot of plot progression takes place. While it does ensure that what will come will be all the more impactful, if you’re the sort of reader who demands brisk action and development in every $3.00 purchase, you won’t be gratified by Ex Machina this month.

Conclusion: Ex Machina readers will enjoy this very solid build-up issue. If you weren’t interested in this story last month, you definitely will be now.  The biggest crime of this issue is it’s making you rabid for answers as it sucks you into its manifold mysteries.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans