by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (art), JD Mettler (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: Newly evil Suzanne Padilla makes her first move while Mayor Mitchell Hundred begins to plan his future.

What’s Good: The newly super-powered Suzanne Padilla makes for an utterly fantastic villain.  Vaughan has established a great voice for her that, after what we saw last month, is surprisingly very human and all the more successful for it.  Padilla sounds not at all like the sewer-dwelling robot of the past arc, and despite her appearance, even the lettering remains the same for the most part.  In this sense, she works better as a foil for Hundred.  Essentially, Vaughan has maintained the integrity of Padilla’s character; this new villain essentially sounds like her, with the confidence and arrogance cranked to the max.  The result is a villain that is more subtle, complex, oddly likable, and easily capable of carrying an entire arc.

Beyond this, we get from this issue what we’ve always gotten from Ex Machina.  The opening Great Machine flashback is, as always, both funny and poignantly appropriate, while all three of Hundred’s conversations with his various associates showing Vaughan’s complete mastery of his characters, each of them having the same distinct voices that we’ve come to know, with the interplay between personalities feeling natural and life-like.  The best of these was Hundred’s short conversation with Bradbury, which added well-placed humor to the book.  Vaughan has the two friends discuss some truly heavy subjects (Hundred even accuses Bradbury of murder), but all of it is done in such an affable manner.

Tony Harris meanwhile puts out some very strong work this issue.  In particular, he gets a little more creative this month with his panel layouts, which was a welcome surprise.  One dialogue scene at a firing range is especially well-done, with Harris pulling off some really slick layouts that manage to be both abstract and cinematic, the entire scene feeling very fluid.  I also love when artists use the spaces between panels to convey additional information.  I also loved Harris’ work on Padilla’s new look.  When disguising her new scars, she looks like a mysterious femme fatale straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel.  However, once exposed, she looks very alien, monstrous even.  The transition from 20s noir to the menace of modern science fiction is seamless and impressive on both ends.

What’s Not So Good: There’s a longish scene early on in the book where Wylie brings up the abortion issue, essentially trying to push Hundred into making a stand on the issue of unwanted pregnancies.  It’s too early to tell where this’ll go right now, but within this single issue, this subplot really felt out in the cold and detached from the rest of the book.  In fact, were it not for the date, I’d have believed the entire scene to be another flashback.  Ex Machina has always done a great job of combining its kookier superhero/sci-fi themes with more mundane hot-button political issues, but I’m starting to worry that as we head into this final arc, the crazy stuff has gotten a little too crazy to support this juggling act.  As a result, this political aspect of the issue felt a touch out of place and a little too low-key, and all the more surprisingly placed given that the entire series is ending.

Conclusion: Another issue of Ex Machina doing what it does best.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans