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

The Story: Suzanne hits Mitchell where it hurts.

What’s Good: This is one of those issues that shows how gifted Vaughan is as a writer.  Despite the frequent scene changes and time-leaps, not a page or word is wasted.  Absolutely nothing feels extraneous.   Also, unlike previous issues, the politics are present, but subdued and never jarring.  Rather, they enmesh themselves with the rest of the book, fluidly emulating the desperation of the rest of the plot.

What we get is a book that is beautifully cyclical and linked.  The first “present day” scene of the issue, for example, is oddly reminiscent of one of the first scenes of the entire series.  Similarly, the flashback, depicting a child Mitchell’s disbelief regarding DC’s use of a multiverse, is an odd but comfortable parallel to the present narrative.  After all, his problems stem from his finding out about a real-world “multiverse.”  It’s wonderful stuff, and when Hundred meets up once again with his childhood friend Ray, Vaughan does an amazing job with the dialogue; it’s clearly the same two kids with a “childish” dynamic, but they’re now confined to the adult world.

Hundred’s “dream” sequence, which sees him visiting the other dimension, is terrifying and surreal thanks to Harris’ efforts.  It’s also interesting how Vaughan uses his trademark Ex Machina issue structure to embody the “weirdness” of it.  It’s between the flashback and the present day portion of the issue, as though it exists in some liminal space beyond standard time.  Seeing Vaughan break the chronological structure he’s adhered to for so long only makes this scene more uncomfortable.

The real newsmaker though is Suzanne and the major character death in this issue.  It’s a serious gut punch and it ensures that Mitchell and Suzanne’s collision course will be highly personal. It’s a merciless move by Vaughan and it’s all the more shocking thanks to Tony Harris.  The murder is rendered in uncompromisingly violent, gory fashion that will definitely drop your jaw, especially considering how sudden it is, being the only action in the whole book.

Then there’s Suzanne herself.  Never before have her powers of manipulation been more subtle or more overpowering, as she now dictates beliefs and emotions.  Also, how she reacts to her own crime is perhaps the most intriguing element we’ve seen from the character, as she appears to almost show a kind of disbelief or remorse, which is so opposed to what we’ve seen from her thus far.  Only Vaughan could make a character vaguely sympathetic, or at least not wholly detestable, only a page after brutally slaying a beloved character.  There’s no such thing as a simple black hat in Ex Machina.

Meanwhile, Tony Harris turns in his best work in a while.  It appears that he’s drastically tweaked his shading.  Everything appears darker and rougher, with a more noir feel.  Everything just feels a bit more underground and moody than his photo-referenced style often allows for.  It looks great and I hope he sticks with it.

What’s Not So Good: There aren’t really any major flaws to be found.   Suzanne’s first couple of lines are a bit awkward and don’t quite segue as well as Vaughan had hoped.  Also, I could’ve done without the retro-politics in the flashback.  Mitchell’s mother’s rampant liberalism and attempted politicization of her son was a bit too heavy-handed and verged on a bit too close to making her wholly unlikable, which is clearly not what Vaughan intended.

Conclusion: All-around, a fantastic issue.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans