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

The Story: It’s the return of the Great Machine as Mitchell Hundred throws down with Suzanne, one last time.

What’s Good: Well, it finally happened.  In its second to last issue, Ex Machina finally became what no one ever thought it’d be: a superhero comic.  This makes for a really remarkable issue.  Ex Machina has been such a giant twist on the superhero genre that when it finally brings back some tried and true mechanics of that very genre, it feels shocking.  It also feels downright cool.

With the Great Machine taking to the skies once more, Vaughan and Harris hit us with some classic Superman imagery that is impossible not to smile and fist-pump at.  We get Mitchell Hundred doing the Clark Kent trademarked shirt-ripping.  Then we get onlookers on the ground pointing upwards, speculating on what some flying, and noisy, speck in the sky might be.  Seeing Vaughan turn Hundred into a bona fide superhero is awesome in ways that are indescribable.  The comic, by concept alone, has tried so hard to divorce Mitchell from superheroics that it’s really satisfying to see it all reversed, particularly given Hundred’s love for comics and superheroes.  For once, his efforts even see a grateful damsel in distress and an epic conclusion.  It’s a lot closer to the stories he was inspired by and certainly a far cry from his usual bumbling efforts as the Great Machine.

Suzanne remains a fantastic villain as well.  This Suzanne is clearly an entirely different person from the Suzanne of the past.  She’s a twisted caricature with nothing left of her predecessor.  Yet, Vaughan keeps giving us these little touches of the old Suzanne, perverted as they may be.  It’s just enough to keep her as Suzanne Padilla, reminding us of the old character while defacing her.  This month serves as a perfect reminder of this; we get a great flashback to the old character that stands in stark contrast to the monster we have now, making the deterioration stunning and even harder to stomach.  The character’s last words this month are also chilling; they’re a pathetic ghost of the old Suzanne that almost serves as black comedy.

This issue leaves Mitchell in an interesting position.  While he’s finally the superhero, he’s also left far, far away from his Mayor-self.  Strangely, in becoming the hero and soaring to the skies, he’s descended to a sort of mercilessness we’ve rarely seen from him.  What he does to Suzanne, a major deception of both her and his friends that is revealed this month, and the issue’s ending lead to a very uncomfortable juxtaposition.   Basically, being a superhero can be a nasty business.

Meanwhile, Harris’ illustrations of the parallel universe make for some really, really disturbing stuff.  Nightmarish doesn’t begin to describe it.  It’s the most effective depiction of hell that I’ve seen in a comic in quite some time.

What’s Not So Good: Harris’ highly photo-reliant style can be a mixed bag.  Some months, it looks great.  Other months, it’s posed and static.  While this month is by no means a disaster, there are way too many panels that feel inorganic and posed.  Several panels are so glaringly obvious in their photo-referencing that it’s hard not to be distracted.  Things can feel more stilted than they should and several faces are too loud and obvious in their being straight references and end up being artificial and detached from narrative flow.

Conclusion: Art problems just barely keep this from a perfect score.

Grade: A –

-Alex Evans