by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (art), JD Mettler (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher
The Story: Ex Machina concludes with glimpse of the years following Mitchell’s time as mayor.
What’s Good: I can’t recall feeling so sad after reading the final issue of a series, not only because of the fact that a favourite book is concluding, but due to the content of the issue itself. Ex Machina #50 is an emotionally devastating and draining experience for long-time readers who have become tied to Mitchell Hundred’s journey. It’s poignant to be sure, but it’s hard to see this as anything but a tragedy.
But it’s not “true” tragedy, which is perhaps why it’s so emotionally affecting. Mitchell Hundred does end up in a good position, professionally anyway, at issue’s end. He has more power than ever and, in a stunning final couple of pages, is revealed to have ended up very near the pinnacle of American politics. Of course, it’s all bittersweet to the extreme, because while Mitchell Hundred the politician has flourished, Mitchell Hundred the man finds himself an isolated wreck, irrevocably ruined and alone. In the end, it’s as though these two sides of Hundred were ultimately impossible to maintain simultaneously, particularly under the weight of superheroics and alien powers. Mitchell gets his power, but he paid the price. In that sense, it’s more tragic than Hundred just ending up dead in an ending that is completely dire; this situation sees Hundred trapped in his professional position and forever rueful for what he personally lost, or destroyed, in the process.
And it’s that sense of loss that this gives issue a retrospective feel that is absolutely perfect for a final issue. In projecting into the years going forward from his battle with Suzanne and his term as Mayor, Hundred ends up dogged by his past, hounded by it as it grows increasingly rotten. This is brilliantly personified by a dream where he’s visited by his other-dimensional enemies, who, of course, visit him in the form of a twisted version of himself. Meanwhile, in the real world, this is shown in the form of Bradbury, who on the one hand finds himself in ruins, but also finally lets his feelings for Hundred be known. It’s a wonderful representation of the old Mitchell Hundred and that “past life” in its current state; rotten and deteriorated, but still not barren of its sincerity.
But this issue didn’t just tell me more about Hundred, it also told me about Vaughan as well. This issue seemed to be something of a farewell, or a statement at least, by Vaughan himself. The issue is rife with his thoughts on the things he loves, or at least the things that he brought together in Ex Machina: New York City, comics, and superheroes. All of these things are meditated upon in inspiring ways, and while there’s always that sadness that comes with this sort of reflection, there’s a lot of love there as well. I really enjoyed how Vaughan gives explicit statements on the nature of the genre and medium he’s working in and his words will stay with me.
On a technical level, this issue is also a masterpiece. Various lines and moments will stay with you for years to come. Hundred’s soliloquy, which bookends the issue, is absolutely haunting, and his first line in the book, as well as his last, are instantly quotable classics that will be remembered for some time come for, if nothing else, their perfection.
Tony Harris’ artwork, meanwhile, has never looked better. Facial expressions are solid and, together with Mettler, there’s an excellent sense of drama and lighting, with really great framing
What’s Not So Good: Nothing. Some may feel disappointed by the downer nature of this issue, and feel unfulfilled as a result. Tough.
Conclusion: Quite possibly the best single issue I have read this year.