Best Shots Rapid Reviews: EX MACHINA, AVENGERS ACADEMY

Best Shots Rapid Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! We've got a treat for you, on this auspicious Thursday -- not only do we have a heap of pellet reviews from Marvel, DC, Image, Dynamite and BOOM! Studios, but we're also leading the pack with a full-length review of the final issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris's magnum opus, Ex Machina. Looking for more back issue reviews? Have no fear, and check us out at the Best Shots Topics Page! And now, let's take a look at the last ride of the Great Machine, with Ex Machina #50...

Ex Machina #50

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Tony Harris and JD Mettler

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by Wildstorm

Review by David Pepose

What is it about our country that makes our most promising politicians end with tragedy?

Lincoln. Kennedy. King. They're only the tip of the iceberg of figures who had the potential to change everything -- and yet were cut down before they could finish what they started. Plenty of other politicians have shared similar fates, with catastrophes from both within and without ending their political personae as we know it. And Mitchell Hundred is no exception.

Without giving too much away, Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris gives you surprises in their final issue of Ex Machina when you thought there was no turning back -- it's the last call, the farewell salute, the car crash in your victory parade. Just as the first issue of this series blew you away, this one will punch you in the gut. They remind us about the line between Hundred's past and present, telling us once and for all: In the world of politics, there are no superheroes.

I think what gets me about Vaughan's writing is the finality of it all. There's not going to be any sequels, any spin-offs, any look back -- and while the delays of this book I think soften some of the resolution with some of the secondary characters like David Wylie, there's definitely some extremely deliberate direction going on with everybody else. That said, I feel like some of the major moments of this series -- the eerie standing single tower from the World Trade Center, Kremlin's nearly criminal demeanor, the questions about Hundred's sexuality -- it all comes to a close here. Sometimes there's more questions than answers -- but isn't that what history is about?

Tony Harris, meanwhile, makes this ultimately undeviating story zig and zag. I don't say that as a bad thing -- he adds in horror, he adds in emotion, he adds in some strikingly smooth linework that's almost reminiscent of Dexter Vines, making characters like Hundred and Kremlin look like the archetypes they've always repressed. There's a moment in this book that truly defines Hundred's character in a way we haven't ever seen -- even when he brought back his mask and gun we haven't seen him act like this -- and the emotion, the wide-eyed surprise, it'll stay with you. "What did I do," indeed. And JD Mettler really brings it with the colors, giving both weight and pop to every page, as we see the twilight of the last Hundred days.

Will there be a lot of heat going on with fans of this book? Absolutely -- this ending isn't nearly as triumphant as Y: The Last Man, and is probably a thousand times more depressing. There will be people who argue that these characters are acting out of character -- but you know something? I don't even know if that's true. Vaughan has taken great pains to show us that we don't know everything about Mitchell Hundred -- that just because we know he's a superhero, that there aren't plenty of other secrets lying beneath the surface. This is where we learn everything, and nothing. This is where everybody dies.

This is where we remember, in the world of politics, there are no superheroes -- only agendas, only interests, only men with feet of clay. With great power, great responsibility -- and don't forget, the pages of history are written by the victors. Mitchell Hundred may live, but the Great Machine is dead. Long live the Great Machine. And long live Ex Machina.

Avengers Academy #3/Thunderbolts #147 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here and here for previews): Spread across two titles this week, the first two chapters of “Scared Straight” represent the best a Marvel crossover can be these days.  While fans of either book will certainly enjoy both titles, and reading both is the best way to get the most out of the story, there’s no obligation to venture outside of your regular purchasing habits unless you really want to.  The story itself is simple enough; the Avengers Academy kids are taken to the Raft to meet some real supervillains in a controlled environment.  Three of them decide to confront Norman Osborn, the man who tortured them, who is now imprisoned on The Raft, and cause a blackout, leading to rioting and a sticky situation for Luke Cage and his Thunderbolts.  The storytelling is fluid, and Jeff Parker and Christos Gage manage a nice continuity between the two books, providing plenty of characterization and nice moments for each character.  Kev Walker’s art had to grow on me, but by the end of the Thunderbolts chapter, I really, really dug it.  His storytelling is great, and his portrayal of the Juggernaut (a character whose personality also shines in this title) is particularly compelling.  Mike McKone is brilliant as usual.  All in all, a great read, and I can’t wait for the third chapter to fill in the final blanks of the story.

DC Universe Legacies #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): Call me crazy, but when I see the original Teen Titans on the cover of a comic, I kinda expect to read a story about … the Teen Titans. Instead, the Titans are merely sprinkled into this montage-heavy installment of DC Universe Legacies, which essentially narrates the history of the DCU. Others have criticized this series as a less effective version of Marvels, and, well, they’re exactly right. It’s certainly not a bad comic, but it just doesn’t leave the lasting impression that the term “legacies” implies. Still, there are some fine moments in this issue: Penciller Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez has a solid, crowd-pleasing style that shines (no pun intended) with the introduction of the Metal Men. In fact, the entire Metal Men segment is one of the best parts of DC Universe Legacies #4, as is the aw-shucks Flash meetup between Jay Garrick and Barry Allen. There’s some old-fashioned charm between these pages, but too many quick-cut events are crammed into too small a space to leave much of an impact. (Look, kids! It’s the Royal Flush Gang!) It’s temporarily exciting to see so many legendary and notorious faces in one place, but after dropping $3.99, I’d hoped for more sustenance — and more Titans.

Amazing Spider-Man #640 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): In a lot of ways, it's tough to look at Amazing Spider-Man evenly, because now that we're focusing on that One Moment in Time -- you know, the one that changed up Spidey's status quo in ways we're still not fully aware of -- now we just want answers. Drawing out the story, issue by issue, almost feels like marking time, even as Joe Quesada does his damnedest to give us compelling reasons as to why the Spider-Marriage might not happen. This issue is no different -- I get why Mary Jane might have some issues with Peter, and I get why Peter would absolutely want to undo the revelation of his secret identity (even if there's a few schmaltzy elements to this book, like a doctor telling Peter he saved Aunt May with the power of love, or the exposition dump a gunman gives before attacking a longtime supporting character). As far as the art goes, Paolo Rivera has that sort of solidness that Marcos Martin brings to the book -- but he gets flat-tired a bit by some too-dark colors that smother the stellar action shots. But ultimately, I think the problem with a long-term tease like One Moment in Time is that the set-up is stretching further than the revelations -- I have the feeling this'll read better collected than single issues, since the "To Be Continued" tastes more bitter than triumphant here.

Batman Beyond #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): The internal conflicts of this story are heating up, even if the art starts to slip. While one could say that the tension that Adam Beechen brings to this story is a little abrupt given the past two issues, I would argue that he hits right at the heart of the conflict -- is Terry McGinnis really wasting his life? Will he ever have a wife, a job, a life given the shadow of the Bat? His bickering with Bruce Wayne also adds a level of tension -- and danger -- to his crime-filled nights, as he hunts down a future version of the bandaged killer Hush. Where the issue stumbles a bit is with Ryan Benjamin's art. Everything's looking a little sketchier than normal, and the composition of the sequences -- which are packed with awesome acts of flight and derring-do -- runs too small, robbing the money shots of their power. (That said, he still excels in shadow, whether it's Hush speaking with a criminal associate, or the looks on Terry's face when he's in costume.) What I'm most interested in, of course, is one of the cliffhangers that Beechen gives us -- he seems determined to pack in Batman continuity from past and future/present, and in a lot of ways that keeps fleshing out this brave new world of Neo-Gotham. It may not be the best issue of the run, but there's plenty here to keep me interested.

Sweets #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): The first issue of this five book series came out shortly after my very first visit to New Orleans and as a result was a no-brainer to pick up in my post vacation lust-fest with the city.The central plot point is the mystery of a serial killer who leaves traces of pecan pralines at the scene of each crime, hence the title -- the nickname for the assailant. The story and all art are by Kody Chamberlain, and this is clearly a labor of love. So rarely do we see a book that is completely controlled by one person and I can't help but have a high level of respect for that. While the main story is that of the search for the killer, there are many subplots and I found myself trying a little too hard to figure out where each of them is heading. For some, that can be a deal-breaker, but in my case I've decided to just relax and let the story evolve itself, rather than trying to anticipate the next twist or turn. The art has a dark, sultry feel and made me miss the steamy heat of the city. Chamberlain has a unique style that I struggle to find a comparison for. Depending on which plot line, the art appears completely different but indeed is all by the same person. I'm excited to see how this series plays out, and hope that it does so successfully and provides future opportunities for Chamberlain as well as other creators that have a vision necessitating complete creative control.

Fables #97 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): What a momentous occasion it was reading Fables for the first time … when I had the luxury of the collected editions. Fables is such good story that I am now compelled to get the monthly issues. Honestly, it is a bitter sweet experience to be all caught up; damn it if I don't always want more at the end of each issue. The fourth installment of the Rose Red story arc is what I have been waiting for for months. After being crushed by Boy Blue's death and slipping into a mega-depression, the stubborn girl FINALLY gets out of bed. Hot diggity damn! Not before we get another flashback to the time of Snow White and Rose Red in the Homelands; adding even more facets to Rose's character. Thank you Mr. Willingham sir for another intriguing chapter in the epic that is Fables. Buckingham's art is of course what Fables  fans know and affectionately adore. Leialoha's cover art is simply spectacular. Foreshadowing is abounding as Rose Red is clearly packing some heat and sporting a Mary Magdalenesqe halo of light. Look's like it is finally Rose's time to shine.

The Bulletproof Coffin #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matt Seneca): So far Shaky Kane and David Hine's phenomenal, superhero comics-warping Bulletproof Coffin has been as taut as it gets, building enigmatic images, cryptic foreshadowing, inside references, and plain old white-kuckle tension into two of the most feverishly captivating monthly comics in memory.  This issue, everything finally goes wild, as the lines between comic and comic-within-a-comic blur while Kane's drawings shift into the realm of the supersonic.  Ancient temples rise from the ground covered with Japanese cartoon graffiti as gila monsters scuttle by.  The mystic energy stored in ancient stone idols zaps beautiful women into glorious nudity before foisting uzis and animal-skin bikinis on them.  The apocalyptic visions of Jim Steranko's "Today Earth Died" are given a digital update, hot pinks and murky blues screaming from a lo-fi photo collage.  The narrative captions slide from rationality to Willam Burroughs cut-ups.  Blue-skinned Vietnam-vet zombies share page space with purple-skinned dinosaurs.  And the words from a single word balloon rise above it all: "The only thing that can save the world is to restore the sense of wonder that once uplifted the human spirit!"  Read between the lines.  Then read this comic.

CBGB #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): You'd be forgiven for thinking that this was just some sort of vanity comic for Scissor Sisters frontwoman Ana Matronic -- and you'd also be dead wrong. She teams up with Dan Duncan to make some serious magic about a writer set at the heart of the counterculture mecca, CBGB. There's that scratchy, cartoony vibe that Duncan gives this book that feels like the spawn of two other great BOOM! series, Hexed and Dust to Dust -- and Matronic really brings a lyric quality, with the two of them making some great visuals together. And you know what's even more important about all this? This story really seems to set a vibe for the scene, an almost-archeological study of a place to have sex, drugs and rock 'n roll... or all at the same time. Structurally, it feels like a short film or a music video more than a fully-fledged comics story, making it perhaps more lasting as an art piece than an entertainment-for-entertainment's-sake comic. Meanwhile, Mr. Sheldon goes for the more punk sensibilities, with a risque, avant garde piece about the sensuality of music. He goes for the throat, visually-speaking, with garish colors and malformed appendages, almost evoking the crazy comix of yesteryear that's somehow taken a turn at (Rafael) Albuquerque. If you have that special music scene, that dream you woke up from and can never return to, give this anthology a look -- it might just bring you back.

Lone Ranger #23 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Confession time -- until this week, I had never read an issue of Lone Ranger. Given the sheer talent that is packed into this issue, it looks like I'm going to have to start catching up -- because I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say this is the best book I've seen Dynamite publish. Ever. Sergio Cariello is like the mystery child of John Romita Jr. and Joe Kubert himself, taught with the draftsmanship of Darwyn Cooke and a young Frank Miller. I know it sounds like I'm throwing a lot of big names onto this guy, but you see the echoes -- Cariello is a major talent that's being overlooked by the Big Two. I also really dig Brett Matthews' script, as he paints us a horrific villain, some heartbreaking loss and a sense of heroic foreboding that could very well mean the Lone Ranger's last stand. Characters pop off the page, and there's enough ingenuity going on with the environments -- whether it's a deadly stew with human meat or the passing of the iconic black mask -- to really draw in even the newest of readers. And isn't that the goal here? Every comic is somebody's first, and I can tell you, if you're like me and jumping on the Lone Ranger bandwagon late, this is a perfect issue to whet your appetite.

Tiny Titans #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): Oooh, the Fortress of Solitude is the setting for this issue. Which inevitably means guest appearances and snow gags, and perhaps not as predictably -- a birthday party! We travel to the Fortress to visit Match's birthday party, complete with photographic cake made by author/artist Art Baltazar's cousin. While Match is feeling confused and trying to decide who's gift is better: cousin Kal's or Uncle Lex's, the Brainiac Club is on an expedition that lands them conveniently close to the Fortress. With appearances by the Legion, Zod, and Jor-El, there are plenty of elements to make adult readers chuckle. Add in the birthday cake, silly snow cone jokes, and appealing visuals, and kids will be sold. Tiny Titans continues to be a book that I look forward to picking up. It's a quick read, but it never fails to make me smile. Not surprising for an all ages/kids book, however few of those make me appreciate the subtle nods at experienced comics readers as this title does. Whether you're a fan of the series, or a die-hard Superman mythos fan, you won't want to miss this issue.

What were your faves this week?

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