@@@@ What the #$%! is AICN COMICS: Q&@? @@@@
AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to look for more AICN COMICS as we gaze into the future of comics every week with AICN COMICS: SPINNER RACK PREVIEWS every Monday and then join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!
Q’s by Optimous Douche!
@’s by EX MACHINA’s Brian K. Vaughan! Plus OD reviews EX MACHINA #50 (Last Issue)!
Hey Kids! Optimous Douche here. I recently had the opportunity to steal a few moments from the one, the only, Brian K. Vaughan about the close of EX MACHINA with issue 50 being released this week. For anyone that has missed out on this “politics meets spandex” amalgamation of goodness, well now would be a really bad time to jump on board since, you know…it is ending. However, like Celine Dion once said “Mayor Hundred’s heart will go on in trade.” At least that’s how I heard the song. Just wait till you read the other 49 issues before picking up 50, OK?
BRIAN K. VAUGHAN (BKV): Thanks so much, man. And congrats on your book!
OPTIMOUS DOUCHE (OD): First let me say this is the most personal interview I've ever done. I was so moved by the final events of Y: THE LAST MAN it spurred me to no longer be an Ain't It Cool lurker and actually start contributing. So in a way you birthed Optimous Douche and I would not have a publishing deal for my graphic novel if it wasn't for my exposure as Optimous. So, thank you. To say the end of EX MACHINA means something to me is an understatement; how do you feel? Sorrow, remorse, asphyxiated euphoria?
Honestly, I mostly felt relief when I typed the last sentence of EX MACHINA. These days, very few new series get to survive for fifty-plus issues--especially "mature readers" books about jetpacks and the mechanics of local government--so I'm grateful to all the readers who helped us reach this conclusion I first pitched to WildStorm boss Jim Lee a million years ago. I'm really proud of the way we ended the series, so the only sadness I feel will be knowing that I no longer get to collaborate with Tony Harris, colorist J.D. Mettler, letterer Jared Fletcher, and editor Ben Abernathy, all of whom have worked on every single panel of every single issue since #1, which is a crazy rare occurrence in monthly comics.
OD: You like to draw a firm line the sand with the finite nature of your books; is this choice editorially mandated, some form of comic masochism, or do you feed on the tears of your fans to fuel your next creative endeavor? Basically, why must it end? Why?????BKV: It's funny, comics are probably the only medium where a writer could frequently be asked, "Why do so many of your stories have endings?" But I know exactly what you mean! I've worked on comics like THE RUNAWAYS or THE HOOD, that were designed to hopefully continue indefinitely, and grow and change under new creators after I headed for the hills. But yeah, my past creator-owned work has always been finite, and I think my future creator-owned books all will be as well. It sucks that I'll never again get to write about Yorick Brown or the PRIDE OF BAGHDAD or now Mayor Hundred, but I hope those characters' endings make their stories more meaningful.
OD: Do you regret that all is coming to a close at issue 50 with so many plot threads still dancing in the air?BKV: By the last page of our double-sized Issue #50, I actually think every single plot thread will have at least been addressed, and more likely neatly tied up in a bow. A black, suicidally depressing bow...
OD: Which came first when you were dreaming up EX MACHINA: Hundred the politician, a man caught exactly in the middle on issues (like most Americans), or Hundred the super hero? Was one ever ancillary to the other in the overall message you wanted to convey?BKV: No, it was always a package deal. After 9/11, I knew I wanted to write about power and identity and the way Americans sometimes mythologize our leaders, which are all ideas that I thought the superhero genre could tackle particularly well. But it's Tony Harris who deserves all the credit for making the supernatural parts of the book feel grounded and real, and the dense political stuff feel kinetic and fun. As Tony and I have been working on this series over the last few years, it's been crazy to watch comic books and politics converge in the real world, culminating with the election of a President who grew up reading superhero comics before he ended up on the covers of them.
OD: Let's talk about the overall message of EX MACHINA. It feels very much as if it was inspired out of frustration for the current state of politics, is that fair?BKV: Actually, I hope EX MACHINA doesn't have a single "message." If I had some sort of moral I wanted to impart, I'd just write an op-ed piece or whatever. There are a lot of things that frustrate me about contemporary politicians, but with EX MACHINA, I was always more interested in telling a cool story about an interesting protagonist than I was in using these characters as mouthpieces for my own boring political beliefs.
OD: The detail you've given to the series on the inner workings of the New York Mayor's office is uncanny in its detail and accuracy (or at least feels that way to a guy from Jersey). Did you know all of these inner workings going into the book, research the shit out of this minutia or just make it up as you went along?BKV: Thanks! It was a mix of all three, really: a tiny bit of preexisting knowledge, a little bit more research, and a ton of just making shit up. But I recently talked with one guy who works in New York's City Hall, and he said that it was the made-up shit in EX MACHINA that felt most authentic. Probably a lesson there.
OD: The whole book starts with Hundred telling a story about his time in office, setting up for the "flashback" storytelling convention. As we've seen, though, Hundred could have possible futures on multiple planes of existence, not to mention his ambitions for the White House. I don't know too many Presidents telling stories in bars (except maybe Clinton), so which Hundred prevails?BKV: Well, it's not a bar, but we do reveal where and when Mitchell is in that scene, and more importantly, we show exactly who he's been talking to ever since that first panel of our first issue. And while the book has dealt with parallel dimensions in the past, there aren't going to be any "alternate endings" for Mayor Hundred. In EX MACHINA #1, he warned us that his story was a tragedy, and there's no escaping that fate now.
OD: The book was obviously inspired in part by the events of 9/11, since Hundred saved one of the towers. When the book was released initially we were only a few years away from the actual event. Did you ever hear "too soon" kind of like when I asked my 3rd grade class what NASA stood for the day after Challenger exploded (thanks for that trip to the principal's office, dad)?BKV: Definitely, but when you're writing about something of this magnitude, you'd always rather be too soon than too late. I knew some people would think that our first issue's final image of the one remaining World Trade Center tower was tasteless or exploitative, but it's been heartening to hear from readers all over the world who've really connected with the story. This final issue is definitely dark, but I think it's also one of the best conclusions I've ever been fortunate enough to be a part of, so I hope you guys dig it.
OD: And then POOF, like EX MACHINA he was gone. The end is nigh, folks. EX MACHINA is in stores now and if you scroll a little further down, I’ll tell you what I think of it.
EX MACHINA #50
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan Artist: Tony Harris Publisher: DC Wildstorm Reviewer: Optimous Douche“Happy endings are bullshit. There are only happy pauses.” With this opening line BKV not only sums up the finale of his political/sci-fi amalgam EX MACHINA, but scratches into the prevailing feeling of hopelessness that seems to have spread across humanity in recent years As science and an ever increasing indelible recorded history prove that for all of our advances our existence hasn’t changed one iota since we were self-replicating amoebas. I’m right there with Vaughan because honestly if you take religion and the unproven concept of soul out of our existence, life can be boiled down into a series of peaks and valleys with the end result being the same exercise in decomposition for both Kings and paupers alike. Don’t blame me for this morbid intro – blame Vaughan, a creator that establishes finality during conception. As he said in our interview together and has Hundred articulate in the opening pages of the book, comic books are the one medium where the alpha is a certainty, but we never see an omega…or if we do it’s a false end…a respite that is almost always undone in the name of continuing sales (not exact words, but I believe I conveyed the gist).
This is the one reason I admire Vaughan, no matter what commercial success he receives he always holds to the game plan of, “I set out to end this book and end it shall.” It’s a ballsy approach for a medium that not only allows for resets, but almost revels in them. But this approach is huge part of why his books are successful. There is weight. The consequences are real and in no way ever will be undone. This is where empathy for characters stems from, folks, not having Superman play fucking basketball with some inner city kids. Because you l know at the end of the day, no matter what, Superman will continue.
Even though Vaughan’s series rest on the laurels of comic staples like a man who can talk to machines in EX MACHINA or the last man on earth in Y: THE LAST MAN, these are secondary elements to the true story of humanities endless struggle to find meaning where there probably isn’t any. For the uninitiated (who I can’t believe have even read this far – really guys the series is over, go read the trades before coming back to this page), Mitchell Hundred is a man bestowed with the gift to talk to machines after experiencing a freak accident under the Brooklyn Bridge in the late 90s. After irrevocably changing the events of 9/11 by using his gift to save one of the towers, he then parlays that fame into a political career as the Mayor of New York. Issue one started us in 2009(ish) promising to tell the full tale of Mitchell’s time in office…and as promised in my interview with Vaughan, issue 50 shows the final result of that conversation and finally answers the mystery of just who the fuck he was talking to (and the answer, like the rest of this closing chapter, is delightfully depressing).
Get ready gang, SPOILERS AHOY! And believe me when I say that my soul feels dirtier than Hundred’s for doing this, but it is Ain’t It Cool after all….
So who was Mitchell talking to this entire time? Believe it or not…his jetpack, the one “character” that remains fully intact after everything else in this series ends in emotional and physical entropy. The fact that this was all Hundred was left with (along with longtime assistant January who gets a forgettable throw in) was poetically fitting for a man that can talk to machines. Granted all things must end, but machines do hold up much better to weathering than the mushy skinbags that are human beings. No one in this book remains unscathed…Kremlin, Bradbury even Deputy Mayor Dave all implode under the force of Hundred’s ambitions and his belief that power will ultimately lead to salvation. While Bradbury’s end felt somewhat misplaced, Kremlin’s demise more than makes up for this and cements the fact that no one can enter politics without sacrificing their soul.
There’s also a tie-up of the parallel universe storyline, but again this was merely a means to an end. Through leveraging this comic device to give the series an overarching threat, Vaughan teaches us all that even the most noble must sacrifice their soul to one of the two corrupt political machines currently strangling the American people and our prosperity.
I simply cannot spoil the end of this book. While I don’t believe for a second that Vaughan had initially planned it (since there’s no way he could have unless the man is insanely talented AND clairvoyant), I give the man oodles and oodles of credit for shifting the story’s ultimate plot to meld with real-world events that happened after the start of the book. The splash page that delivers this surprise is simply Harris at his finest and the nod to the fuckbaggery of another comic company that placed our current Commander-in-Chief inside a comic book was simply hilarious.
Before I close I have to give special credit to artist Tony Harris who not only married the entire run of this series (which is virtually unheard of these days), but made politics appear actionable and moving in a way I haven’t seen since the hallway walking days of “The West Wing”. You know what, now I that think about it, Tony did it better.
Even though this issue left me depressed and disillusioned in a way that I can’t describe, all through Hundred’s term as Mayor I truly believed that if a regular guy could get a shot at fame and he or she had the desire to parlay that fame into politics…perhaps…just perhaps…we could save our government from devouring itself. While Mr. Vaughan might have forever squelched the hope that America can one day again be by the people for the people, he at least reignited my childhood belief that comics can affect the soul in a way few mediums can. My only regret in the entire EX MACHINA run is that I couldn’t score the sweet alternate Jim Lee cover from my local LCS for issue 50. Take that as a compliment, gentlemen, for a job well done.
Optimous has successfully blackmailed fellow @$$Hole BottleImp into being his artist on Average Joe. Look for Imp's forced labor on Optimous brain child in mid-2011 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.