AICN COMICS Q&@: Optimous Douche talks with Brian K Vaughan about the final issue of EX MACHINA + a review of EX MACHINA #50!!!
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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.
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Aug. 20, 2010, 5:44 a.m. CST
I always liked Ex Machina, and issue # 1 stands as probably my favorite comic of the last 7-8 years. Iron Man (or Bloodshot) meets the West Wing. Glad to hear the ending's strong. Y: The Last Man # 60 didn't do it for me.
Aug. 20, 2010, 5:54 a.m. CST
After the "so many plot threads question. There's a response ton that and then a response to an apparently unasked question. I assume it was asked and not entered properly.
Aug. 20, 2010, 6:02 a.m. CST
for those not in the know.
Aug. 20, 2010, 6:12 a.m. CST
for reading with such detail...
Aug. 20, 2010, 6:14 a.m. CST
There is a missing question. I had asked whether the super hero and politician were always in his mind at the series in inception or if one came first and he slid in the other side (I'm paraphrasing b/ I can't remember and I'm at work right now -- I should really just store files in my Webmail huh?)
Aug. 20, 2010, 7:04 a.m. CST
by wampa 1
...that came up with this one?
Aug. 20, 2010, 7:29 a.m. CST
Hard to believe that Y is being optioned for a movie when it so perfectly works as a five-season series (well, if the issues are slightly fleshed out.) And "West Wing with Superheroes" practically screams TV Pitch. Sorry to see these go, but I do appreciate that there are definite destinations for these characters. Even if it' apparently bummersville. What's he working on next?
Aug. 20, 2010, 7:35 a.m. CST
by Ambush Bug
Good eyes, hst.
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:08 a.m. CST
Which it's not -- it's fanman love for a piece of work -- this would fall in the camp of PR not advertising.<p> Learn something about marketing before you try to speak to it.<p> Oh and PR does not stand for Puerto Rico, it's public relations. Figured I needed to spell that out for you.
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:28 a.m. CST
thats true of a lot of comics, if like to see All Star Superman in an HBO series
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:31 a.m. CST
...this is great stuff. 'Ex Machina' is always the book I save until last when my subscription arrives, and I have been anticpating/dreading this moment.<p>A great article on a great man and a great comic book. Some of your peers on this site should take note of how to review quality material.
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:37 a.m. CST
Should have been the last movie (at least in spirit, I realize it wasn't written until well after the movie had dissapointed so many fans)instead of trying to pick up the pieces Donner left behind two decades earlier...Just sayin....
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:43 a.m. CST
and keep my typos to a minimum! I cringe at the errors I see when I read some of my posts.
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:47 a.m. CST
The last issue was fine but I really wish they would have answered more about the source of his powers and such. I also wish the time travel thing would have been brought up and explained more.
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:49 a.m. CST
Parallell dimensions...that's what I walked away with, but like all art open for debate and interpretation. Plus my memory sucks so they migt have said future in one issue at one point....can't remember.
Aug. 20, 2010, 8:51 a.m. CST
WE have an edit feature and still end up in typo land...my problem is I'm always trying to squeak in my reviews while also writing my day job copy. This makes my left side and right side of the brain SCREAM at each other and interject the thoughts from one into the other. Fucking windows and multiple screens :-)
Aug. 20, 2010, 9:46 a.m. CST
by dead youngling
Aug. 20, 2010, 10:54 a.m. CST
Aug. 21, 2010, 4:02 a.m. CST
Anyone who can write 'The Runaways', 'Ex Machina', 'Y The Last Man', and 'Pride of Baghdad'...well, shit the man can write on any level from kid to adult and manage to please nearly everyone. That's impressive. Keep up the good work, sir. (oh, and damn fine interview by the way, Optimous)
Aug. 21, 2010, 4:33 a.m. CST
But for me it was the smaller moments that made me fall in love with it: the way his origin was summed up in one page, Lois discovering that Clark is Superman and their interactions about it (the way they did the flying car thing was really cool), The two of them kissing in the moonlight after he gives her his powers, Supes talking that jumper off the ledge just by putting his hand on her shoulder and telling her hoe strong she is, the way Lex is handled (pitch perfect throughout), the way he doesn't get to say goodbye to his dad and how it tears him up, when Clark sets that asshole's toupee on fire, and when Lois Screams that she loves him just as Superman flies of to die (or maybe not)...saving everyone one last time. There's more of course, and I like the trademark crazy Morrison stuff to, but I think its the little emotional stuff that msde it not just good, but great...at least for me.
Aug. 21, 2010, 4:38 a.m. CST
That's, "...HOW strong she is," and, "...that MADE it not just good, but great." Sorry. Late Post. Verry tiired. Speling suffferigg.
Aug. 21, 2010, 4:56 a.m. CST
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Aug. 21, 2010, 2:17 p.m. CST
Love BKV. Love every single thing of his that I've read and I don't expect that to change. Also, I have no problem with comic book series that end. Maybe it's the fact that I grew up an indie kid, where MOST books ended and sometimes weren't very long, either. Other than Elfquest (which was quiet large at one point) the first thing I read that was REMOTELY popular was Sandman (I started on issue 6). When Sandman ended (the main series - there is of course three times as many books set in that world) it just felt right to me. A lot of my friends were raging because they didn't understand how a book that good could just, ya know, end! But for me, it worked. I also loved the end of Y, so reading that MKV thinks the end of Ex Machina is great makes me pretty damn excited. ... one more thing. Glad he mentioned that it was the same team through the books entire run. I thought that was cool as it definitely helped keep me interested. And the last thing, Ex Machina has had some of the best covers, ever! Great covers on the monthly issues. Oh yeah, Op Douche, you didn't ask what he was doing next, in the future, etc. Fail! lol
Aug. 22, 2010, 10:50 a.m. CST
The time travel theory got shot down in the issue with the guy that accidentally tunneled over to our Mitch's reality. Hundred's Mom tells him she knows he is from the future, and he scoffs and says time travel is impossible, he is from another dimension. Plus they make it pretty clear in issue 49, when he discusses the plans for the invasion with the alternate Mitch. As far as the powers go, they come from devices sent over from the alternate dimension to pave the way for the invasion. The un-Pherson explains this in issue 44. The only thing they never explained is why Hundred never seems to get on-board with the invasion like the other people empowered by the alternate universe devices (Padilla, Pherson, etc). The only thing I can theorize is that it's because the device he got them from exploded, which didn't happen with the cube. So sad to see this series end, but it had a fantastic run. Like Optimus, I really respect BKV for giving his series endings. As much as sit hurts to leave these beloved characters behind, it seems like it adds a level of gravity and humanity to the story that's much more difficult to reach when the story goes on forever and you know that changes to it aren't permanent. Maybe if they had employed BKV to write more of Lost the ending wouldn't have sucked so bad. Here's to hoping his next series comes soon!
Aug. 22, 2010, 3:21 p.m. CST
and kinda depressed.
Aug. 23, 2010, 7:46 a.m. CST
compared to the depression meter on this last issue...there's some dark stuff brewing inside Mr. BKV.
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