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Good story, static art 

But DC's at least trying

Ex Machina is an ambitious graphic novel in which a superhero saves one of the twin towers on 9/11 and later becomes mayor of NYC. Tossing a superhero onto a political battlefield isn't uncommon, but our hero, Mitchell Hundred, gives up his superhero life to work solely in politics. This framework sets up thousands of interesting possibilities, and Vaughan is eager to go into many of them. In the end, though, it's Vaughan's sheer ambition that defeats his work. He throws too many issues, too many ideas, and way too many conflicts at the reader, without giving a second's respite to the characters. Ex Machina is composed of the first six issues of the series, taking on a new central conflict for each of the six books. This leaves little time for character development or even familiarity. When the writer should be taking time to work on the complex inner struggles of a character such as Hundred, he's instead drawing a weak case for gun control with a crazed teenager on a serial killing jag. Vaughan finally does slow down enough to focus intently and explore one subject: he has an artist place a very controversial piece in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and there follows a vicious public reaction. This ties the characters together and really works with them, skillfully drawing a case for both freedom of expression and the responsibility of those who display edgy work.

The art in Ex Machina is a perfect example of how computer coloring programs have advanced the art of comics. The images are crisp and clean representations, but the artwork is ultimately static, the characters failing to come off the page in their actions. Perhaps this is due to artists Tony Harris and Tom Feister's heavy reliance on photographic models for each panel, which would explain the artwork's appearance as a series of well-drawn images, rather than the flowing and active work one expects from quality comic art.

Ex Machina had a lot of potential. Yet while it should have explored the psyche of a superhero who only managed to save one of the towers, dealing with the grief of that experience and the struggle of Hundred's assimilation into the political arena, the story instead merely focused on the superhero and clung to the old genre expected of DC comics work. There is some promise in the sneak peek into next year, where Vaughan, Harris and Feister explore issues surrounding gay marriage, taking at least two books to cover them. Perhaps as the team gains experience, their ability to tell a straightforward story will improve and Ex Machina will live up to its full potential.

Bizarro World by various artists and writers (DC). In DC history, there was a Bizarro world where everything was backwards and upside-down. The most memorable character of the old DC was Bizarro himself, an odd, balding, pasty version of Superman who spoke in broken English. This compilation of artists, writers, and even musicians sometimes plays on the old concept of Bizarro, but also gives artists freedom with DC characters to play with the "what if" of comics. Hilarious at times with a reenactment of the "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" song and the Justice League "Take Your Kids To Work Day," this book also takes on beautiful and poignant stories such as "Dear Superman," where Dylan Horrocks and Farel Dalrymple explore the downside of being the world's fastest man. Most memorable was a charming and sweet day in the life of the Justice League, where they simply spent time together being human. Bizarro World provides a broad sampling of what the current comic world has to offer and certainly provides a full evening of reading outside of the expected DC conventions.

The Originals by Dave Gibbons (DC). Gibbons, the artist behind the critically acclaimed Watchmen, portrays a group of teenage gangsters in a futuristic zoot-suited and hover-driving cityscape. This graphic novel is steeped in quality art. Gibbons is a master of layout, putting his pieces together in such a way that his black and white pictures feel as though they're colored with emotion. His talent as an artist, if not altogether apparent in the blue-lined Watchmen, is now fully realized with the freedom black and white offers him.

Despite the success of the book's visuals, Gibbons doesn't succeed with the story. Depicting a young man, Lel's, rise within a gang called The Originals and their war with rival gang, The Dirt, the book leans toward jilted dialogue and typical plot choices. He embodies cliché, the story ultimately coming off as a futuristic clone of Goodfellas.

Often artists do so well in the business, they feel it's time to tell a story without a writer. If a writer tried to draw, he or she would most likely be laughed out of the workshop.

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