Once, picking up my comics meant a stack of issues for a stack of titles that I read, but these days, it's a couple of comics for a couple of titles. Long running serials such as X-Men and Batman (pick your particular brand of each of those titles and there are multiple kinds)... the long running serials don't interest me much anymore. When they do, such as Grant Morrison's run on an X-Men title, I'm there just because of the writers involved, and I just buy the trades. It's cheaper. Which, I think, is why I bother going into comic stores at all these days: to sample a future trade collection, such as with Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams' new title, Desolation Jones. (I haven't read it yet, but it looks solid. Ellis doing what he admits is well within the range he mapped out with Transmetropolitian, but this time aided with Williams' art, which is flat out brilliant in Promethea.*)
At any rate, while I was in there, I can across a copy of Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris' Ex Machina... for free. #1 FREE it said, and since I'm that kind of guy, it caught my attention. Maybe it was some left over thing from Free Comic Day, which I didn't think happened in Australia, or just a promotional thing for the Ex Machina trade collection, but since I was thinking of purchasing anyhow, I snapped up a copy.
If I didn't know who Brian K. Vaughan was, I would have picked it for Tony Harris' art alone. My first exposure to Harris was his work on Starman, which is a title I absolutely loved. All those art deco buildings, James Robinson's dialogue, the slow arc that traced a whole cast of characters to an end that was hinted at in the beginning... the only real regret was that Harris illustrated only half the series, and was later replaced by Peter Snejbjerg, who took a while to find his feet. When he did, the series returned to it's beautiful glory, but when Snejbjerg laboured under inks that didn't suit his style, Robinson (aided by Hollywood hack writer David S. Goyer) took the main character, Jack Knight, into space, and the series fell flat. Thankfully, Robinson and Snejbjerg saved the series by ending it on strong notes, but I really did miss Tony Harris. Like I said, I would have picked up Ex Machina for Harris' bold, thick linework, and been totally pleased to find it as strong and detailed as it was during Starman.
But there was Brian K. Vaughan, and Vaughan is a reason to test a title alone. Vaughan is best known as being the writer on the series, Y: The Last Man, which follows the last man on Earth, Yorrick, as he and his two companions try to find the reason why he alone survived the plague that killed every single man on the planet. I know what you're thinking: sounds like something that could be really, really shit. The Last Man on Earth is probably the title of sixteen billion porn films, where one ugly guy fucks his way through the plastic female cast; it's a bad film with Charlton Heston landing on a planet with apes; it's a bad novel... there's a lot of bad, possibly because he idea is one of those high concept ideas that Hollywood loves and which is so often mangled in creation.
Y: The Last Man, however, is brilliant. It's witty, intelligent, and is filled with strong, female characters. Probably the only complaint you can level at it is that the majority of women in it are attractive, but that's a complaint you can make about everything, since most mainstream fiction portrays good looking people. But, then again, it could be a complaint against series illustrator, Pia Guerra, whose art is a bit similar when it comes to characters. Still, despite this, I've really enjoyed the first four collections of Y: The Last Man, and I recommend it to people fully. Indeed, issue one is available as a free PDF download. You should click right this instance.
Issue one of Y: The Last Man is nearly a perfect opening issue, and if you don't get to that second last panel where a woman says, "All the men are dead," and get a bit of a chill, you don't know good writing.**
Issue one of Ex Machina is not as compelling as Y: The Last Man, but since both are different titles, it's unfair to compare them. Ex Machina is, from what the first issue lays down, a political thriller about the first superhero as mayor in New York City, an office that he won thanks to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre. It's an interesting mix that Vaughan and Harris have made with the mayor who can talk to electronics, reminding me a little of Jesse's ability to use the word of God in Preacher... still, I like the mix of the real with the fake in the opening, and I'm in for the collection now, totally.
The first opens with the main character, Mitchell Hundred, sitting in front of the image of a man in black leather flying up before an areoplane. He is speaking to the reader, head down, hands cupping a glass in front of him. He says, "This is the story of my four years in office, from the beginning of 2002 through godforsaken 2005. It may look like a comic, but it's really a tragedy."
It's a nice hook.
* EDIT: I did, in fact, just finished reading it. It's surprisingly humourous, more weird and genuine attempt at being funny than the over the top satire that was Transmet. In addition, a good half of the issue is the opening chapter of the The Big Sleep, but with the main character charged to find Hitler porn. It's fun stuff. Worth the read.
** In fairness, I should also say that, having recently read the fourth collection, Safe Word, Vaughan is at the start of not doing enough with the plot. I love the characters, I love the world... but I want to know about the plague, now. It's time to start dealing with that. I've heard, in the monthly run, this has happened, so I'm looking forward to the next trade.