Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not all angst, plus a free comic

I've received recent reassurance that there's more to superhero revisionism than angst, full-bleed color and dark shadows.

Ex Machina has as its protagonist Mitchell Hundred, an ex-superhero complete with powers acquired in the traditional superhero manner — an accident. Hundred's gift is the ability to communicate with machines and tell them what to do. Oh, and he gets himself elected mayor of New York City after using his power to save one of the World Trade Center towers from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And he loves comic books.

Such angst as there is takes the form of Hundred's forswearing his powers, but being compelled to use them in crises, and of occasionally melodramatic interludes. In one such, he rescues his mother from a gang of thugs in trailer park, in part by using his powers to start the engine of one thug's truck — a humorous way of telling the thug to take a hike.

But the series' real energy comes from its exciting dramatizations of practical political problems: the mayor vs. the police commissioner, the mayor vs. a persistent reporter, the mayor offering pragmatic criticism of political dogma, and often with a humorous touch.

This livelier touch may be due simply to writer Brian K. Vaughan's own temperament and inclinations. But maybe the series, which began in 2004 and whose first thirty-four issues have been collected in seven bound volumes, marks a stage in the evolution of superheroes from the angst-and-shadows tales of 1986 and after. Readers more knowledgeable than I about comics, feel free to weigh in.

And click here for a free download of Ex Machina, issue No. 1.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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18 Comments:

Blogger seanag said...

Peter, given the way the graphic novel seems to be making inroads into your international crime fiction blog--and I'm not complaining, mind you, just noting---have you ever considered changing the name of your blog to Detectives and Zombies Beyond Borders?

Just wondering, because adding 'zombies' to the title of anything seems to be a good marketing strategy right now.

Of course, my v word anticipates your answer: noppa

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Zombies have already made their way into this blog here, but if you think I need a new name, how about Detectives Beyond Borders and Beyond? Detectives Beyond Borders and More? Detectives Beyond Borders Etc.? Detectives Beyond Borders 'n' Things?

February 11, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

How about Bed, Bath and Detectives Beyond Borders? It might even be a whole new franchise.

I checked out the link and more interesting than the zombies, even, was the mention of Dirty Sweet in the comments, because I happen to have just finished reading it today. Since I've never been to Toronto, I'm afraid that John's imagining of it is going to overwhelm any sense I have of it being just a nice, clean Canadian place if I ever visit.

I know, I know--you could probably say the same about L.A., but magnified a hundred times, even though, the many times I've been there, I've hardly ever encountered the truly seamy side of things--though I'm sure it exists.

I did download that free comic, by the way, and look forward to reading it.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Ex Machina is a great book and I've read all 7 volumes so far. Vaughn is really talented and it's a safe bet you'd like his other works as well.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'd be curious to know what a detached observer such as you thought of Dirty Sweet. John's Toronto is not so much seamy as it is varied and lively and sprawling enough to have its seamy aspects. No protagonist or villain will ever slouch through his streets muttering about what a dirty, lowdown town Toronto is, the way a prototypical American counterpart would have about New York or L.A. or San Francisco or any number of fictional cities in the 1920s, '30s or '40s. Rather, McFetridge's characters are more likely to regard the city with wonder, even if the wonder is at the dirty things that they themselves are able to get away with.

But Dirty Sweet ... John and I are almost exactly the same age, and we were part of the same demographic movement away from Montreal, so the book is bound to hit me where I used to live.

"Ex Machina" has an interesting blend of adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, super-hero, politics and melodrama. I hope you'll like it.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jon, I've read 1 through 3, and I have 4. I'll probably pick up 5 through 7 as well, and maybe the concluding issues, either in individual monthly comics, or once they are collected.

A guy at the comics store near me was talking up "Y: The Last Man," which I may take a look at. I'll curious to see how much humor Vaughan brings to the story. The further I get from crime and the closer to fantasy and sci-fi, the newer the territory is for me.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter, I fear that you've destroyed my productivity for the day. This looks great.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm happy to have made a difference, however small, in your life. I think the download is the first regular montly issue of the comic, not the first volume of the collection. That means it shouldn't take long to read.

I wonder what proportion of comics' revenue comes from sales of collections vs. that of regular periodical editions. I can understand a reader's hesitating to spend $6.99 or whatever the price is these days for a single issue that will take just a few minutes to read. Maybe that's one of the attractions of the sturdier paper and high-quality reproduction of today's comics as compared to those of my youth. Maybe today's comics are more of a visual artifact, to be lingered over and looked at as well as read.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

The comic download was a great way to procrastinate from the editing, thanks!

You should ask your readers what their super-hero power would be.

v-word doupk, which is the sound you make when your super-hero power fails you and you smack into a building.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Peter,

I definitely do NOT know more than you about comics, but I'll weigh in nonetheless--

It's nice to say that superhero comics are moving away from the angst. As I think we discussed before, it seems that after Watchmen, comics needed to be more deconstructive and brooding, and less about telling a conventional story. Don't get me wrong, postmodernism is fun, but only in small doses if you ask me.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, see the comment immediately above yours. If I've moved you closer to missing a deadline, I hope you enjoyed the diversion. Perhaps I shall ask the question you suggest.

You may know that superhero comics carry with them a certain nostalgia for many readers. I always enjoyed the sound effects, especially spelled out on screen on the Adam West-Burt Ward Batman TV show. I also always loved the sound effects in Don Martin's cartoons for Mad magazine. So I enjoyed the use you suggest for your v-word.

V-word: mercola

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, I would not want to overestimate the depth of my insights into comics. Almost twenty years passed between Watchmen and Ex Machina, and I don't know what writers and artists were doing all that time.

With respect to Watchmen's deconstruction of comics, the aspects I like tend to be traditional or at least to make use of traditional techniques. For example, the interpolated chapters from Night Owl's fictional autobiography are a clever use of technique (though I'd call it something like modernist collage rather than postmodern) and one of my favorite parts of the book. The chapters comment on the main story in all kinds of ways postmodernists ought to love, but in form, they are thoroughly traditional.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Regarding Toronto and Dirty Sweet:

It's odd reading a story about a city that you've never been to and don't even have stereotypical impressions of. (Even if you've probably seen it on television many times, masquerading as New York City.) While I was reading the book, I superimposed Chicago on it, just because of the whole lakefront aspect of it. These inlanders who think they have something like an ocean in front of them...but never mind.

Thinking about it now though, the Toronto that's depicted reminds me more of Denver, with its boom and bust cycles and its being a major city in its own realm but not treated as a major city on the world stage.

The book is a great depiction of a moment in Toronto's 'becoming'. I don't have the easiest time with the porn world and the stripper world that is depicted here--I find it slightly depressing. There are aspects of the story that pull it out of that dimension, however, and that's the saving of it for me.


I should say that the writing is excellent, no reservations. I will certainly read more.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seems to me that you're grasping Toronto the only way any reader can grasp a city he or she has never seen -- feeling your way by familiar comparisons. It's kind of exciting, isn't it, discovering a city that way.

Our man McFetridge is the bard of Toronto, all right.

I've just read a galley of McFetridge's third book. It's his best so far, I'd say.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter, this comic is gold. And I don't even like politics mixed in with my stories. The transitions are killer, there seems to be an allusion to Ray Bradbury and the dialogue rocks.

"Kremlin, what kind of Marxist believes in God?"

"One who has seen you."


Love it. Thanks for sharing.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'm no science-fiction reader, so I missed any Bradbury allusions. What were they?

The quick dialogue exchanges are like good stage or television dialogue, but they work nicely on the page, I think. Perhaps the fast pace in the political sections makes them palatable to readers who don't ordinarily like politics with their fiction.

February 12, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter: Meh. I think I misread it. I thought Bradbury was referenced on the back of the boat, but looking at it again, I see it reads, "Richard Bradbury."

February 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That would probably be Rick Bradbury, Hundred's bodyguard/sidekick. But the name still could be a tribute to Ray Bradbury. I don't know enough sci-fi to pick up anything in the stories that would suggest that.

February 13, 2009  

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