EX MACHINA by Brian K. Vaughn [Book 37 of 2010]

So I was thinking the other day that it’s been a while since I reviewed a graphic novel. And then when I heard the news that one of my favorite graphic novel series of all time, Y: THE LAST MAN, might get converted into a television series, that reminded me that I still hadn’t posted my thoughts on the first volume of his other graphic novel series, EX MACHINA, which I read (haha) while on book tour in Washington D.C. You’ll see why this is funny in just minute here….

Why I Decided to Read It: I happened upon a comic book shop while leaving Union Station, I decided to inquire after HELL HOUSE by Ryan Dixon and Chad Feehan, b/c (ahem!) customer inquiries are one of the many ways we readers can make sure book and comic book stores take notice of our favorite reads. Dixon’s and Feehan’s graphic novel wasn’t out yet (as I already knew, of course), but I needed something to read on metro, so I asked the guy behind the counter to make a suggestion. After receiving my like list, he suggested EX MACHINA by Brian K. Vaughn.

What It’s About: A superhero with the power to “speak” to machines decides to run for office and ends up actually becoming the Mayor of New York!

What Makes It Different: Obviously you’ve never heard that storyline before, right? Also, his chief of staff is a black man with locs.

What I Loved: It’s so funny that this was written pre-Obama, because basically it deals with someone coming into office with a superhero reputation and the best of intentions and finding out that politics is just about the dirtiest, grimiest, most corrupt, and let’s face, mind-numbingly stupid profession that you can get into. It really gets the disillusionment that comes with actually winning a big election. Also, the mystery rocks.

What I Didn’t Like: I have a real problem with foreshadowing. I just love it, and when I get notes back from my manuscript editor, it usually includes a list of all the forecasts I need to take out of my story. Brian K. Vaughn basically has the same problem with EX MACHINA. He keeps flashing forward to the future, in which we see that our hero is now a broken and bitter man. It’s great the first time, but then he keeps on doing it and it begins to feel like a waste of time.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Add Color: This kind of goes both ways. One of the things that kind of bothers me out about 32 CANDLES is that there aren’t any significant characters who aren’t black — actually there was one guy but he got cut. In the case of EX MACHINA, I think a lot of writers would have just gone with the high-concept nature of the piece and would have been fine with an all-white cast. But by making the mayor’s chief of staff a brother with locs and his mentor a crazy Russian, he really added color to the piece. It reminded me that when it comes to your supporting cast, making someone important another race and/or nationality really does make your story sing — and attracts a wider audience.

Fantasy Meets Real Life: I can’t stress how much I love this concept. It reminds me that doing the opposite of a popular plot makes for really interesting and fresh storytelling. For example, we’ve all heard about the ordinary person being put in a fantasy situation. Harry Potter, Spiderman, Bella from Twilight — but how about the opposite? If a superhero can do an IRL job, how cool would it be to see a wizard, mutant, or vampire have to struggle along in an IRL job — oh wait, just remembered that there is a fantastic graphic novel that hits is exactly that last plot idea. It’s called LIFE SUCKS, it’s about vampire working in a convenience store, and it rocks. Hard.

Put Career and Mystery in conflict: A great way to create tension and conflict is to pull your main character in two completely different high-stake directions. In this book, the new mayor has to convince an artist to take down her really controversial painting and figure out who’s blowing up snow plow drivers during a blizzard. Brilliant! This also makes me think of a bonus writing lesson…

Add inclement weather: Any high-stakes situation is going to made even high-stakier with inclement weather. Seriously, have a sequence that doesn’t feel dramatic enough? Just add weather. That’ll get it going.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Graphic Novel: Politicians, Government Workers, People Who Miss The West Wing, People With Locs Who Work A Desk Job, Anyone Thinking Of Going Into Politics Someday

Click on the pic to buy!