Recent issues of Ex Machina have promised a return to the “political issues mixed with retired-superhero-alien-conspiracy-gubbins” formula that served the book so well in its early days – and if the opening chapter of the final arc, “Pro-Life”, is anything to go by, that promise will be well and truly delivered upon. The twist that Vaughan lays down here, however, is that the issue in question is one upon which I’d bet a significant proportion of his readers (and, although I wouldn’t care to speculate too heavily, perhaps BKV himself) may not necessarily agree with Mitchell Hundred – the mayor taking an approach that would seem surprisingly at odds with his previously-demonstrated right-on, fairly liberal nature.
It certainly lays intriguing groundwork for the series’ finale – Hundred has been an easy character to root for throughout the run, but you just wonder whether, with the combination of this and the revelations over the “white box”, Vaughan is trying to show him as fallible in the eyes of the loyal reader as well as his electorate. All along we’ve assumed his downfall – alluded to way back in the very first issue – would be the result of the machinations of others – the suggestion here seems to be that if he’s imperfect in his political life (and I refer more to the potential election-rigging than his stance on the main political point of this issue, lest anyone think I’m automatically calling him out as objectively “wrong”) then perhaps he’s flawed as a superhero lead, too.
And of course, all of this is played out against a backdrop of utterly mental alien-technology-invasion weirdness, unravelling the Great Machine’s origin while building a genuinely terrifying threat to humanity. It’s always satisfying when a writer with a plan starts to slot his final pieces into place (I like to imagine a gratifying “ker-CHUNG” sound), and you realise here that the likes of January and Suzanne had significant roles to play all along (although I’ll be annoyed if we never learn why Journal’s death was as significant as BKV claimed at the time – if it was solely to drive the motiviation of January then I still feel there’s something lacking there).
The most notable aspect of this issue of Ex Machina, though, is simply that it’s an issue that I was excited in advance about reading. This used to be the case with the series a few years ago – I was genuinely desperate to find out what happened next, and never disappointed (if occasionally saddened) when I did. A few slightly lacklustre story arcs left me wondering if I’d ever feel that again – but all credit to Vaughan, because that’s exactly what he’s inspired going into the book’s last few issues. If anything, it may yet turn out that he was crafting something more taut and complete than Y : The Last Man all along – and for me, at least, the signs are that this is still on course to cement itself as the writer’s defining work.