Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Ex Machina: Tag

(2005) Brian K Vaughan, Tony Harris and Tom Feister, Titan Books, 7.99, trdpbk, 128pp, ISBN 1-845-76123-5

This is the second collection of West Wing-meets-Rocketeer collecting issues 6-10 of the title. Still can't find it in myself to like it. It tries to hard (and too obviously), and issues that seem to exercise the States are just so much old hat in Britain. This volume's contentious Issue is gay marriage. Woop-de-doo. Not just US comics have this problem though, tv is all too facile (yeah, yeah, I know, "when hasn't that been so?" Bite me) - what I'm talking about are the 'new' stereotypes: see how many a) lesbians and its sub-set ethnic lesbians, b) disabled (esp. wheelchair-bound) characters, including its sub-set wheelchair-bound black characters, c) asthmatics/gluten intolerant/lactose intolerant/peanut allergic etc characters... well, you can complete the list yourself, I'm sure. Note how many of them are two-for-ones! (It occurs to me one of my favourite shows, Malcolm in the Middle, has a black, wheelchair-bound asthmatic; that's what I call value for money! Of course, there's always Ironside) As I said last time, it looks like the only real interest in this title is the alien device that 'infected' Mitchell Hundred with the ability to control machines. In this story arc's blood-spattered plotline some fragment of the device does get to contact Mitchell and what little it says is intriguing. "You didn't spread the gospel. It's not about the Branes, it's about the Bulk. You were supposed to tell people..." and so on. To smart alecks out there this actually means something. Of course, you have to be familiar with String Theory cum 'Brane Theory cum M-Theory or you won't know what the 'Bulk' is. For people who can't be bothered to keep up with theoretical physics (especially the end of it that's untestable!) here's a dreadful oversimplification, good enough for comics, and how it might tie in and, therefore, an idea of where this series might go... String Theory is a 'Theory of Everything' contender, one of the better, more self-consistent ones, but completely untestable from an experimental or observational perspective. What it says, in part, is that to 'unite' gravity with the other three more-or-less-unified forces, you need eleven dimensions. These dimensions permeate our 4-D universe such that they are both curled up within it, yet completely surround it. To describe Big Bang within this framework the theory 'predicts' (requires, really) that other universes exist (which, of course, is not inconsistent with quantum 'Many Worlds' theory) in such a way that the sheet (or 'Brane) that is the 4-D component of any given universe can 'brush against' another such 'Brane and, where they do so, they 'give birth to' another universe, the point of contact being the new universe's Big Bang. These universes lie alongside each other in 11-D space and the sum of all 'Branes is known as the Bulk. So, given that Mitchell Hundred lives in an alternate reality, one in which he was able to save one of the towers of the WTC on 11/9/01, you might be able, now that 'Branes and the Bulk have been mentioned in the plot, to start making educated guesses about the title. Sadly, for me, Vaughan is taking his sweet time getting about it (10 issues for four good lines is a bit much...) and, presumably, he's going to have to spend time, in order to be fair to the readers, doing his own exposition on 'Branes, etc, so it seems likely that the interesting part of the plot will continue to move at a glacial pace. I hope I'm wrong. Honestly. I can see why a lot of people like this title, and it sort of deserves to do well, given that its heart (on Issues) seems to be in the right place, but it plods so... Hey, look, it's probably just me not clicking with Vaughan or something - people seemed to like Y: The Last Man, but that bored me too - anyway I'm happy to admit it's probably minority-of-one time again. I can't recommend it, but everyone else seems to like it. You pays ya money and takes yer choice.

Tony Chester

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