In Appreciation – Brian K Vaughan

Brian K Vaughan writes some of the most convincing, funny, and moving dialogue in comics today.  I’m starting there because he’s one of the most interesting and frustrating comic writers.  Moreso even than Grant Morrison.

Vaughan doesn’t rely on being impenetrable, like Morrison.  Nor does he consistently go for the weird, or the gross-out, like Ellis, or Ennis.  Brian K Vaughan is a simple, straight-forward author who writes intriguing plots, excellent dialogue, and never comes right out and tells you what the fuck is going on!

That said, he’s my favorite author of monthly comics.  I followed Ex Machina from issue 30, until its conclusion at issue 50, and I’ve been picking up the singles of Saga since issue 1 (though it was sold out until I was able to pick up issue 3!) and… that’s all I’ve really picked up from comic stores on a monthly basis.  That should tell you how high I hold Vaughan’s work as a writer.

Hell, I’m even buying his digital-only comic series Private Eye and I never purchase digital content with my own money (a gift card? maybe… a free download with a movie I bought? sure!).  Given the pay-what-you-want structure behind Private Eye (even nothing!), the series is easily worth the money every month(ish) they release a new issue.

But what are the best things Brian K Vaughan has done?  He’s been busy since 1996 and has written for Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine, and Doctor Strange for Marvel.  Vaughan spent time at DC working on Batman and Wonder Woman.  He’s also done Swamp Thing for Vertigo and a veritable crapton of stuff as an independent creator of comics properties.  Below I’ve compiled a Top 5 list of my favorite Brian K Vaughan titles.

5. Pride of Baghdad (2006), Illustrated by Niko Henrichon

Vaughan’s Pride of Baghdad tells the story of a pride of lions that escaped from a Baghdad zoo during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States.  I went into this graphic novel not knowing what to think… and it was a really fantastic allegory.

Vaughan manages to portray the suffering of a country with lions people! And Henrichon’s art also manages to convey a humanity and a beauty, even amongst the darkness of war-torn Iraq. Definitely a must-read!

4. Ex Machina (2004-2010), Illustrated by Tony Harris et al.

Ex Machina is an excellently weird mash-up of science fiction and political commentary that would probably be higher on my list if it weren’t for a fairly disappointing ending.  The story follows Mitchell Hundred, the sitting Mayor of New York who was previously a superhero known as The Great Machine.

As The Great Machine, Hundred could communicate with machines, which made his jetpack\ray-gun set-up pretty much ideal… except for the fact that he’s not very skilled.  His career as a superhero is over before it begins… until he stops the second plane from flying into the World Trade Center, an act that catapults him to the Mayor’s house.

The story jumps back and forth in time so that each issue generally starts with a brief flash-back of Hundred’s time as The Great Machine, then following up with a scene from his life as Mayor.  The dichotomy is done very well and Vaughan is able to strike a great balance between superhero antics and political satire.

A great series that would be made greater if it was kind enough to give you more answers when you get to the end.  I know that’s kind of his thing, but… this was a lot more frustrating than the end of Y The Last Man.  Still, a well written mash-up of political intrigue, superhero pathos, and sci-fi madness.

3. Runaways, Illustrated by Adrian Alphona, et al. 

Runaways is, above all else, a whole lot of fun.  A simple story of a group of teens who find out that their parents are the head of an evil secret society called “The Pride” and go on the run to try to fight against the injustice their families want to bring down on Los Angeles.

The only real downside to this series for me is that it is a Marvel title, meaning that it has to tie into the Marvel Universe.  The guest spots with Captain America and Wolverine don’t bug me as much as my general confusion that comes from years of not reading much in the way of Marvel comics at all.

Even with that confusion, the series is worth reading.  Vaughan’s dialogue is (of course) snappy and witty and it is definitely the most fun comic of his that I’ve read.  Beatles references are fast and furious as well, and Vaughan’s not afraid to tug on some heartstrings… In fact, I haven’t read Joss Whedon’s continuation because of how badly Vaughan broke my heart…

2. Saga (2012-present) Illustrated by Fiona Staples

This may be unfair as the series is still in progress (it currently is on a brief hiatus at issue 12), but it is really, really fantastic.  The emotional tie-in is there from the get-go and Fiona Staples is doing such stellar work that I’m willing to call this one right now.

Thus far Saga tells the tale of star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, two lovers from two different alien races.  They’re on the run from all sorts of people who want them dead… and they’re bringing their newborn child along.  Think “space opera Romeo & Juliet” but with main characters who aren’t completely insufferable twats.

The next issue comes out in about a month and I’m super-excited!!!

1. Y: The Last Man, Illustrated by Pia Guerra et al.

If Runaways broke my heart, Y The Last Man shattered it and turned it to dust.  Lots of people will complain about the lack of a clear explanation by the end.  Heck, it certainly frustrated me not that long ago.  And it still does.

But I don’t think the plague that wipes out all men is the point of the story.  I mean… that’s just the impetus for Yorick to get off his ass and make something of himself.  The plague drives Agent 355 and Yorick together, but their story that comes after it is so much more interesting than any explanation for the plague could be.  It happened and the world moved on.

But the ending… Oh, the ending.  I’m not going to spoil it.  I know the series is old at this point and if you haven’t read it, you should have… blah blah blah.  But I just can’t.  The last few issues are precious and really need to be experienced with no hint of what’s to come. But when you’re finished reading the series… come back here and we can have a nice cry together.

This list is obviously only including Vaughan’s creator-owned properties.  His Batman stories are just OK, his Wolverine mini-series is decent, his Mystique run is pretty great, and his run on Swamp-Thing would have been better if it hadn’t been cut off at issue 20… Well, maybe.  It definitely cuts off too abruptly.

What’s next?  Hopefully not another list!  I’ve recently finished Doughnut by Tom Holt, Silver Linings Playbook, Gaiman’s new one, and I’m just digging into The Shambling Guide to New York City.  Yay reading!

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