The volume includes the four part "March to War" story arc and a two-parter called "Life or Death." Overall, it's a not as gripping a read as the last few volumes, but it's still good throughout. Brian K. Vaughan is undoubtedly one of the best writers in comics today, and he takes big brave risks here, centering the first four issues in this volume on an almost strictly political matter that only slightly ties into Mitchell Hundred's life as the superhero the Great Machine. Vaughan has a Whedonesque ability to keep the plot insanely interesting without deviating from the character driven structure all of his stories have. What I wasn't as pleased with this time around was the art. Tony Harris is a wonderful artist and has provided some great, realistic work with this title, which is very appropriate given the subject matter. But in this volume, everything seems very stiff--there is no movement to the characters, and they're often posed in gestures that I could never see happening in a real conversation.
Guest artist Chris Sprouse fills in for Harris on the "Life or Death" two-parter, which is by and large a "Great Machine" story, framed only by a few pages of Mitchell Hundred's current life as the Mayor. The flashback, cleverly lead into by Hundred buckling under the question if some criminals deserve to die, reveals the mysterious Pherson, the arch-enemy of the Great Machine. He's creepy, working both as a realistic villain that is believable in the Ex Machina world and also as a comic book villain, both from his powers and his character design. I wish they had a bit more time to play with the dynamic between the two characters, but the two-parter did function as an introduction to Pherson, who, knowing Brian K. Vaughan, will probably be popping up in later volumes, despite evidence to the contrary.
All in all, volume four of "Ex Machina" is a good read that is a bit weaker early on than the rest of the books. The art needed a bit more life and the story needed a bit more of that Brian K. Vaughan quirk, but the "Life or Death" two-parter was great enough to earn the book a solid...