A Look at the Work of Brian K. Vaughan

Danielle Ryan

Brian K. Vaughan is best known for his original work, including Ex Machina, Saga, and Y the Last Man. After a stint writing for Marvel in the late 1990’s, Vaughan decided to focus on his own characters. This move earned him quite a few accolades. He received 11 Eisner Awards, the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, and the 2007 Wired Rave Award.

Vaughan is known for strange tales that evoke a great deal of emotion. Vaughan writes in a traditional narrative arc, which isn’t the norm for many comics. In a 2007 interview with Wired, he explained his method.

“That’s storytelling, with a beginning, a middle, and an end,” he says. “Something like Spider-Man, a book that never has a third act, that seems crazy.”

Vaughan’s commitment to storytelling means fans of his work are emotionally invested. His characters and worlds are strange but easy to relate to. Vaughan’s writing has a depth to which few other authors can compare. Here’s a look at some of his best work.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina Comic

Everything about Ex Machina feels real, from political squabbling to the bigger issues addressed. The only thing is that Ex Machina is a complete superhero fantasy. Leave it to Brian K. Vaughan to create a perfect mix of Iron Man and The West Wing.

Ex Machina follows Mitchell Hundred, former superhero and savior of New York City. He has the ability to communicate with electronics, which is both cool and maddening. He also happens to be the mayor of the Big Apple, an honor he earned after his years of defending the metropolis. Hundred has given up the powers, instead focusing on governing and helping his citizens. But will the chaotic and dangerous world require him to suit up again?

With this series, Vaughan created an epic story featuring plot points and themes that would find themselves at home in a TV drama about Washington D.C. This is still a comic book, so the story is also filled with the usual reliable tropes: sci-fi horror, murderous villains and lots of adventure with people in costumes. Vaughan deftly mixes both the super-real and super-fantastic. Even the art (by the stellar Tony Harris) feels like a blend of reality and extraordinary. This was a passionate, moral and high-flying drama unlike anything else. It’s sad that politics and heroics don’t mix more often. [Brandon Marcus]


Runaways Comic

Launched as part of Marvel’s Tsunami imprint in the early 2000’s, Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways introduced a team of diverse teenage misfits on the run from authorities and adults alike. While that sounds like 90% of teenage characters and teams, the starting point for the series was very unique: what would you do when you found out your parents were the strongest group of super-villains on the West Coast? You’d take your superpowers and crank that rebellion to 11 is what you do!

The series starts off rather innocuously, with a group of kids who’ve grown up together. Once again they gather with their parents as they’ve done every year. As is typical, not all of them get along: some snipe at each other, some get along, there’s a lot of awkwardness, etc. Everything changes when curiosity finally overtakes the group and they check to see what their parents do secretly every year at this get-together. What they find is a horrific human sacrifice with all their parents as willing participants. From there, the series hits the ground running as the kids make an explosive escape and regroup in the outskirts of L.A. to figure out their next step. As the series progresses, the kids discover the truth behind both their shared history together. They also learn about the powers and technology they now use to fight against their parents.

The first two arcs were initially created as a miniseries, with the kids dealing with their parents and the greater power that controls them. As the series gained popularity, subsequent volumes following them through the greater Marvel Universe. While other writers and artists have taken the reins of the series throughout the years, it was Brian K. Vaughn that set the bar for the characters. [Bob Aquavia]

Pride of Baghdad

Pride of Bagdhad - Brian K. Vaughan

Operation Iraqi Freedom led to a seismic shift in a volatile region of our planet. Out of that came the opportunity for a number of stories, but none were as bizarrely impacting as Pride of Baghdad. The story is an anthropomorphized interpretation of the true story about a group of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the bombings. As they wander the war zone, their encounters and actions reflect various opinions and political approaches to the ongoing conflict.

While there is a smattering of dark humor in the book, Vaughan is clearly working out his frustrations about the Iraq War. The brutal nature of these animals reflects humanity’s natural inclinations towards casual atrocities. Shocking violence and challenging character traits permeate the world of Pride of Baghdad, much as it does our real world.

Pride of Baghdad clearly has Orwell’s Animal Farm in mind and the comparison is not a lofty one. It’s a stunning and emotional powerhouse of a book that works as a sobering time capsule for a period we must never forget. The fact that such a story can be effectively told in the same format as a Disney film – talking animals – makes it doubly incredible. [Drew Diestch]


Saga Brian K Vaughan

Saga takes place far across the stars and features aliens of all kinds. Discord between a planet, Landfall, and its moon, Wreath, has involved most of the galaxy in seemingly never-ending war. What makes Saga so impactful are its universal themes of family, love, betrayal, racism, and the horrors of war.

The story’s narrator is Hazel, the star-crossed child of a soldier from Landfall and a soldier from Wreath. After her birth, people all over the universe want her dead. She represents the literal unification of the two warring factions, but many consider her an abomination. Her parents will do whatever it takes to keep their baby girl safe, and along the way they make a number of allies that believe in the value of peace.

Saga is an emotional roller-coaster. In turns, it’s funny and sweet, horrific and heart-wrenching. Despite featuring characters that run the gamut from a half-spider woman to a tiny talking seal, there’s something undeniably human about Saga. The characters are as three-dimensional as drawings can be, with unique flaws and motivations. It’s hard not to root for Hazel and her big mishmashed family as they try to survive in a universe built on hate.

There’s something for everyone in Saga. It’s full of colorful, interesting characters and themes that work their way into the reader’s soul. Saga is more meaningful than most other comics and evokes emotion in very real ways. [Danielle Ryan]

Y the Last Man

Y the Last Man Brian K. Vaughan

“I wouldn’t like you if you were the last man on earth” is the trope catchphrase of petulant, fictional schoolgirls. In Y the Last Man, Brian K Vaughan takes that declaration to task. Vaughan imagines a world in which all of the male creatures on earth die of a mysterious illness. All except for two: Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Desperate to find his longtime girlfriend, Beth, Yorick (& Ampersand) set out in the company of a covert government agent known only as 355 and a disgraced scientist named Dr. Allison Mann. Along the way, they encounter roving bands of militant survivors, agents from rival governments, and even pirates.

On its surface, Y the Last Man is a typical epic. It’s an adventure story about a group of heroes on a quest to save the world, a tale of political intrigue, and a romance on a grand scale. But underneath the fantastic art and the quippy dialogue is an examination of centuries upon centuries of misogyny. The circumstances remind us that throughout our history men excluded women from positions of political power and pushed them to the sidelines in the fields of science, politics, and even warfare. Women shine as examples of ingenuity, determination, and intelligence in Yorick’s world, including his sister Hero (named for the Shakespearean heroine), though her story takes a dark and menacing turn.

Far from being a damning critique of all men, however, the series shows that all of the world’s vices; wrath, lust, greed, gluttony, and, worst of all, pride exist in equal measure in both men and women. As do its virtues. Even in the face of apocalyptic doom, Vaughan’s characters find space to love one another unexpectedly. They challenge one another to grow, form unshakable friendships, and show mercy to those they previously saw as bitter adversaries.

Y the Last Man may be Vaughan’s most human work. If you can make it to the final chapter without shedding a tear, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. [Robert Mitchell]

Danielle Ryan
A cinephile before she could walk, Danielle comes to Fandom by way of CNN, CHUD.com, and Paste Magazine. She loves controversial cinema (especially horror) and good cinematography; her dislikes include romantic comedies and people's knees.
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