Getting Under the Hood of Ex Machina

Ex Machina #1
DC Comics / WildStorm – Brian K. Vaughan (w); Tony Harris (p); Tom Feister (i)I must say, I’ve been nervously looking forward to this book for the past two months.

I’ve been looking forward to it because Vaughan’s done an exceedingly solid job on Y: The Last Man (aside from the “where the hell did this come from?” psycho-sexual story arc from earlier this year). And while I think his run on Mystique was utterly pedestrian and that Runaways is possibly the most overrated book on the shelves today, I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of Y enough to still have high hopes for anything he writes, even though he’s only batting .500 in my book (I also really dug The Hood, for the record).

But I say nervously because I get the distinct impression that my political leanings and Vaughan’s don’t exactly play well together. And since the book is by definition a political thriller, I had the sinking feeling that I’d basically just be irritated every month until I finally gave up on it.

So now I’ve read the first issue and while I’m not prepared to say that my fear that an anti-Republican bent was going to rear its ugly head in Ex Machina was entirely unfounded, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed what I read, despite Vaughan painting the right wing with some pretty unflattering strokes.

Mitchell Hundred is our world’s first and only superhero. As a result of an accident below the Brooklyn Bridge, wherein a machine of unknown origin appears to bond itself to Hundred’s body, he finds himself with the rather unique ability to literally speak to and hear machinery. This paranormal power allows Hundred to craft a variety of complex devices, including a winged harness of some sort that gives him the power of flight. So for a year, Mitchell, as his alter ego the Great Machine, attempts to make a difference in the lives of the people of New York City, swooping down from the skies in their times of need like the superheroes he adored as a child. But something changes Mitchell’s life that causes him to believe that the possibility exists that he could be doing more than simply spending his days as an unemployed vigilante and Mitchell decides to run for the office of mayor of New York City. And he wins.

This first issue takes an out-of-sequence approach, alternating between what’s roughly the present and the past, contrasting what Mitchell is doing now with what he was doing at various points over the years immediately prior to his election. So in addition to a relatively complete origin sequence, Vaughan also narrates an apparently all-too-typical day in Mayor Hundred’s life: an assassination attempt, badgering by the press, and a blackmail plot by the governor’s office. In the midst of all this, a close friend from the Great Machine’s past sends him a package to remind him of who he used to be and what he had once hoped to accomplish. It’s while visiting with that friend and reminiscing that Vaughan springs a bit of a twist ending (though I honestly saw it coming) and shows the reader what made Mitchell start to examine his powers in relation to the big picture.

Overall, Ex Machina is off to a good start and it’s nice to see that Vaughan hasn’t lost his way with first issues. The initial offering of Y practically grabbed me by my collar and forced me to continue buying the book every month, it was that promising of a debut. And while I’m not quite certain that Ex Machina will be as outstanding as Vaughan’s signature book, it is pretty damned good and, as a first issue, definitely on par with Runaways #1. Enough of Mitchell’s origin is revealed to pique the reader’s interest, but not so much that it feels like your standard superhero first issue (which usually amounts to nothing more than the origin sequence and a cliffhanger ending). At the same time, Vaughan manages to let the audience have a sneak peek at the book’s overall tone, one that is generally more somber than his other books, due to the entrance of real world politics, but nonetheless carries his trademark flair for dialogue, with snappy banter in all situations and frequently amusing off-hand remarks from the book’s lead.

I still think that Vaughan portrays the New York governor’s office (which is held by a Republican) as a bit too much of a moustache-twisting, cackling villain, but that’s really just my personal politics more than anything else. The upside is that Hundred is an independent and Vaughan has promised to pull no punches in regards to either party, as both the left- and right-wing will be gunning for the Great Machine with both barrels.

Ex Machina is easily the standout book of the week, a rare title that manages to not only feature a super-powered protagonist without seeming slightly silly, but also tell a story that’s mature without being salacious. And rarer still, for that matter, is the writer that can inject politics into a superhero book without irritating the hell out of me (much less politics than run contrary to my own). It’s definitely worth checking out, as this is the first new title since Y made Vaughan a rising star that proves him worthy of all the hype.


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