Man out of Machine: Ex Machina
Fear not – there will be reviews soon for the books I picked up this weekend, but analysis takes time. Gotta let that stuff percolate for awhile soes I can produce something worth reading. Just know you are in store for the following: Spell Checkers, Martian Confederacy, Powers, Punisher MAX: Butterfly, and Madame Xanadu. Not necessarily in that order!
Started reading Ex Machina a couple of years ago and never posted about it at the time, but did spend the last month or so getting re-acquainted with Mitchell Hundred and the cast of characters which populate his version of New York City.
For those unfamiliar: the series follows Mitchell Hundred, formerly known as The Great Machine, a hero who gained the ability to “talk” to machines through a freak accident. After gaining acclaim by rescuing several people on 9/11 – he quits the superhero biz (much to the distaste of his father-figure Kremlin) and decides to run for Mayor. The story follows his first term in office, with flashbacks to his superhero stint and little tantalizing bits about how he gained his powers. Several issues are also given to plot-lines of the supporting characters, some of my favorites being Journal Moore (intern), David Wylie (deputy Mayor) and Rick Bradbury (Hundred’s head of security).
This series has the all the beauty and allure of being creator-owned, by one of my favorite authors Brian K. Vaughn. First of all – let me rant a bit about loving creator-owned series. Some of my top 10 books are creator owned, blessed with a consistent writing and artistic team. It’s always been frustrating to have an artist swapped out mid-way through a story arch. It’s comparable to re-placing an integral cast member on a television series, or potentially the whole damn cast and maybe even the set.
Tony Harris has been a wonderful artist throughout this whole series – these people look and feel real in a dimension that is rarely captured on the page. Reading the book is honestly equivalent to sitting down for my favorite TV show – the colors and world are so incredibly rich. If you’ve picked up TPB Volume 6: Power Down, there’s a special insert Inside the Machine with a copy of an actual Vaughn script, along with pics and details about how Harris does his thing. It was especially cool to see the man that Harris uses to capture facial expressions and poses for Hundred. I would definitely suggest picking it up.
This is going to be less criticism, and more just a laundry list of the things I love about this series. I’d like to see more people reading it, I feel like since it won an Eisner in 2005, its just been plodding along with the writer and artist producing great material, and hardly anyone singing it’s praises.
The ambiguous nature of politics. Having never watched The West Wing, or really gotten into movies, shows, books, etc about politics, I was a little put-off by the content – but bravely pushed forward because I’ve loved everything Vaughn has done previously (including talking lions). The beauty of the book is that you don’t HAVE to love politics or politicians, or care either way to really get a lot out of this material.
In fact – reading this book has given me more understanding of politicians and the difficult decisions they face. I’ve never thought it would be easy to be in their shoes, but having a window into Mitchell Hundred’s world really brings that message home. It’s intriguing how his idealism and desire to help/change the world is translated from the superhero phase of his life, to his work as a politician.
The danger Vaughn treads here is in ostracizing the fan base by either making Hundred too liberal or too conservative. Hundred ran as an Independent ticket, but by issue #40 he is being courted toward the Republican camp, despite his views towards Gay Marriage (which, if Ex Machina followed our timeline, would put him at a distinct disadvantage). It’s curious and a testament to his ability as a writer that Vaughn manages to keep Hundred skirting by loads of political traps, and focused on his original reasons for being in office. To help people and contribute something worthwhile to his city and country.
Mitchell Hundred/The Great Machine. Hundred has a voice that sings off the pages, and has all the comedic timing which made Yorick Brown such a wonderful main character – but without making Mitchell feel at all connected to this other series. Mitchell Hundred is far more intense and brooding, which is absolutely appropriate for his level of responsibility and his life experiences. He has much more angst than Yorick or the cast of Runaways, so it would be detrimental to go into this series thinking that it will be at all similar to the other material.
Supporting Characters. As I mentioned before – Vaughn populates his book with a cast of characters that are equally as interesting and compelling as Hundred himself. Without them, Hundred would not exist, or be able to perform the job that he does. Yes, Hundred does end up dominating the pages for the most part – but often times it’s the supporting characters that move the story along. Vaughn has done a great job feeding readers pieces of their individual lives throughout the last forty or fifty issues. I don’t feel like Ex Machina is a one man book at this point – it’s definitely an ensemble cast. No one calls themselves (except for maybe Kremlin and Bradbury) part of a team, but Hundred relies so heavily on them, it happens anyway.
Mysterious Powers. The green electrodes on the side of Mitchell’s face are what allows him to control the machines around him. The mystery surrounding the accident which gifted him this ability has been slowly unraveling over the last 8 trade paperbacks. Is it totally bizarre to think his deformity is sexy? Probably.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Time Travel or Sideways Timelines. Least favorite plot element of all time, and yet it happens so regularly in comic books. I should just learn to man up and love it, right? Or at least accept it. And for the most part, I’ve become numb to the irritation it used to spring on me. However – it would appear in this instance (and I’ve not read tpb 9 or any newer issues, mind you), that the timeline from which visitors mysteriously appear to Hundred in later issues – is sideways. An alternate but concurrent timeline ala Season 6 of Lost. Which would make sense, given that Vaughn just wrapped up three seasons of writing for the show.
I’ll accept that this sideways timeline is happening, and will *hopefully* answer some of those burning questions about the origin of his powers…but I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. Everything about this series has been spot-on for me, except the twinge of frustration alternate timelines create in my soul.
Why are you still reading this? Why aren’t you reading Ex Machina and telling everyone how fucking amazing it is? I’m looking forward to more Hundred in the future, and hoping that Vaughn is able to bring the series to a close ala Y: The Last Man – to much deserved fanfare and applause. After all – there are only ten or so issues left, right? It’s almost the end…
Speaking of Y – movie rumors for this property have resurfaced recently attaching Louis Leterrier to the project. I’d like to think this is more than just idle fangirl/boy chatter, but I’m afraid I’ve been burnt one too many times to truly get my hopes up. It would be great, but the longer this film idles in pre-production hell, the worse it’s prospects are for ever coming to the screen.
And really – it would make a kick-ass HBO, Showtime or AMC limited series similar to what’s being done with The Walking Dead. The idea of clumping all that content into two hours of Hollywood is ghastly.