Writer: Brian K. Vaughan Pencils: Tony Harris Inks: Tom Feister
Ex Machina is not a super-hero story. Yes, the lead character was once a super-hero known as The Great Machine (so named after Jefferson’s view of our country, we’re told), but this isn’t The Great Machine’s story. It’s the story of the man inside the suit, Mitchell Hundred, who’s parlayed his notoriety as a hero into being elected mayor of New York City. The real-world setting of Ex Machina–and it seems very much to be the “real world,” plus the introduction of one super-hero–allows Vaughan to play with some interesting ideas we don’t normally see in the genre (though the ideas are one that have also popped up most notably in Mark Millar’s The Ultimates).
We see in flashbacks that the cops of New York didn’t like or trust The Great Machine not because of some innate distrust of vigilantism, but because he makes their job harder (causing a ten-car pileup while catching a bank robber). And we catch some of the political side of that schism, too, after Mitchell becomes mayor: “don’t use your powers to do something we cops can take care of or you’re going to hear it from the union.”
The “real world” and how Mitchell has affected it come through most clearly on the last page of the first issue of Ex Machina, the first page in any comic in quite a while to actually take my breath away with its power. Vaughan and Harris are able to show in one single image exactly the impact that The Great Machine had on his city–and exactly why a complete political unknown was elected its mayor. We don’t get much insight into the origin of Mitchell’s powers in these first few issues. We get the what and the how but certainly not the why, though I’m sure that’s coming in later story arcs.
But we don’t need those questions dealing with The Great Machine answered yet since, as noted earlier, this isn’t his story. (Let me qualify that last statment with a “yet”–it feels like The Great Machine will be forced into un-retirement at some point later in the series. Vaughan has certainly set up the fact that not everyone is happy with Mitchell’s taking the suit off and has implied future threats that might need his powers.)
The artwork by Tony Harris and Tom Feister (with J.D. Mettler’s colors) is fantastic. Harris brings to Ex Machina the same strengths that made his long run on Starman so memorable: realistic, grounded characters living in a realistic world where unrealistic things can and do happen to them.
Ex Machina has received some comparisons to The West Wing, which is only natural as both present back-room views of the political machinations involved in running any governmental body. But the comparison to WW is also valid in that Ex Machina presents something of an idealized view of the people if not the process. Not only is Mitchell Hundred a former super-hero (this world’s only super, btw, or at least that we’ve seen so far), but he’s strong-willed, compassionate, leans to the left and genuinely wants to make his city better and feels a sense of personal responsibility for it. But Mitch isn’t perfect, either: he’s also a little hot-headed and not above using his extra-normal abilities (or at least the threat of them) as means to an end.