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Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days

I really hate politics. I don’t mean that I hate one particular party or politician, or that I find myself leaning toward one political ideology in particular. I mean that I hate the whole freaking system. Elections, NGOs, lobbyist, Senate, the House of Representatives: it all just irks me.

And it’s not just the American government; I’m as equally annoyed with every type of governing body known to man, mostly because I think all government runs on the principle that people will somehow manage to not find new and interesting ways to circumvent any system they find themselves in and summarily screw over their neighbor. In fact, the best system of government I’ve ever heard of was one I believe the Vikings used, wherein the two disputing parties would go out in the middle of a bridge, and the last man left standing on the bridge won the argument. Sweet wonderful simplicity.

My utter dislike of government makes liking books like Ex Machina somewhat difficult, as there is a ridiculous amount of bias that I have to overcome to be objective. Thankfully, the effort put forth by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris made it almost easy to love their story of the new New York City mayor dealing with crisis after crisis, as well as his former career as the world’s first superhero.

Mitchell Hundred was just a civil engineer when he was exposed to some type of glowing mechanism that gave him control over complex mechanisms and machines. Soon after, he donned a menagerie of gadgets and armor to become the world’s first superhero, The Great Machine, but found quickly that all he did was maintain the status quo. So, he unmasked, ran for Mayor of NYC, and won by a landslide. And that’s where our story starts.

Vaughan takes a storytelling style like that found in NBC’s The West Wing, showing us the man in power, as well as some specific scenes involving key members of his staff, but by using the mayoral setting, is allowed more leeway in crafting more interesting plots. Whereas The West Wing is far too often bogged down in more political jargon and far-too-current events, Ex Machina balances well the duties of the mayor’s office with the action subplot and the back-story involving The Great Machine, and finds a way to make the unveiling of some controversial artwork at the Brooklyn Museum of Art just as intriguing as a murder spree in a blizzard. I’m also fond of Vaughan’s characterization of Mitchell Hundred and the supporting cast of his staff. Well-defined personalities are the norm here, almost to the point where I can tell which character is speaking from dialogue alone.

What’s most interesting about Vaughan’s story here is that it is oddly light as far as intense moroseness and drama, but still manages to be horribly sinister. The reader is clearly meant to follow the story arc as it ebbs and flows and shifts focus from one of the three subplots, but Vaughan injects several brief plot points that highlight what could be a serious underpinning plot thread of tragedy for the protagonist. Much of Hundred’s past as the Great Machine is unknown to the reader, and while it seems obvious his superheroic career was short-lived, there were several places in his past where the character feels haunted by mistakes. References to the World Trade Center and a murderer named Jack Pherson crop up, as well as some strange imagery, helped by Tony Harris’ art, involving Hundred’s mother.

His term in office may seem bright and cheerful (as bright and cheerful being the Mayor of NYC could be), but Vaughan seems to be pushing this a little too hard; perhaps commenting on the facile nature of what it takes to make it politics. Vaughan creates a very subtle dichotomy for the reader to observe about Mitchell Hundred: there’s the Mitchell you know, that you read about, and the Mitchell you don’t know, that is suggested. And the best part is that it plays out only in minor traces and steadily throughout the comic, while never being obvious. Intricacy of plotting, thy name is Vaughan.

Tony Harris, it is good to have you back. Since his departure from Starman, I’m glad to see him working on a regular monthly series again. His artistic style has changed much from his Starman days and has even become sharper since his work on JSA: The Liberty File. This is crisp, clean artwork that is distinctive in its emotive ability and facial variation. Harris almost personifies the kind of artwork that I think should be the mean for comics: just plain good, reliable at all times artwork. Harris’s emotive style also matches well the talking-heads nature of the book, as much of the plot involves dialogue and little action, but when the action pops up, Harris continues to perform well is visually relating movement and scope.

Also of note is the coloring from J.D. Mettler. Color plays an important part in the book, as flashbacks occur regularly and Mettler gives understated nuance to these scenes, making their colors a little richer and more “homey” to invoke the idea of “past.” Mettler also works the environment well with his color schemes, making night and wintry conditions vibrant and textured, and adding highlights to the plots points mentioned earlier with eerie tones of pale green.

It’s a great collection and highly creative in its presentation, which is something I’m coming to expect from the more high-profile projects coming out of Wildstorm/DC nowadays. Well worth the $9.95 for the first five issues, as well as a behind-the-page section where Tony Harris shows off his creative process involving photo reference. Go and buy and finally find a governmental candidate that is both interesting, intelligent, and can be bought for ten bucks. If only they were all so cheap.

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days

Robert Sparling

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