[This review comes from guest reviewer Erika Peterman of the I Don't Read My Blog Either blog.]
Writer Brian K. Vaughan set the bar high with Y: The Last Man, an epic series set in the aftermath of the sudden, mysterious death of (almost) every male on Earth. While the circumstances in Ex Machina aren’t quite that dire, the story of an unlikely superhero-turned-politician in the post-Sept. 11 era is gripping in its own way.
After a disfiguring explosion, civil engineer Mitchell Hundred emerges with the ability to hear – and command – certain machines. With the aid of a flying contraption he built, Hundred embarks on a brief, bumpy career as “The Great Machine,” a hero that his fellow New Yorkers greet initially with skepticism and flat-out scorn. Hundred’s first meeting with salty Police Commissioner Amy Angotti is comically ill fated, but it also forces him to consider the unintended consequences of his crime-fighting activities. However, one particular act of heroism plays a key role in Hundred’s retirement as The Great Machine and his ascent to an arguably more intimidating job: Mayor of New York City.
The opening pages, which show a dejected Hundred partly in shadow, strongly suggest that his term doesn’t end well: “This is the story of my four years in office, from the beginning of 2002 through Godforsaken 2005,” he says. “It may look like a comic, but it’s really a tragedy.”
Ex Machina is often described as having the feel of a top-notch television drama, and the fast pacing and layers of intrigue are especially satisfying to experience in trade form. In the first few pages alone, Mayor Hundred faces down a would-be assassin and a bold journalist who interrogates him about his origin. As Hundred’s administration handles one crisis after another – a racially incendiary painting at a publicly-funded museum and murderous attacks on city snowplow drivers – there are revealing flashbacks to his childhood and his unconventional journey to the mayor’s office.
Vaughan has surrounded Hundred with a rich supporting cast, including longsuffering Deputy Mayor Dave Wiley, irreverent bodyguard Rick Bradbury, and intern-turned-staffer Journal Moore. But Hundred’s most emotionally loaded relationship may be with his longtime friend Kremlin, an old-school radical who pressures him to suit up again as The Great Machine. Kremlin has known Hundred since he was a boy, and there’s a sense that Hundred’s status as a politician – the ultimate insider – has come between them.
Such a complex story must have been a challenge to illustrate, but Tony Harris’ pencils expertly capture the sweep of the city and the authentic facial expressions of a diverse set of characters.
There’s a saying that people who enjoy sausage and politics should never see how either are made. In the case of Ex Machina, however, the down-and-dirty nature of politics – with a helping of superpowers – makes for a highly recommended comic series.
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