Hey everyone! Hope you’re all enjoying yourselves now that the weather has cleared up a little – despite freezing my ass off in the morning, it’s nice to see relatively clear skies for once. Small talk about the weather aside, the Pulp machine keeps on going no matter what, and this week I’ve got a cracker of a book to talk about: Ex Machina, written by Saga mastermind Brian K. Vaughn. Vaughn has a knack for writing stories that are just a little off-kilter and in your face; all you need to do is look at some of the multi-page spreads in Saga and you’ll know what I mean. While it’s a little more subdued than some of his other works, Ex Machina still has that attitude that has made me a big fan of Vaughn’s work.
Mitchell Hundred is a superhero. At least, he used to be. Now he’s mayor of New York City. In the past, he was the tech-based superhero known as the Great Machine, and prevented the collapse of the second tower of the World Trade Centre in 2001. Lamenting his failure to do more, and realising the extent of the collateral damage he’d caused over his short career, Hundred decided to run for mayor, and on the back of his actions during 9/11 he is elected in a landslide.
Now, his days are spent manoeuvring through a tempestuous and hostile political landscape; Republicans want his head for supporting marriage equality, and Democrats hate him for not fixing every problem at once. When his old NSA handler goes missing, and people start making attempts on his life, Hundred has to resist the urge to don his old uniform and stop the insanity the old fashioned way.
Ex Machina is a complicated story, no doubt, but it’s fascinating at the same time. Hundred’s political career is definitely the focus, and superheroic exploits are only explored during flashback sequences; Vaughn essentially drip-feeds the more fantastical aspects of the story, and it breaks up the political intrigue perfectly. It reminds me of Oliver Queen’s run as Mayor in Green Arrow, though I found myself warming to Ex Machina a lot more because it’s so much more believable. Artist Tony Harris (Starman) does a remarkable job, too; his character designs are fantastic, and he manages to keep what is essentially a book about politicians in suits visually interesting. He particularly shines when Hundred shows off his powers, and his work compliments Vaughn’s writing really, really well.
One of my common complaints about the books I tend to read for this column is that not enough information is let through in the first volume of most titles. I understand that it’s deliberate – how else do you get people to keep reading? But at the same time, it’s frustrating to be left in the dark with minimal explanation. Ex Machina filled in the gaps perfectly; there’s still some mystery, has you would expect, but at the same time I have a much better understanding of Hundred and his motivations than a lot of other characters I’ve encountered. Perhaps that’s due to the large nature of the book (it has 11 issues in the first volume, as opposed to an average of 5 or 6 in more mainstream titles) – I think I prefer more long form stories to short, segmented chunks like in your standard DC or Marvel fare.
All things considered, Ex Machina is more a political story than a superhero one, but that shouldn’t put you off; it’s smart, entertaining and most importantly, a hell of a good read.
Written by Alastair McGibbon