Ex Machina

Unlike every other hero I can remember, Mitchel Hundred isn’t wealthy. At all. In fact, the guy lives in low-income housing. Until he becomes the major of New York. So what catapults a nobody engineer working for the city to the city’s highest office? How about a jetpack, a couple of friends, and the ability to talk to machines? Oh, and saving Tower 2 from being destroyed on 9/11. And that’s where this story begins.

Ex Machina chronicles the story of New York major Mitchel Hundred, a guy formerly known as “The Great Machine.” He got his power after some artifact under the Brooklyn bridge exploded on him, leaving him both disfigured and able to shut down half of Manhattan by merely saying so. Using this new found power, and the engineering savvy of Kremlin and the security knowledge of Rick Bradburry, “The Great Machine” takes to the skies with a jet pack in order to fight crime.

Ex Machina
Here’s the first thing that struck me about this story line: I didn’t see a constant stream of new gadgets bought with the funds of an endless bank account. Even the government isn’t paying The Great Machine. The thing is, this story isn’t the story of a superhero. This is the story of the mayor of New York, who happens to have been elected because he was a superhero, and then only after he saved one of the towers. So then what’s the comic about? Social commentary. Sure, it’s got a superhero. But that story line plays second to the social commentary used as a framework. School vouchers, gay marriages, vigilante action, offensive art shows, etc.

The story is reliant on many flashbacks which while sometimes awkward, allow the reader to learn more about the characters involved in the current tale. It also gives the writers a chance to test the reader’s ability to think around corners. Most stories rely heavily on misdirection and the resolution thereof for their superhero street creds, and while that makes of an intriguing story what makes it even better is the depth of the characters involved.

The writing wasn’t something I was particularly impressed with, since there’s no clear distinction between the way different characters talk. (Except for minor characters, who are usually dumb.) Of course, I’ve probably been spoiled by reading too much of Joss Whedon’s stuff, but I’ll stick to the comment. That’s not to say that the characters aren’t interesting (they are, somewhat) or that the story isn’t good (it is, very), but if I didn’t see who was speaking I generally wouldn’t be able to tell who was speaking. (Hurray for speech bubbles!)

An interesting aspect is how the story shows police. Turns out that most of the time they’re superior to some caped crusader. In fact, unlike most hero-style comics, Ex Machina doesn’t treat the police force like a group of half-wits waiting to clean up the superhero’s mess.

Another theme is what happens once a “superhero” outs himself. Now, unlike just about every other comic book hero, The Great Machine doesn’t have a any major arch nemesis, so it’s not a similar situation to what happens in Marvel’s Civil War series. Instead, this guy has to deal with people sending him dog crap in the mail because they were still pissed about something he did.

The artistic style of the comic is one I don’t particularly care for. It’s done using real-life models for the shots (altered somewhat but still realistic looking), which gives it that creepy, uncanny valley type of feeling. I got used to it after a while, but it was still creepy, and it’s still uncomfortable. Visually speaking I’m not attracted to this, and if it wasn’t for the story I would have dropped the series almost immediately. I guess I wanted something more realistic looking (like DC’s Kindgom Come) or something more cartoony. Interestingly, this isn’t much of a problem with many of the comics which transition from movies and television to the graphic novel. (For a few great samples, check out Dark Horse Comic’s lineup.) I’m surprised it’s a problem here.

Overall, Ex Machina is an enjoyable comic for people who are politically engaged. While you may not agree with the views presented in the story (and for the most part, I don’t) the writers have done a great job making something work — an almost purely political story — in a medium dominated by people flying around in their underpants. Surprisingly, readers of manga may actually enjoy this type of comic more than other American-style comics, simply because of how it deals with real life issues, something seen more in manga than in comics.

FYI: I picked up the first five collections of Ex Machina at my local library. Maybe you can do the same. Of course, if you want to own a copy, check out your local comic book store. (If you’re near Davie, Florida, make sure to check out my friends over at War and Pieces. Finally, you can read more about Ex Machina — including spoilers — on WikiPedia.

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