Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ex Machina Vol. 1: The First 100 Days by Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris

For some reason that I simply cannot explain, I resisted the comic Ex Machina for a long, long time. This defies reason for me on a number of levels: it's written by one of my favorite writers (Brian K. Vaughn, the man who is at least in part responsible for the single best season of Lost - the season 5 time-traveling arc, for those who care), and it's meticulously illustrated by another favorite, Tony Harris. So why did I, only now, start reading this series? Beats me, but I'm glad I finally climbed aboard. Better late than never.

For those who, like me, haven't joined in for the fun of Ex Machina, the only place to start is with the first collected volume, subtitled The First 100 Days. It chronicles, albeit often artfully out of sequence, the first post-inaugural days of New York Mayor Mitchell Hundred and his political rise to power. Certainly this is novel material for a comic book, but there's a twist. Hundred used to be a super hero in a world where superheroes don't exist. He strangely called himself "The Great Machine" and flew around New York with an oddball aviator-meets-Rocketeer outfit, saving citizens in distress with his strangely-acquired power over all machines. Something happened on the day of 9/11, however, (I haven't gotten to the specifics of what, exactly, yet, so I'm as in the dark as anyone else) that caused Hundred to both reveal his identity and retire The Great Machine forever.

Still not convinced? How about if I tell you that writer Vaughn uses this premise to dig into all sorts of political minutia and arcana from New York history? Or that the series, unlike conventional comics, spends as much time entangled in the political realities of life in New York (protests over a controversial art exhibit, for example) as it does in the throes of superheroics? In short, it's as mature a superhero comic as has been seen in years, and every aspect of its writing and art screams the love of its creators. Like the best comics, Ex Machina works on multiple levels. Those looking for action and adventure will find it in sufficient supply, but those looking for depth of plot and characterization and a wealth of clever dialogue, will find those as well. Like the Greek device that inspired its name, Ex Machina is truly making something divine to help us rise above the mundane.

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