I’m often accused of being a nerd when I tell people I really enjoy reading comic books – and am often greeted with looks of disgust when I reveal how much I spend on this hobby – but I feel like in recent times the genre has finally started to move away from the image of bespectacled whiny nerds with bad breath and even worse facial hair and into the valid form of artistic expression that it always had the potential to be recognised as.
Of course, I feel like this is largely due to several huge movie adaptations of several prominent 80’s Alan Moore series, such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen and From Hell. Granted these are usually terrible – so much so that Moore even campaigned to have his name taken off most of them – but I feel like once the idea of the genre has been opened to people and they start to view it with less scepticism then they can really begin to enjoy the wealth of entertainment that is available to them in this format. Ex Machina is definitely one such story and has received high praise from publications such as Playboy, Vice and Entertainment Weekly – which called it one of the top ten ‘novels’ of 2006.
Ex Machina tells the story of the world’s only superhero, Mitchell Hundred, who was granted the power to communicate and control machines after a bizarre accident involving a strange artefact in the New York harbour. He initially embarks on a career fighting crime as the rather gimpy looking and sounding ‘Great Machine’, but after mixed results decides instead to hang up his tights and run for Mayor of New York City. Hundred wins by a landslide after cashing on on the popularity he found after putting on his suit one last time and managing to stop the collapse of the second tower during 9/11 by using his power to land the plane safely. The book’s ten volumes tell the story of his five years in office.
This is NOT a conventional superhero book. Sure, there are elements of Hundred’s former life that come back to haunt him during his tenure as mayor, as well as frequent flashbacks to his former career, but it reads more like The West Wing crossed with Lost with a hint of Heroes rather than the other way round. Throughout its 50 issues, Mayor Hundred has to deal with such controversies as gay marriage, abortion, a failing school system and the 2003 blackout, as well as less obvious problems such as the possible re-emergence of his arch nemesis Jack Pherson (who has the power to control animals).
Each storyline generally tackles a political issue, interspersed with relevant flashbacks to Hundred’s life as the Great Machine as well as furthering the end game of the Mayor, those involved in his administration and those that granted him his powers. Brian K Vaughan tackles all of this with superb skill and is ably assisted by the art team of Tony Harris and J.D. Mettler, ensuring that the plot or artwork is never confusing and flows phenomenally well. And it all comes together perfectly at the end, making complete sense and without leaving any loose ends either (unlike so many popular TV shows these days). Although it is fvcking heartbreaking.
Ex Machina is pretty much the perfect comic book and as such the perfect introduction to comic books for the outsider and can probably claim to b the definitive ‘modern day’ take on the ‘real world’ superhero. It had been claimed previously to its publication that you should never mix politics with comic books, but Vaughan pulls it off effortlessly, creating a sprawling tapestry of issues, storylines and characters that would rival the best output HBO has to offer. Check it out, I guarantee you won’t regret it.