Comic Close-Up #2: Ex Machina Volume I: The First Hundred Days

Earlier this year, I walked into Graham Cracker Comics (downtown Chicago) and said “What do you recommend for someone who likes Saga?” From there I was walked around by one of their friendly and knowledgable employees–an old man whose name escapes me at the moment. He showed me a lot of comics: such as Deadly class, Revival, Lock and Key, Rachel Rising etc. But I decided to go with another one of his suggestions, a comic with the same author as Saga… Ex Machina written by Brian K. Vaughan, penciled by Tony Harris, inked by Tom Feister, and colored by JD Mettler.

ABOUT THE COMIC

2500_400x600Ex Machina is a 50 issue comic book series, published by DC Comics under Wildstorm imprint from 2004 to 2010. Volume I: The First Hundred Days, which I will be discussing here, consists of 5 issues. If you become interested in the series, you can also purchase the Deluxe Edition books (10 issues in each, 5 books total).

Ex Machina is about the world’s first and only superhero, Mitchell Hundred: a civil engineer turned superhero (a freak incident gave him the power to communicate with/command mechanical devices) turned politician (after a short-lived, failed career as a superhero). When I was told the premise of this comic, I was a little skeptical. A comic book about Mitchell Hundred… as mayor of NYC? But I trusted Brian K. Vaughan and the old man working at the comic book store, so I went for it. And I was right to do so.

WHY I…
need to read the next volume

Ex Machina Volume 1: The First Hundred Days is a refreshing joy full of surprises, tension, humor, and wit. If you’ve been following my blog, or know me personally, you know I love unconventional narrative structure. So, naturally, I was a big fan of the way Ex Machina jumps to different points in time–peaking the reader’s curiousity and forcing us to make connections ourselves. This is the main reason I feel the need to continue with the series. Ex Machina may only be 50 issues but its a 200 piece puzzle. Each issue provides different pieces of the timeline. Something I read in issue 1 can become relevant in light of issue 4 and vis versa. And that’s just within this first volume. I’m left to wonder: how does this X-snippet of Mitchell’s career as a superhero inform my understanding of Y-snippet during his time in office. Having just read volume 1, what do I already know that I won’t understand until later in the series?

Another thing I appreciate about this is how explicit the time jumps are; they’re always labeled with the day, month, date, and year. The opening of volume 1 is really intriguing because it sets Mitchell as the frame narrator of the series. What we are reading is a sort of account:

IMG_5483

The political nature of the comic is, obviously, its most intriguing element. As Mitchell became mayor thanks to his heroic feats during 9/11–saving one of the twin towers. A national tragedy increasing someone’s political power sure sounds familiar. Which makes the presumed government official attempting to blackmail him into using his superpower to help US troops in Afghanistan, all the more complex and suspicious. Is our protagonist, Mitchell Hundred “one of the good guys” and can politics ever be that black and white? The answer to both is “probably not.”

Watching Hundred struggle with his new career as mayor and deal with the stress of his superpower also provides an interesting dynamic:
IMG_5766 FullSizeRender (7)

RECOMMENDED FOR…

  • those who like historical fiction and/or politics 
    It’s too soon to tell how much this series will “borrow true characteristics of the time-period” but with the incorporation of 9/11 (though highly modified i.e one tower still stands in the comic) and early mention of “…Bush in his flight suit and Arnold getting elected governor…” shows that there’s at least some historical grounding–more so than other comics. And the political element goes without saying at this point.
  • those who aren’t into “traditional” superhero comics
    By traditional I mean the supervillain /crime-fighting sequences someone outside the comic community might envision as soon as they think “comics.” I made a similar recommendation when it came to Sex Criminals: if you don’t see yourself as a comic book person because Spiderman, Batman, etc hold no interest to you outside of the theatre… you might want to check Ex Machina out. While it includes some action scenes typical of “traditional comics” it spends a lot of time on the political side of things. A good starting point for someone new/skeptical of the comic book medium.

In closing, I had a great time reading this Volume 1 of Ex Machina and am intrigued enough to continue with the series. Just within this volume, there were a lot of surprises (which I will elude to vaguely to avoid spoilers). Such as the painting at the museum (Well then…) and the uncertainty surrounding Kremlin, Hundred’s mentor during his time as a superhero who believes that path is Hundred’s destiny. I love this politically infused, non-linear narrative, and look forward to getting the whole picture as the story continues.

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