Ex Machina is a comic book about a superhero. Well, a past-tense superhero – comic fan and civil engineer Mitchell Hundred gained the power to control machines, and embarked on a brief superhero career as The Great Machine, before jacking it in and running for Mayor of New York, believing he could do more good that way.
The series itself, by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, starts off with Hundred sitting alone in the dark offering to tell the story of his four years in office, with one warning: “It may look like a comic book, but it’s really a tragedy.”
Well, he wasn’t lying.
The Tragic Machine
Not that I’ll be spoiling the ending, but I’m just saying: it lives up to the tease. Oh, and if you can read the whole series without looking at spoilers, it’s definitely worth doing.
The comic began in 2004, and ran through for fifty issues to a pre-planned conclusion – I read the first few collected editions around the time they came out, then slacked off comics for a while. After Vaughan recently returned to prominence with Saga, a new sci-fi series drawn by Fiona Staples, I decided to finish it off.
The execution of Ex Machina is aptly mechanical – Vaughan’s work always brings the feel of having real thought behind it, from detailed character backgrounds to universe-building, as well as the clear research that’s gone into the political scenarios. (So much research that the characters can’t stop spilling factoids.)
But honestly, it’s the tragic spiral of Mitchell Hundred that’s both most compelling and most difficult to read. As witnessed by the recent success of Breaking Bad, everyone loves a good epic tragedy – watching a character you both love and hate plunge down a horrible rabbithole of their own making is hard to look away from.
Ex Machina might not be entirely perfect – meanders a bit in the middle, slight habit of forgetting supporting cast members until they suddenly become important, – but particularly when read quickly as a whole story, rather than small chunks, these things don’t register as much.
The art is a big part of the success as well; Harris’s photo-realistic style makes it easy to take Mitchell Hundred’s human struggles seriously, even though he has multiple flashbacks to dressing in a silly costume. Said style can vary a lot, sometimes between issues, but it’s never less than lovely
.In short, if you enjoy the big-name mature reader comic sagas like Preacher or Transmetropolitan, I think Ex Machina has earned its place on that list. Maybe it’s not taken as seriously due to the superhero elements, I don’t know, but it’s a great, thoughtful comic. Now, I really need to check out Saga.