Ex Machina Vol 1: The First Hundred Days (Review)

Review by Kris Green

Ex Machina Vol 1: The First Hundred Days
By (author) Brian K. Vaughan,
By (artist) Tony Harris,
By (artist) Tom Feister,
By (artist) J. D. Mettler,
Publisher DC Comics
Format Paperback | 136 pages

Origin stories are a staple of superhero fiction. You could be struck by lightning, submerged in weird alien goo, or maybe exposed to lethal doses of gamma radiation and instead of developing dozens of exotic cancers and dying a horrible death, you develop super powers and decide to fight crime. That’s what happens to Mitchell Hundred in Briak K Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Saga) and Tony Harris (Starman, Iron Man)’s Ex Machina. Civil-engineer-turned-superhero, Mitchell Hundred interacts with a weird device under Brooklyn Bridge which explodes granting him the ability to communicate with machines – and have them do his bidding. Hundred develops an alter-ego called The Great Machine, and with the help of his friends: Kremlin, a mechanic, and Bradbury, a former U.S. Marine turned Harbor Patrol, decides to help his city by donning a jet-pack and fighting crime.

If you spend five minutes on the internet you can find a criticism of Batman that goes like this: if Batman was really interested in fighting crime, he wouldn’t get dressed up in a costume and punch villains. Instead he’d run for office in Gotham as Bruce Wayne and put his money to work. Poverty, inequality, lack of education, those are the real root causes of crime, and Bruce Wayne could make more of a mark on those than Batman ever could. Batman doesn’t fight crime, the commentary goes, he punches criminals. Of course, if you’re well versed in the Batman stories you’d know about the Foundations set up under the names Martha and Thomas Wayne to sponsor soup kitchens and fund education, but let’s forget about that for a minute because the internet critic is kind of right.

In the world of Ex Machina, The Great Machine is the only superhero. There aren’t any others. And after a brief, aborted, attempt to save the world as The Great Machine, Mitchell decides to trade in his small cachet of notoriety and run for the office of Mayor of New York City.

That’s what Ex Machina is about. It’s a comic about how there are no real heroes. It’s about the mudslinging in politics, it’s about a man who can speak to machines who does more good organizing garbage removal and snow ploughs than fighting two-bit criminals over some old lady’s stolen handbag. In this Ex Machina does something I’ve never seen before in a comic. Oh, I’ve seen attempts made (some good, some bad) at handling issues like gay marriage or drug legalization, but Ex Machina folds them into an ongoing story about the Mayor of NYC who just happens to be a superhero. Perhaps more importantly, it never feels like it trivializes those issues.

If you’re interested in pulp superhero violence, this title probably isn’t for you – although later in the series there’s plenty of villain punching. If you’re a fan of political drama, with plenty of humor, if you like The West Wing, or House of Cards, you’ll probably really enjoy this. The first volume is a bit of a slow burner, but easily showcases Vaughan’s writing and humor (and there’s plenty of humor, most of it dark). I tend to be easily put off a book if I don’t like the art, and I found Harris’ art a little harder to get into, but it’s competent even if it feels a little stiff in places, though the realism suits the subject material well.

All in all, The First Hundred Days is an excellent beginning.

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