April 04, 2005

EX MACHINA: The First Hundred Days

EX MACHINA: The First Hundred Days (writer: Brian K. Vaughan; pencils: Tony Harris; collecting EX MACHINA 1-6). EX MACHINA is the story of a man who, after a brief and not entirely successful stint as the world's only superhero, gets elected mayor of New York City in a remarkable turn of alternate recent history. It's more a tale of politics seen through the superhero lens than a superhero story in itself, and thus obviously belongs to the WATCHMEN tradition of using superheroics as an explicit commentary on power.

There are two common problems with this approach: first, it is difficult to articulate a coherent and sophisticated ideology in a traditional superhero adventure, and second, such stories can become so abstract and symbolic that they fail to meet even the low standards of naturalistic characterization that prevail in superhero comics. The jury is still out on the ideological issue, and admittedly that will probably determine whether the title turns out to be merely a competent comic or something more interesting. From what I hear of Vaughan's Y: THE LAST MAN, there may be some cause to worry, but I do like the way he conjures up the ghost of good old-fashioned 70s liberalism here, the kind I grew up surrounded by and which has tended to drop out of our current political discourse. What is really satisfying about this volume of EX MACHINA, though, is the texture of the story, the way Vaughan meets the second problem by conjuring up a recognizable, livable New York, full of ordinary people and extraordinary details. The book's sly suggestion that the surreal world of mainstream superheroes has nothing in bizarreness and drama on New York politics is perpetually amusing.

So far, Vaughan's taking the slow road with characterization. While we're already starting to get a good idea of Mitchell Hundred's naivete and determination, most of the other characters are still vague around the edges. However, this is only to be expected from the very first trade. There are intriguing glimpses of backstory already beginning to pop up, and the main plots, which seem to be focusing on people who choose sensational routes to make their points at the expense of the city, so far nicely reflect the emerging thematic preoccupations of the book. The art is of mixed success; sometimes it's a little stagey and posed, even for a political drama, and sometimes it's oddly dreamy and lyrical and affecting.

At any rate, I'll be following EX MACHINA in trade, and if you want to signal the Big Two that it's worth going outside the pure superhero story once in a while, picking it up yourself will be a good, and painless, way to do it.

Posted by Sarah T. at 02:37 AM | Comments (0)