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Ex Machina #1-6
By Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris and Tom Feister
Published by DC/Wildstorm

Mitchell Hundred is a former superhero and current mayor of New York City. This is the set-up of Ex Machina, a new monthly series from Wildstorm, an imprint that, as of late, been using the trappings of the superhero genre to explore more "mainstream" ideas, like maturity, corporate influence and business practice, and with this title, politics.

After a mysterious explosion, Mitchell Hundred is granted the ability to speak to machines, and becomes a superhero, although not a very good one. He quickly realizes that he could do far more good as a politician than as a costumed crusader, and runs for mayor. The initial twist of the series is that Hundred won the election through his fame as the hero of September 11, 2001, diverting one of the planes and saving the second tower from destruction.

Based on the standalone debut issue, the first story arc, and the opening of the second arc, the series has so far worked on this premise; muted super-heroics, intertwined with the more prominent political fiascoes that erupt, (a controversial art exhibit, for example), peppered with flashbacks from Mayor Hundreds mysterious past, both as a child and as the hero, The Great Machine. These plots are fascinating and socially relevant, but they don't come together or even compliment each other in any capacity other than stressing that being mayor is a hard job.

The mysteries of Ex Machina are certainly intriguing, but the first full storyline saw the two main plots wrapped up a little too easily, with the problems at hand seemingly solving themselves, and unless this is some grand narrative scheme involving actual dues ex machinas, it feel real. I'm almost tempted to give Vaughan the benefit of the doubt, however, because the writing is very sharp and at times transcendent. Going back to the opening splash page and putting into the context of the entire issue gives it an a whole new meaning, is some of the best evidence that Vaughan has a master plan. With that single page, he shows a stunning depth as a writer, and I will put my trust in him for the rest of the series.

Of course, part of the appeal of this page is the fantastic art of the consistently excellent Tony Harris. Harris seems to have taken a lesson from Kevin Maguire of Justice League fame, drawing realistic yet rubbery faces that give the talking heads scenes, of which there are many, a greater and often unexpected humor. Of course, Harris is no stranger to superheroics either, and draws some sensational dynamic images, the best of which being the previously mentioned opening splash page. But the greatest appeal of the art is JD Mettler's colors. Often bizarre and always beautiful, the colors in this series are moody yet bright, and play a big part in the book's visual appeal.

The characters are often colored with an eerie blue-green tint, giving them an almost translucent look, and rather than the traditional blending, the shadows and highlights are given their own outline which creates a distinct, unusual and somewhat disturbing look, like overexposed film. Computer coloring effects are also used very effectively. In the first issue, a villainous characters face is colored with subtle red blotches, which was a very nice touch.

The stories seem very episodic, and the strongest issue has been the first, which as a self-contained story, both initiated the series structure and was a prime example of it. It worked better both by genre conventions and its own conventions, and the following story arc, when given the space to breathe over four issues (still, a relatively small story-arc for mainstream comics), allows the flaws to reveal themselves. To his credit, Vaughan does make the most of the space he is given, with interesting, inconsequential, and often hilarious character interaction. Issue #6 contained a conversation between two subway workers that might have occurred amongst my own friends, and remains one of the funniest things I have seen in a comic all year. The central characters, especially Hundred and his staff, seem to be a little too clever and cute, but again, this plays off of superhero conventions by giving certain characters a superhuman wit and intellect.

Ex Machina is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable new superhero comics of the year, and its flaws are overshadowed by great dialogue, beautiful art, and the potential for true greatness.

-- Jef Harmatz



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