X: Deus, Exby Bobby Acosta on Aug. 03, 2011, under Brian K. Vaughan, Comic Books, Opinion, Reviews
With merely a month away from an anniversary that none of us like to acknowledge, I believe it’s time to get a feel for what the comic book world was like. I hadn’t realized it, but a few of the stories I had selected for future articles all shared some interesting similarities: they were all published around the time or dealt with the September 11th terrorist attacks in the year 2001.
So, in keeping with the beat of my last theme, of some of the best non-superhero comics that are on the shelves, I break that mold with a non-superhero comic that features a superhero that also was published with a theme around the politics of post-9/11.
Ex Machina was first published by DC Comics Wildstorm Imprint in 2004, and ran until 2010. All in all, the series only lasted for 50 issues, meaning this is one of those published series that actually contains a beginning, middle, and end of the narrative. Interesting, since the series was written by an author we have already talked about, Brian K. Vaughan of Y: The Last Man fame, and just like that series, this one stands above others for several reasons. Accompanying Vaughan on this journey is artist, Tony Harris, who we can get to later. The first volume of the finite series, “The First Hundred Days”, is the volume we’re examining.
Ex Machina has been equated as mix between the television show “The West Wing” and the first “X-Men” movie. Our story centers on the world’s only known super being, Mitchell Hundred, who once experienced a career as it’s only superhero, aptly named “The Great Machine”, in reference to a quote made by Thomas Jefferson describing the political systems of our nation. In a world where there never were any heroes, Vaughan shows us what it would be like.
And it’s not necessarily pretty.
Hundred was merely an engineer, fascinated with machinery and all its wonders. His friends believed he knew more about the Brooklyn Bridge than anyone else alive. One night, helping his harbor patrol friend Rick Bradbury investigate an odd glowing device by the Brooklyn Bridge. Encountering it, Hundred’s left side of the face is scarred and he is given the power to communicate with any and all machines, ranging from radios to cars to trains to guns. Do they always obey him? No. Is he the hero America needed and wanted? No, most definitely not.
But his courageous actions in stopping the second plane on September 11th and saving the second World Trade Center Tower were enough to land him the Mayoral position of New York City. Right away, political intrigue and mystery arises. Soon, Mitchell Hundred, former hero, finds himself embroiled in the dangerous and, more often than not, despicable world of politics. Our story begins in the year 2005, as Hundred recounts his entire political career to some unknown entity, and lets us know about his time in office from 2002 until 2005. First off: his inauguration and the murder of a snow plow driver.
What exactly is this book out to prove? Brian K. Vaughan has stated that he originally decided to write this series out of a serious disappointment with the political systems of the time. This can prove true, because looking at the years it was originally published and looking at the time the series is supposed to be taking place (2002, right after the attacks), it’s clear to see that these were very turbulent times in our country when it came to the political landscape.
Of course, since this is Brian K. Vaughan, we can already expect well written characters with a real sense of charm and intelligence and just the slightest bit of sarcasm. Everyone, from Hundred’s best friend/bodyguard Rick Bradbury and his tough as nails attitude, to the new college intern with a serious knowledge of all things artistic related, Journal Moore, every character shines with their own traits and quirks. Since this is the world of New York City politics, you’re never sure who you can trust. Hundred comes to find that out the hard way. With every new relationship, and with every New York City civil service worker killed, Hundred comes to understand more and more that playing the game by the rules, without being a superhero, is more difficult than it seems.
Before we talk more about Hundred and what Vaughan was hoping to accomplish with him and this series as a whole, I feel the need to mention Tony Harris, the artistic side of this series. His work with Vaughan led “Ex Machina” to win the Eisner for Best New Series in 2005. Harris uses and interesting technique called the “lightbox”. What this means is, Harris will use real life models to create the scenes that he needs and transfers them on a computer to create a model page of the comic.
In this first volume, the back shows what that would look like. Using models and placing them to create the scene and the atmosphere, Harris then uses the “lightbox” tool to outline any important poses or scene structures and fills in the spaces with the important details of the characters. It really does gives his characters a unique and interesting look. Like, they can move and act all by themselves.
However, sometimes it does make them look stiff and unlively. I’ve mentioned before that trying to go for that sense of realism in comics is difficult, because you do walk that line of making your characters look like they’ve been traced by a ten year old. Harris does a good job of keeping it in the realm of not-bad.
So what’s the entire focus of a series like this? One that takes someone unimaginable (like a superhero with the ability to communicate with machines and once flew around New York City with a jetpack) and places them in a very imaginable position (the Mayor of New York City)?
Vaughan’s views on politics, meaning which side he leans towards, is unknown to me because frankly, I do not know the man. Mitchell Hundred, our new mayor, is Republican but many of his advocates and important players lie on the side of the liberal agenda.
Not many people know this, but when Superman was first introduced all the way back in 1938, he was a champion of the people. That sounds really obvious now, considering that his main role is to save people from all dangers, big and small. However, I’m talking more along the lines of protecting the people, even if it goes against what the law says to be legal. He was a hero for the people, by the people, and not by any government. A little while ago, there was political drama over Superman (not Clark Kent) deciding he should drop his American citizenship because the world carries much greater weight to him than being just a member of this one country. Superman doesn’t just belong to us, he belongs to the world.
That’s going a tad off topic, but the point still stands that Superman was never one to operate inside the law. He was never on the same level as Batman or The Punisher in being a vigilante, but he had an outstanding moral compass that always led him to do what was right, not what was legal.
Mitchell Hundred, former hero known as The Great Machine, currently Mayor of New York City (as far as we know, with the story being told from a future perspective) retired from crime fighting to take office. As a super hero, he was never well received. The police constantly hounded him and tried to arrest him. Normal citizens believed he was a menace or was just trying to show off so he could go home to his hot, super model wife or girlfriend.
Times have definitely changed since Superman showed up to save us no matter what.
Even in this adversity, Hundred believes that he can make a difference. Even going against the wills and advices of his cabinet and best friends, Hundred attempts to be a hero and try to make the laws of his city not only lawful, but just. Maybe he’s trying to bring back that attitude that Superman upheld long ago. In the first issue alone, as a young boy, we are shown that Mitchell Hundred loved DC Comics, Superman especially. This boy then grew up to be a man that saved one of the Twin Towers, something I’m sure, we all wish would have happened.
Now, if only our real politicians carried those same ethics and codes that make Superman the greatest. Our recent, close-call debt ceiling debacle nearly showed that maybe they should.
I think that’s what Brian K. Vaughan has been trying to show as well.
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Rob Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. Contact him at email@example.com