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Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days
Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris (artist)
WildStorm/DC Comics, 136 pages

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days
Brian K. Vaughan
Brian K. Vaughan was born in 1976 in Cleveland, Ohio. He currently resides in San Diego but looks forward to returning to his adopted home of Brooklyn. He is the Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated co-creator of a number of comic books including Y: The Last Man, Runaways, and The Hood.

Brian K. Vaughan Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Adam Volk

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The superhero is one of those rare cultural icons that seems to have transcended time and place to become a familiar staple of pop culture and modern mythology. And yet despite the numerous appearance of spandex-clad crusaders in comic books, television and film, the superhero has often been criticized as a superficial and one dimensional construct devoid of any substance or depth. Fortunately, thanks to the continued evolution of the comic book medium over the past two decades, the superhero has now become a vibrant, multi-layered and intriguing new creation. Books such as Alan Moore's ground-breaking Watchmen and the seminal works by authors such as Frank Miller, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, have taken the clichéd notion of the superhero and reinvented them as beings with human foibles and all too real moral dilemmas to offset their larger than life personas.

Nowhere is this unique blend of superhero fantasy and reality more apparent than in Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris' magnificent superhero opus Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days. Collecting the first five issues of the popular comic book series, the story follows the life and times of Mitchell Hundred, the world's first and only superhero. Set in bustling hub of New York City, Mitchell begins his career as a masked vigilante when he comes into contact with a mysterious glowing green object at the bottom of the Hudson River. Soon after he finds himself fused with a bizarre technology that grants him the ability to control machines with a thought as well as constructing numerous bizarre and seemingly impossible inventions. Under the guidance of an enigmatic family friend known affectionately as "Kremlin," Mitchell soon adopts the moniker of "The Great Machine" a high-flying costumed hero who sets out to single handedly rid New York of crime. In a surprisingly inventive twist however, Mitchell soon discovers that New York City is unprepared for the acrobatic antics of a flesh and blood superhero, and finds himself caught up in a gray area of legal entanglements surrounding vigilante justice and the moral ramifications of his costumed meddling.

Soon after "The Great Machine" decides to hang up his tights, and Mitchell Hundred is left with the difficult choice of what to do with his new found powers. In a truly inspired interpretation of the superhero mythology, Mitchell's answer is to run for mayor of New York City. It is at this point that Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days moves from beyond a traditional, clichéd superhero tale into an innovative and highly entertaining form of graphic literature. With the aid of political spin doctor Dave Wylie and a trash talking bodyguard named Bradbury, Mitchell soon finds himself as New York's first mayor bestowed with "extra-normal powers." His abilities however are of little use in a political arena rife with back-stabbing, media blood hounds and the pressures of running a city in post-9/11 world. To complicate matters New York is hit by a brutal snow storm, a ruthless serial killer begin targeting sanitation workers, and a controversial art piece has even the jaded masses of New York in an uproar. While Mitchell struggles to keep the seemingly unrelated situations from coming to a boil, he has his own inner demons to battle as well, including his actions during the September 11th attacks and the possibility that someone in his camp might be involved in the series or murders gripping the city.

Writer Brian K. Vaughan (who is perhaps best known for his ground breaking comic book series Y: The Last Man) is at the top of his game here, and is clearly a master of his craft, not only in terms of scripting comic books, but as a writer who understands the subtleties of character, pacing and plot evolution. Vaughan offers an intriguing look not only in the life of a would-be superhero, but in the dizzying and seemingly contradictory nature of public office. The result is a brilliant and relentlessly entertaining creation that reads like a combination of The West Wing and Spider-Man. Perhaps most impressive is Vaughan's subtle and highly effective narrative. Rather than simply bombarding the reader with an overly complex plot, Vaughan carefully presents the story through a series of flash-backs, inner narratives, and brilliantly crafted present-tense scenes. In the same tradition of Alan Moore's Watchmen, Vaughan thus explores not only the nature of superheroes but the all-too real complications of living in today's modern world. It is a comic book that offers an abundance of material and philosophical implications, and a careful re-reading of the series provides even more insight into the carefully crafted world that Vaughan has created.

Even more impressive is Vaughan's subtle use of characters. Mitchell Hundred is more than just a generic superhero alter ego. He is a living breathing individual, with all aspirations, conflicts and struggles with his past. The disparate cast of characters is also presented with realistic vigor, and in a short span of time Vaughan manages to flesh out the key secondary figures that influence Mitchell's life.

Fortunately, the inventive and well-crafted script is complimented almost perfectly by the realistic visuals of Tony Harris. As an artist Harris's work is beyond reproach. His dynamic illustrations are based on life-models (which is demonstrated in greater detail in a making of section at the back of the book) and brings a subtle realism that works perfectly with the pragmatic and realistic style of Vaughan's writing.

In the end, Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days is a delightful and highly entertaining read, not only for fans of the genre but also as a welcome entry point for readers who assume that superhero tales are vapid forms of adolescent escapism. Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days is truly a ground-breaking series, and a wonderfully inventive creation that will surely have a direct impact on the continued evolution and maturity of the comic book medium.

Copyright © 2005 Adam Volk

Adam Volk may or may not be a zombie cyborg. He is also an editor with EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (www.edgewebsite.com), a freelance writer, a comic book creator and a regular reviewer for the Silver Bullet Comic Books website (www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com.).


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