After 6 years, 50 issues and 4 specials, Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina has finally come to an end. It took me a little longer than those 6 years to finish reading it, being made to go through my comics backlog (slowly but surely)… but I think the ending of something as amazing as this deserves a bit of a farewell. Ex Machina follows the life of the retired Great Machine, Mitchell Hundred, as he successfully runs for Mayor of New York, and the next few years of his term. We have an amazing supporting cast, including Kremlim, an old Russian immigrant who’s key to Hundred becoming the Great Machine. Bradbury’s Mitchell’s best friend and became the head of his security when Hundred took office, and Wylie’s the deputy mayor of New York who challanges Hundred on many huge decisions. There’re quite a few more supporting characters, but these deserve special mention.
Flying alongside the Great Machine has been nothing short of amazing – and this coming from someone who’s generally viewed American politics amusedly. I find it difficult to take the politics in America seriously, but I won’t go into detail (if you need find out more, just follow Gail Simone when she starts her lovely rants). Vaughan himself, on his AICN interview, mentions that someone from New York’s city hall commented that “it was the made-up shit in EX MACHINA that felt most authentic”. If not for the fact that we had machine controlling voices (on top of animals and people) and the general Sci-Fi of it all, Ex Machina felt like it was all in a day’s work in any part of the American Government (at least to an outsider, me). If Hundred was President of the United States I think the story would have stood just as well (except probably with more roadblocks in policy making.)
I’m not sure how far apart you can separate Mayor Hundred and the Great Machine – them being almost the same side on the same coin. Would Ex Machina have done as well without the Great Machine? It might not have sold as well, I’m guessing, but a story of the Great Machine’s escapades alone without being interspersed with Hundred’s political career would just have not been as interesting either. It might have been fun, and we know Vaughan can do fun (Runaways), but he’s definitely in his element when doing thinly veiled political allegory (Pride of Baghdad) and or social commentary (Y the Last Man). And this shows – the comic constantly moves back and forth between the past and the “present” (time moved slower there than in our world) and themes from the action-super-hero-stuff were echoed in the day to day running of office – a direct metaphor presenting a politician as a superhero then? (See: Arh-nuld / Last Action Hero (ok, fine, bad choice of example.))
But I wonder if Vaughan got hampered by all his sci-fi loose threads and time went by. The first half or 3/4 of Ex Machina wove the 2 separate threads of Hundred’s life tightly – but as we neared the end of 50 issues it felt as if there was no real way of ramping up the challenge without pretty much making everybody gunning for him crazy, and escalating the situation to citywide panic, as a way to mirror the way he entered office. It might be silly to question the mechanics of superheroics in a comic book world, but for a book steeped in realism I felt the lead up to issue #50 just lost it.
And that brings me to issue #50, and I think I can sum it up in 1 word. “Rushed”. It’s not to say I did not like it – a second reading was way more rewarding than a first, but it felt like just to tie everything together we got an escalated event that Hundred had to jury-rig a solution out of it. I’m not sure how he and Bradbury managed what they did in such a short time, nor was I certain that the path Hundred took in the end was what I thought Hundred would have done. I’m guessing the game of politics did erode at Mitchell towards the end – but it still strikes me as odd considering how hard he worked to save the city – or was it his political career? Maybe I’ve forgotten something in the past that would very clearly answer this, but I’ll just leave it as this… that it seems Vaughan implies that no matter how pure the aim, politics will corrupt you in the end.
But while finales are important (see: Lost), let’s not let it detract from the general quality of the comic over the years. Having Vaughan and Harris always at the wheel, together with JD Mettler colouring every single issue (event for the guest artist) lent a consistent look to the comic that was almost iconic. Open to any page and I’ll know I’m reading an Ex Machina comic. From the amazing last panel of issue #1, to the nice lead off in #50, every issue and every major character had their moments (I did miss Wylie towards the end). And who can forget Mitchell Hundred choosing Garth Ennis and Jim Lee to do his autobiography? That issue just had me smiling all day.
All in all, it feels like Ex Machina had the potential to go for a few more terms, the rushed feeling of the ending just didn’t give it the send off it deserved. Still, Vaughan and Harris – what an amazing ride. We might not visit World Ex-Machina ever again, but Vaughan, if you’re reading this, you guys should work together again. And if you haven’t read it – now’s not too late to catch up. You might not be able to get all issues as singles, but the final TPB will be released in November.