Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris (creators), Tom Feister (inks), JD Mettler (colors) and Jared K Fletcher (letters), Ex Machina, Book One (Vertigo 2013) – originally published in 11 single magazines in 2004 and 2005
Having decided – several times – not to read any more superhero comics, here I am again. But this one is written by Brian K Vaughan, who was to go on to write the wonderful comic series Y: The Last Man, Paper Girls, and Saga (currently on hiatus).
What if the world’s first real superhero had been jetting around New York City on 11 September 2001, and had managed to intercept the second plane, saving thousands of lives? What if he realised that superhero vigilantism was of limited effectiveness and decided that he could probably do more good by running for Mayor of New York City? And what if he won the election as an independent candidate?
Ex Machina begins when civil engineer Mitchell Hundred, having decided to end his brief career as superhero The Great Machine, has indeed been elected New York’s mayor, bound by promises not to discuss publicly the origins of his superpowers (biggest of which is the ability to communicate with machines) an not to use those powers to do things best left to the police.
It goes without saying that things don’t go smoothly. Hundred inherits the New York mayoral burden of being blamed for everything. (Seth Meyers made hay with this tradition in his first Closer Look after Eric Adams became Mayor earlier this month.) He also has to deal with the burning issues of the early 2010s: terrorism, of course, but also same sex marriage, racism and the ongoing culture wars. And it wouldn’t be a superhero comic, even a retired one, without an overall arc involving mysterious possibly-alien graffiti and hideous serial killings … to be continued.
I don’t know that I’d recommend the book to serious lovers of fine literature, but I enjoyed it, and look forward to the subsequent five volumes. If nothing else, I enjoy Brian K Vaughan’s regular info-gems. For just one example, when his chief of staff points out that by officiating at a same-sex marriage he has alienated a huge segment of the population, he answers: ‘When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he turned to one of his aides and said, “I believe we’ve just lost the south forever.”‘ This isn’t the Marvel universe.