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Ex Machina Book 1

Ex Machina Book 1 back

Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Every bit as witty, pithy and compelling as the same author's SAGA, I give you the finest political fiction infected with a nasty science-fiction virus and drawn with a smooth and sexy neo-classical realism with big, bold forms and the most voluptuous shadows.

This repackages the first two original softcovers with, umm, the first chapter of volume three. Which is weird. And unhelpful. Still, a long time has passed since I reviewed the first two books and I've since learned to enthuse about this series slightly differently (plus I now know how it ends - one of the most unexpected dénouements in comics' history!) so it is time for a substantial rewrite.

I loved The West Wing: one of my three all-time favourite television series with snap-snap, deadpan dialogue and prices to be paid. But I am a liberal-leftie-feminist and The West Wing - let us be honest - was a liberal-leftie-feminist's wet dream. President Bartlett and his fiercely intelligent, movingly compassionate, education-orientated speech writers, however flawed, had all the best lines. The corporate cronies on the right were a bunch of smug, initiative-stifling weasels. Or were they? Just like The West Wing, EX MACHINA gives some of the best lines and arguments to random Republicans and I love that; plus Mayor Mitchell Hundred is far from squeaky-clean.

The present:

Mitchell Hundred can talk to mechanical objects - he can order them about. He can make guns backfire, lights switch off, and disable bugging devices with a word. Which is handy if you're a politician. Quite how this process came about, we don't yet know. What we do know is that Mitchell decided that he could make a bigger difference to people's lives as Mayor of New York City rather than some sort of superhero. He could make them easier. Unfortunately it's making his life more difficult.

Here he is at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, subsidised by grants from his office, standing in front of an imposing painting of President Abraham Lincoln (the "Great Emancipator") upon whose portrait has been stencilled the word "nigger". It's not graffiti; it's the artist's own statement. In that situation, what is the first question you would ask yourself?

"This artist. Is she...?"
"Is she what, Mr. Mayor?"
"Is she, you know...?"
"Is she black?"

Meanwhile, as a snowstorm threatens to engulf the city and bring it to a halt (since its snow ploughs and ploughmen are being targeted by a terrorist), we are given glimpses into how Mayor Hundred got elected in the first place, who stood in his way and the methods they used to do so. Also, I made mention of the nasty science-fiction strain and some really vicious horror comes home to roost even closer than you might expect.

But my favourite bits are the politics and the humour. As promised there are arguments here during which each side sounds equally convincing, and not everyone you'd expect to be cool is quite the cucumber you'd hope and not every lemon is as sour. For example, progressive Mayor Mitchell Hundred is determined to marry his right-hand-man Wylie's equally black brother Todd to Todd's white Republican boyfriend Bill in spite of the potential public and legal backlash. But Bill isn't necessarily as grateful as you might imagine...

"Sometimes, you can be so hopelessly fucking naive."
"Believe what you want. I've met the Mayor a few times. He's good people. Hell, anyone who can put up with my brother on a daily basis is a saint."
"Hundred's just another homophobe with a title. If he were serious about same-sex marriage, he'd let us meet in his office, not outdoors like friggin' animals."

Cue Mayor Hundred strolling onto the scene:

"Sorry, I thought you two'd be familiar with City Hall Park from all your late night "cruising". Kidding, of course. Everyone knows you people stick to The Rambles for that."

Lastly, dogmatic atheist and all-round sceptic Hundred comes down pretty damn hard on a fortune teller and exits in a cowardly fashion. Here's why she claims she predicted 9/11 but only told one soul she saved, yet didn't alert the authorities:

"Who would have listened to me, Mr. Hundred? All I would done is set up my family and myself for a lengthy detention by federal authorities."

And she isn't wrong, is she?

Next volume: we return to that same-sex marriage and I have repeatedly promised you that not everything here will be as black and white as it seems. Nor as rose-tinted. I may also have mentioned that I like that.
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