By Brian K. Vaughn (Author) and Tony Harris (Illustrator) DC Comics/Vertigo (Publisher) Review by Carolyn Marcille.
If Alan Moore’s Watchmen changed the tenor of the superhero forever, Ex Machina could be what happens if Nite Owl ran for public office. Take a well-meaning individual who is suddenly graced with powers beyond his understanding, and watch as he tries to figure out how best to use them. Moore had them become vigilantes; Vaughn asks them to run for public office. Ex Machina is especially interesting because it asks the reader to decide in what capacity an individual can do the most good: as a homegrown, secret Superman, or as the visible face of an embattled city. Mitchell Hundred, given the power to read the “thoughts” of machines after making contact with an alien artifact, starts off small – saving teenagers from foolishness and rescuing damsels in distress. But after his “Rocketeer”-style set-up allows him to protect the second World Trade Center tower on September 11th, he feels he could help more people if he puts down the super suit and picks up the Brooks Brothers. This is the crux of the text: As “The Great Machine,” Hundred was a symbol, bound by no rules. And it was his actions outside of the restrictions of government that allowed him to make a difference on 9/11. But that was a singular action, and therefore not one that is likely to be repeated. As a public servant, he surrenders his symbol status but gains the ability to attempt to make long-term changes for his community through sustainable policies. By examining Hundred and the various iterations of power he embodies, Ex Machina is a text that manages to be both thoughtful and exciting at the same time.