Ex Machina

Books: Graphic Novel

The First Hundred Days (2005), Tag (2005), Fact v Fiction (2006), March to War (2006), Smoke Smoke (2007), Power Down (2007), Ex Cathedra (2008), Dirty Tricks (2009), Ring Out the Old (2010), Term Limits (2010)

The First Hundred Days (2005) Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris

I picked this up several months ago (before Christmas), but like other books, was putting off reading it until I had time only for something short to read.

Then I forgot I had it.

It was the name of the series, which first caught my eye, for several reasons, most of which I'm not going to discuss right now. However, anyone whose received e-mail from me should realize that I'm interested in Latin--learning it one phrase at a time. I think I'm up to, like, six whole phrases by now, and Deus Ex Machina happens to be one of them.

Mitchell Hundred has the ability to control machines. The First Hundred Days tells of the accident that gave him that ability, how he initially tried to use his powers, and how he ended up mayor of New York.

The story is interesting, and the idea behind the story is one that's fascinated me for awhile. (I really want the ability to plug my brain directly into a computer. Only without the painful jamming pointy objects directly into the back of my skull bits.) What if we could communicate directly with machines. What could we do? What would we learn?

I'm still not quite sure where he's going with the story, and I'm not sure how I feel about most of the main characters. I really like Kremlin, and I really like Dave Wylie, but I'm not so sure about the rest of 'em. There is a lot of back story to cover, so I found things a bit confusing, as we'd get a small bit of information, and I'd get interested in a story line, and then jump backwards or forwards in time. I found it a bit frustrating.

But despite the frustrating bits, it was interesting, and I'm curious as to where they're going with this, so I'll keep on reading.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 7/10

Tag (2005) Brian K Vaughan

Tag continues the story of Mitchell Hundred, also known as The Great Machine, and current mayor of NYC.

Like the first volume, the story jumps back and forth in time. This time the past focuses upon his campaign for mayor of NYC, and how he became involved with the NSA. We still know little about the time between when he had his power thrust upon him and when he began to use those powers.

The current time line looks at some of the issues that Mitchell Hundred is dealing with, including public education and vouchers, and same sex marriage.

I like the way that the series tackles politics--even when I don't agree with the views--and it's good to see Mitchell Hundred being a true independent and having views on both sides of the political fence. Whether this series will actually cause people to consider their own views? Hard to say. But I like it.

I do find frustrating the fact that we still know very little about Mitchell Hundred's history, and how he dealt with the power to control machines he received in the explosion under the bridge. Has his biology fundamentally changed? Has his brain changed? The government did lots of tests--what did they find? Is he even human any more? How long do I have to wait before I get more of his back-story?

As far as the non-political aspects of the current time line, I have to admit that I found them somewhat frustrating. Is there something that would make more sense if we knew more about Mitchell Hundred's past and the changes he went through? It's not that I'm opposed to time lines that jump back and forth, I just find them more frustrating to read.

I also missed Kremlin in this story. He was one of my favorite characters in the last collection, and he's not around in this collection. Bah!

And the gruesome levels were up for this story, so be prepared all ye who are faint of heart and squeamish of stomach. (That would pretty much be me.) It wasn't too bad, but there was a bit more detail than I needed in one or two places.

All in all, I was more drawn into this story than the first collection. I'm a little more used to the skipping back and forth in time, and the current time line story was full of questions about his powers and whatever caused them.

I don't think I could recommend starting this series at book two. I'm sure it could be done, but there is a good deal of back-story covered in the first book, and as I said before, the constant shifting back and forth in time took some time to get used to it.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 7/10

Fact v Fiction (2006) Brian K Vaughan

Fact v Fiction delves a little more into Mitchell Hundred's past, although it's his past prior to becoming the Great Machine, rather than after the accident that gave him his ability to talk to machines.

The politics in the current time line seems to be the day-to-day details of running the government, rather than the major contentious issues of the last book. Which I like just as well, because after all, the day-to-day business of running a city (or whatever) isn't all excitement (or probably even a great deal of excitement) but lots of mundane details.

Not that there were lots of mundane details here--I don't think I'd call anything about this series mundane. Nor have we yet gotten a lot of details--at least not a lot of detail about Mitchell Hundred's past right after he became "The Great Machine." We did get to seem him as a comic book buying kid, and learned about his father, and a little more about his mother.

However, I'm still frustrated that we've learned so little about how Mitchell Hundred became The Great Machine. I'm not very good at being patient, and this is requiring a lot of patience.

I was, however, glad to see Kremlin again, even if only for a little bit. Kremlin and Wiley are my favorite characters (at least for now). They both seem to have a sense of decisiveness and certainty about how the world should be, and Kremlin especially believes that you do what needs to be done, damn the consequences. Not that Mitchell Hundred lacks those qualities. I just don't notice them as much.

The story is still keeping my attention, although none of the three books has struck me as great or fantastic (Probably because I'm frustrated by not knowing more of Mitchell Hundred's back story). But it's holding my interest, so I'll keep going.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 7/10

March to War (2006) Brian K Vaughan

March to War is the fourth installment of the Ex Machina series. The president is pushing for war in Iraq, and Mitchell Hundred is dealing with the repercussions of that in New York. A group wants to have a peace protest, and the police commissioner wants him to cancel the permit, because of the possible threats to the safety and security of the city.

The first have of March to War I liked. I found the story about the parade and the events leading to the invasion of Iraq interesting. Mitchell Hundred has to deal with the fact that his actions--whatever they are--are seen as a statement about national politics, and no matter how much he wants to focus on local issues, national issues keep forcing their way into how he wants to run new York.

The second half of March to War I didn't particularly care for. I don't quite see why The Great Machine has to have an arch enemy, and why his enemy turned out the way he did. Perhaps that thread will make sense later, but for now, I found the whole bit rather frustrating. I suppose that if I'm going to learn more about Mitchell Hundred's past, I'd rather learn about what happened immediately after he gained his powers, and what happened when he was at the FBI office.

I also found the bit with Suzanne confusing--I didn't recognize her in the second story in which she made an appearance, which made it even more confusing.

So, I found this a mixed bag. I liked the first half, but didn't care as much for the second half.

Plus, we barely got to see Kremlin and Wylie. I like that Mitchell Hundred recognizes the part that Wylie plays in his life--I just wish he did more of it, and that Mitchell actually seemed like he was listening.

If you've been reading Ex Machina, you certainly want to pick up this installment. If you haven't been reading it, I still recommend the series, I wouldn't necessarily rush out to get this volume.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 6/10

Smoke Smoke (2007) Brian K Vaughan, Tony Harris, Tom Feister, JD Mettler

Okay, I must be missing something somewhere, because this is the second volume in a row of Ex Machina that I found to be only so-so. Between the title and the cover, it should be obvious that one of the threads of this volume deals with marijuana. Hundred has admitted that he smoked pot, and now everyone, from his staff to the press is in an uproar over what this means.

The other smoke thread has to do with a man going around dressed as a fireman robbing residences, which has not only placed emergency personnel at odds, but also created a danger for emergency personnel, as some in the public now fear the sight of a fireman at their door.

What I found frustrating, is that the direction the story was going didn't necessarily make a lot of sense, and although we discover who the fake fireman is, and we see the parts of Hundred's past that relate to the issues at hand, there were several story arcs that were started but not finished. Essentially, this volume asked far more questions than it answered, which is not my favorite kind of story. I prefer some resolution, and this volume didn't give that to me.

I also really didn't like the bits where we spent time with the fake fireman. Ew. That was way more graphic that I needed, and I really didn't need to know about that particular kind of fetish.

But, we did learn more about Hundred's past, and we did get to see Kremlin again, and learn more about Bradbury. But although we see a bit more about Hundred's transformation, we don't really learn anything more.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 6/10

Power Down (2007) Brian K Vaughan

In the latest installment of Ex Machina, Mitchell Hundred continues his time as mayor of New York, and the great blackout that affected the entire city is now affecting him as well–seems also to be linked to him in some way. We also continue to learn bits and pieces of Mitchell's past and his actions as The Great Machine. Mitchell also spends time with his mother, and learns that despite his falling out with Kremlin, she has a continued relationship with him.

This story continually keeps you guessing. You have no idea where things will go next, and what we will learn about Mitchell's past. This is, of course, one of the more frustrating things about the story, because it feels like I should know far more about his past than we do. I'm not a patient person, and hate waiting for anything, so waiting for Mitchell's backstory is like some obscure form of torture, especially is tiny parts are parsed out randomly. Especially since we're just more than halfway through the series.

With this volume, I enjoyed how the story progress, and that although we have not learned much more about Mitchell's past, we learn about the possible consequences of his powers. Unless of course the New Zealander really is just a madman.

I also find it interesting how everyone has expectations about Mitchell's powers, but we learn that what he truly wants is simply to be free of those powers. I especially like that part. People always talk about what kind of superpowers they'd like to have, but no one wants to talk about what it would be like to actually have those superpowers. Especially if you were one of a kind in having those powers. (Me? I don't want a superpower per se– I just want to be able to upload information directly to my brain. I could learn anything instantaneously. That would rock.)

If you're already reading Ex Machina then you probably aren't going to stop for anything. If you haven't yet read Ex Machina, don't start here. Go back to volume one and begin there. The series is confusing enough if you've been reading along the whole time.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 7/10

Ex Cathedra (2008) Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, Jim Clark, JD Mettler

I've been reading Ex Machina for awhile now, and I've been pre-ordering the collections since then. I have yet to regret these pre-orders, yet I also feel like the more I read, the less I know about Mitchell Hundred and The Great Machine.

As with previous volumes, we get flashes into Mitchell's past. These glimpses relate–in some way–to what is happening currently in Mitchell Hundred's life. And what is happening in Hundred's life right now is that the pope has asked Mitchell to come to Rome for a private audience. Although it is supposed to be an apolitical event, there's a spin on everything, and Mitchell can't see what the pope's spin on.

Things become even more confusing for him when he meets the pope's chief astronomer.

Story-wise, things are slowly moving forward. We've learned how Hundred came to office, but we're still not sure where he's going. Though we get a big glimpse here of where the powers that be believe he is supposed to go, which is pretty fascinating.

One thing that bothered me is that for some reason Mitchell looked very different in this volume than he did in other versions. On the cover he looks the same, but there's something a little off about the way he's drawn.

And at some point I made the comment that I think the actor who plays Nathan Petrelli on Heroes looks a lot like how Mitchell Hundred has been drawn. Well, although the artwork is difference, there were other parallels between the two in this volume. I wonder how Brian K. Vaughan feels about Heroes, considering I believe he has Ex Machina plotted out.

Although the way this story is written continues to frustrate me, I'm still sucked in, and will pre-order the next volume as soon as it appears.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 7/10

Dirty Tricks (2009) Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, Jim Clark, John Paul Leon, JD Mettier

Mitchell Hundred has several problems, as usual. He's being haunted by a ghost, the Republican convention is coming to town, a woman is pulling crazy stunts to protest President Bush, and the Klan wants to march in the park.

Most of the stories are in the continuing timeline, however, the final story spends a chunk of time in the past, after Mitchell Hundred had been released from the hospital following the accidentally that eventually made him into the Great Machine.

The thing about going back into the past is it reminded me how little we know about what happened. This is a piece of that history, but mostly it left me wanting to know more.

I enjoyed the stories in the current timeline, especially his dealing with Trouble. I also like his idea of what happened to the surviving World Trade center in his reality.

Although the final story does delve into his past, if you have not been reading Ex Machina, I don't recommend starting here, but instead going back to the beginning and reading forward.

I'm not quite sure where he's going with the story, but I still want to follow along.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 8/10

Ring Out the Old (2010) Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, Jim Clark, John Paul Leon, JD Mettler

Uhhh… What the hell was that?

There were so many different things I didn't like about this volume. First and foremost was the meta “artists in the story” bit. Sorry BKV, but that was just a giant WTF? for me. It didn't seem to add anything to the story. That started me off on a bad foot, and then the bits with Phearson didn't help, since they didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense either–especially the last bit that maybe was and maybe wasn't a dream?

The only thing I really liked was the twist the major story arc took. Now THAT was fantastic.

So I have hope for the rest of the story, I just hope it makes more sense overall than this volume did.

Published by Wildstorm

Rating: 6/10

Term Limits (2010) Brian K Vaughan, Tony Harris, JD Mettler

Last volume in the collection.

I can't decide if I'm extremely happy or ridiculously disappointed.

Regardless, it's over.

Published by Wildstorm