Ex Machina takes a fantastical concept and grounds it in a way that feels real (or at least as real as a comic book can). It blends superheroics, politics, and the nature of modern-day America. It is often described as a superhero comic meets The West Wing, but this is unfair. The comic book series Ex Machina is a whole lot less preachy.

In the same way that The West Wing often served as a liberal fantasy, this book takes it to a whole new level. Many of the storylines leave super heroics at the door, instead focusing on a progressive mayor who is determined to fight for gay rights, and supporting anti-war protest movements. Which isn’t to say superheroics are not a key aspect of the series. Far from it. The series has a very strong sci-fi element tied to the origin of Mayor Mitchell Hundred’s power.

Mitchell Hundred has the ability to talk to machines. An aborted attempt to don a mask and work as a superhero leads him to the self-realisation that he can achieve a greater good working as the mayor of his home town, New York City. Running as an independent, he isn’t taken seriously until he takes to the skies and saves tens of thousands of lives by preventing a terrorist attack on one of the World Trade Centre towers on 9/11.

With its politics so heavily tied to the events of September 11, it would be easy for this book to get bogged down in its sense of nationalism. Writer Brian K Vaughn avoids it all, with his marvellous ability to present the politics of a city in a light that exposes its greatness and its many flaws. All the while being sharp, insightful, and witty as all heck.

Artist Tony Harris has the more difficult task of making exciting panel after panel depicting men in suits debating policy and social expectation, while also keeping the superheroics and offbeat science fiction elements of the series appearing as realistic as possible.

Ex Machina is fun, exciting, and completely ludicrous in the way that all great superhero comics and politics, in general, should be.

The details: Ex Machina is available in trade paperbacks at your local comic book shop and most large chain bookshops. A low-res (7.6mb) version of the first issue can be downloaded here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey