This is probably going to turn into a short series, focusing on comics that I once collected, but I realized, over time, that I just had no interest in where they were going. Since my wife and I have been going through boxes of comics, trying to figure out what to get rid of and what to hang onto, there’s a massive amount of stuff that we bought, we thought we’d like, but ended up not being able to stand.
One of those comics was the Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Ex Machina.
Now at the time, I was really looking for more “realistic” superhero comics. I was hoping to find something that presented superheroes as they might be in the real world. Marvel and DC were really pimping fantastic tales with guys in flashy costumes who were largely loved and/or tolerated by the non-powered public and allowed to run wild by the government and frankly, I had enough of that. So I was hoping to find something that showed how someone with extraordinary powers might fare in the modern day real world. Certainly I expected it to be relatively dark, as I didn’t think your regular Joe would embrace the idea of someone who could do superheroic stuff with open arms, more likely it would be met with fear, but it had to be better than everyone waving at the guy flying by in his underoos.
Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred, a guy who found he had the ability to talk to electronics and influence their actions. He donned a costume, took on the mantle of The Great Machine, and ended up changing history on 9/11 when he intervened in the terrorist attack. As such, it launched a political career as mayor of New York City and set him on the path toward the White House.
So far, so good I guess. It was certainly realistic, it certainly had a lot of the elements I wanted. People admired the Great Machine for what he’d done, but people also hated and feared him because he was different. It could have been exactly what I wanted, except Vaughn turned it into a liberal political comic and the superhero elements became entirely secondary. You saw lots of flashbacks with the early days of the Great Machine, but once Hundred was in office, he rarely actually used his powers for anything significant and getting into costume? Forget it. The comic became about liberal politics in New York City. It was about gay marriage. It was about racism. It was about political backstabbing. It was really about everything but being a superhero in the real world. Maybe that made it even more realistic, but that wasn’t what I wanted to read. Even though I knew it was ending with issue #50, I dropped it somewhere in the early 40s. While the writing and art was always good, it just wasn’t the story that I was looking for. It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy it for what it was, at least in the broad strokes, but when you had issue after issue after issue of “is Hundred gay? Is he going to support gay rights? What does his staff think?”, it got tiring. What did any of that have to do with the genre? Nothing. Therefore, I, as a genre-enjoying reader, just couldn’t stick with it. I moved on. Ex Machina might have been a critically acclaimed comic that busted genre stereotypes, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted superheroes in the real world. I got liberal politics on a barely-superhero backdrop.
Thanks but no thanks.