I hadn't seen either of the first two volumes of Ex Machina, but one of the virtues of this story (issues 21-29 and two specials of the comic) is that its structure, with flashbacks to multiple stories, brings the reader up to speed quickly, with no need for 'previously in Ex Machina'.
Mitchell Hundred has the ability to speak to and control machines; he also has the curse of having to listen to them. He was turned into the world's first super hero, The Great Machine, by a Russian emigre called Kremlin, flying with the aid of what looks like a vacuum cleaner strapped to his back; it's the most bizarre super-hero get-up since Commando Cody. His career as a super hero doesn't appear to have gone too well; part of the story here is the fate of a low-level pot dealer he captures after an epic chase. But on 9/11, The Great Machine saves the second airplane from flying into the Twin Towers, and on the wave of that success, Mitchell Hundred winds up elected mayor of New York.
Now in Gracie Mansion, some of his past is coming back to haunt Hundred, not least the tragic fate of the pot dealer after he was sent to prison, and also the death of one of his aides, Journal Moore, whose sister is now working for Hundred.
What's intriguing about Ex Machina is its portrayal of the inside of politics; it's like a more realistic version of The West Wing set within the confines of a super-hero story. There are elements working against Hundred's adminstration, and the who and why is an ongoing mystery, but the main conflict is between Hundred's desire to do 'the right thing' and the political realities that make that sometimes next to impossible. Given that Hundred is in effect a Superman, you can sense occasionally a touch of the Ayn Rands slipping in, but by and large, it's a better glimpse into New York City politics than you'd see in most fiction. And given that Hundred is very much a flawed hero, those conflicts parallel many of the macro-concerns his governance throws up.
The time-shifting story-telling works brilliantly, and Tony Harris' art is very good at the relatively static political scenes, able to convey some internal drama. I was intrigued, enough to play catch-up with the series and follow it going ahead.
Ex Machina: Book Three
by Brian Vaughn (writer) and Tony Harris (artist)
WildStorm/DC Vertigo £19.99 ISBN 9781401250034