Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina burst onto the scene in 2004, telling the story of Mitchell Hundred, a New York City civil engineer who is gifted, during a freak accident, with the power to talk to and command machines. At first styling himself as a superhero named “The Great Machine,” Hundred later decides to run for mayor of NYC, which he wins, after he saves one of the Twin Towers during 9/11.
Half high-flying superhero adventure, half thoughtful discussion of modern politics, Ex Machina has been a bright spot on the comics scene for the past five years, with Vaughan’s flashback-filled, tightly plotted stories perfectly offset by Harris’ richly detailed art. If you haven’t had a chance to start this series yet, now’s the time: issue #45 came out this month, which means there are only five more issues before Ex Machina concludes for good. Fortunately for me, Vaughan found a rare free hour to answer some questions for us:
TFAW.com: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Brian!
Brian K. Vaughan: My pleasure, I’m really honored you guys decided to take a closer look at Ex Machina as we enter the homestretch.
TFAW.com: So let’s start from the beginning: what triggered Ex Machina?
BKV: I wanted to somehow write about 9/11 after watching the towers fall from the roof of my apartment in Brooklyn, but I wasn’t sure that comics were the right medium. But the political landscape obviously started to change after September 11th, and whether it was George Bush in his flightsuit or Kerry running on his war record or Schwartzenegger getting elected governor, it seemed like Americans were suddenly craving leaders who were also “heroes.” And comics, particularly superhero comics, have always been a great vehicle for discussing the nature of heroism, and whether such an ideal can be attained or is just a fiction we unfairly impose on people.
TFAW.com: Why the mix of superhero adventures and politics?
BKV: I love combining the fantastic with the mundane. And in Ex Machina, the politics usually represent the fantastic, while the superhero “adventures” are a little more mundane.
TFAW.com: I love that “The Great Machine” is a throwback to the old-school, do-it-yourself superheroes, with his homemade gadgets. Why did you choose that angle, instead of making him more like Superman or Green Lantern?
BKV: That was 100% artist and co-creator Tony Harris. I had always pictured the Great Machine being a more archetypal, cape-wearing do-gooder, but it was Tony’s brilliant suggestion to make our hero more like his namesake: mechanical, bulky, and beautifully grounded in the real world.
TFAW.com: At first glance, Mitchell Hundred reminds me of JFK: handsome, young, charismatic. Did you model Hundred on any real-life politicians?
BKV: He has attributes of many of NYC’s prior mayors, but no, he’s not based on any real-life figure.
TFAW.com: Now that we’re nearing the final six issues, I have one question: how the heck are you going to resolve everything? Are you going to wrap up all of these plotlines/mysteries, or will you leave them open ended?
BKV: Actually, if you go back and reread the series, I think you’ll find that many questions have already been answered. But yes, all will be made clear before our story is over.
TFAW.com: Are we finally going to discover the origin of Hundred’s superpowers?
BKV: See above!
TFAW.com: Are there any new characters you have yet to introduce, or are you bringing any past characters back?
BKV: We’ll meet one important new character in the very last issue, but even that character isn’t exactly “new.” Beyond that, our final story is going to focus on our major players, almost all of whom were introduced in the first pages of our very first issue, including our unexpected new villain.
TFAW.com: Why is Kremlin so obsessed with destroying Hundred’s political career? Does he know more about the consequences of someone with Hundred’s powers being in political power, or does he just miss being Alfred to Mitchell’s Batman?
BKV: A bit of both, don’t you think?
TFAW.com: Does January’s hatred of Hundred solely stem from her sister, Journal’s, death? Why does she blame Hundred so completely? Why hasn’t Hundred picked up on at least a little of her enmity?
BKV: I think January is looking for someone to hate for her sister’s death, and she’s chosen Mayor Hundred, irrational as that may be. As for why Hundred hasn’t picked up on her enmity, it’s becoming increasingly clear that that are certain aspects of his own life that Hundred willfully chooses to ignore.
TFAW.com: Continuing in that vein, Hundred seems possessed by almost blind idealism at times. Why do you think he’s like this? Do you think there should be more of his type of idealism in politics, and do you think it can actually spur change?
BKV: Well, I never discuss my own politics, but I will say that they don’t share a great deal in common with Hundred’s. As for why the mayor is the way he is, your interpretation is always more important than my intent.
TFAW.com: Ex Machina is set during the Bush administration, but there’s very little critique of it, at least by the central characters. Was there a reason for this?
BKV: I just think local politics are much sexier than national politics. The difference between being mayor and being president is the difference between being a beat cop and sitting behind a desk as a sergeant. Which story would you rather read?
TFAW.com: Do you think this story could have been told during the Obama administration?
BKV: Maybe, but it certainly would have been told differently.
TFAW.com: A lot of people surrounding Mitchell Hundred tend to go crazy–either a little (Kremlin) or a lot (Trouble). Is this a side effect of his powers, the after effects of living through 9/11, or just a byproduct of living in New York City?
BKV: All of the above.
TFAW.com: Speaking of 9/11, we just passed the 8th anniversary of the attack, which was a large part of Ex Machina’s story. How do you feel this event has shaped the country, years later?
BKV: I think I’d rather let the last few issues of the book speak for themselves on this front.
TFAW.com: Why did you have Hundred save one of the Twin Towers in Ex Machina?
BKV: Because I wanted to say something about the world we live in by showing a world one DNA strand removed from our own.
TFAW.com: In issue #44, we were introduced to the “White Box,” which appears to have the power to compel loyalty from others. Is this why Bradbury has been so devoted to Hundred?
BKV: I think Bradbury has been devoted to Hundred since the day of the accident, but the White Box is indeed the “dark secret” that we’ve always been hinting Bradbury and Mitchell shared.
TFAW.com: There is a lot of speculation about Hundred’s sexuality, and it seems like it’s deliberately been left vague. Do you think it’s important to the story to know whether Hundred is gay or not, and will we get an answer?
BKV: Do you think he is? Is it important to you that you get a definitive answer? If so, why?
TFAW.com: Who created the “member of the Seraphim” who was controlling the animals of NYC?
BKV: That question was partially answered in issue #44, with more details on the way.
TFAW.com: It appears that Hundred was supposed to use his power over machines to make way for an invasion of Earth. Is this subconsciously why he chose to go into politics? Has he been a tool of whoever gave him his powers all along?
BKV: Stay tuned, True Believer.
TFAW.com: Where do you see Commissioner Angotti, Dave Wylie, and Candice Braving today, in 2009?
BKV: Who says any of them are going to make it out of 2005 alive?
TFAW.com: Is there any chance of a continuation of Ex Machina sometime down the road?
BKV: I’m afraid not. Endings are what give stories meaning.
TFAW.com: What comes next for you?
BKV: More television, more movies, but most importantly, more comics.
TFAW.com: What can you tell us about the Y: The Last Man movie, which is officially “in development”?
BKV: Nothing, unfortunately.
TFAW.com: Thanks again, Brian!
BKV: Thank you!
If you’re new to Ex Machina, stock up on our selection of graphic novels, or pre-order upcoming issues!
So what do you think will happen in the final five issues of this series? Are you sad to see it go (I am)? Did I miss any burning questions? Post below!