Machine language

Machine language
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First Published: Fri, Nov 30 2007. 11 53 PM IST

Double role: A mayor who can talk to machines
Double role: A mayor who can talk to machines
Updated: Fri, Nov 30 2007. 11 53 PM IST
It’s a feeling most of us have at times—when the car won’t start (or, if you drive like I do, stop); when the amplifier-pre-amplifier combine won’t do what you want it to although you have followed the instructions; or when a software won’t install properly.
Double role: A mayor who can talk to machines
I wish I could talk to this thing. That’s the feeling.
Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina is built around just this premise. The title, of course, is the second half of Deus (or Dea) Ex Machina, Greek for god (or goddess) in the machine, a sort of divine intervention Greek playwrights used when they needed a way out of a complex plot (in Bollywood, I’m told, they use songs). By itself, Ex Machina means ‘in the machine’, and that’s just where a man called Mitchell Hundred finds himself.
Vaughan, of course, is the still-in-his-early-30s author of Y: The Last Man, a series that has made its appearance in this column, and one that is slowly nearing its climax (it was planned for 60 issues, or 10 trade paperbacks, and 59 issues and nine trade paperbacks are out). He has also collaborated on the script for Lost.
Hundred gets his power—the ability to communicate with machines—the same way most other superheroes got theirs (think Spiderman, Fantastic Four, etc): from an accident. It is what he, and Vaughan, do with these powers that makes Ex Machina one of the most interesting series currently running.
Hundred parlays his success in preventing the second plane from hitting the tower on THAT day into a political career: He becomes mayor of New York City. Anyone else would have taken a character with powers such as Hundred’s and made him the centrepiece of a Transformers-like story. Not Vaughan. If The Last Man showed enough traces of Vaughan’s ability and willingness to deal with political (and politically incorrect) issues, then Ex Machina takes it forward. As mayor, Hundred deals with issues related to drugs and sexual orientation, crime and terrorism, and corruption and administration.
Sure, Hundred gets to do his superhero stuff—such as speaking to sub-machine guns and getting them to jam—but Ex Machina isn’t about a superhero who has the ability to communicate with machines. It is about a superhero who can communicate with machines, and who happens to be the mayor of New York City.
Vaughan has, thus far in the series, been silent on Hundred’s political ambitions (does he want to be president?) but this columnist’s sense is that he is getting set for a really long series with Ex Machina. The story is young, and it looks like Vaughan is going to let it grow. And about time, too.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 30 2007. 11 53 PM IST
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