[7 July 2006]
If any current comic series is to become a film, Ex Machina should be it. Writer Brian K. Vaughan’s heavily-researched style has half the work done for the screenwriters. The concept—an ex-superhero becomes the mayor of New York City—strikes a chord with writers, who seem to agree with Vaughan that in the current age of wrestlers and action heroes as gubernatorial candidates (insert Terminator joke here), a real, self-sacrificing vigilante would be a shoo-in for almost any political position. Mayor Hundred is more tangible because we secretly want to give our votes to him and all of his regrettably non-existent kind.
Also, the Wachowski Brothers gave Vaughan’s creation their stamp of approval. Those guys still have some Hollywood weight after writing V for Vendetta, right? (Not that comic book fans were very happy about certain risky elements the Brothers pulled from their version, but that would be a different article.)
If any story arc were to be made into a film, it would be Ex Machina Special #1-2, peppered with elements from other issues. These two issues cover the story of the Great Machine’s oft-talked about, heretofore never seen arch-enemy Pherson. He’s a perfect match for Hundred, the sad avatar of everything the Great Machine fails to see around him, along with having the most creative, halfway believable origin story I’ve ever read. The Great Machine controls all machinery with a few stern words; the cloaked Pherson, evil parrot on his shoulder, communicates with and controls all animals within an unspecified distance. Both combatants explain their positions between blows, Pherson more clearly and directly than Hundred, giving him the advantage of having a raison d’etre as moving as retribution for hundreds of millions of animal deaths throughout the history of the human race—the details of which are, as always, evidence that Vaughan spent some time with at his local library. If not that, he had to have consulted Wikipedia for some of these details; a lot of this stuff simply isn’t general knowledge.
The Great Machine’s trials against massive flocks of crows and marauding lions is book-ended by Mayor Hundred’s clash with a radio personality unfamiliar with the phrase “no means no”. The parallel is blindingly obvious: performing Herculean tasks as mayor of NYC is akin to perfoming Herculean feats as a superhero.
Complex details aside, the core symbolism of this story could be stuffed down a popcorn-filled throat pretty easily.
Tony Harris’ impeccable sense of modern, believable design would be easy on theater-goers’ eyes, as well (he didn’t draw the Special series, but his design sense still dominates the issues). Some might call the Great Machine’s design “retro-futuristic”, but I’d settle for simply modern. As inherently ridiculous as a machine-controlling superhero with a jetpack is, Harris’ designs ground him in reality. Even in Special, which pits Hundred against a pack of hungry lions atop a speeding train, the Great Machine serves as a weight into reality. There is no cape, but there is a symbol on his chest; no tights but a heavy-looking jetpack. No blinding, dangerous mask or cowl, but a questionable aviator helmet. The only thing Ex Machina was missing for the Hollywood transition was a single nemesis to pin the friction on. Everything else about the series, especially Hundred’s involvement in the events of September 11th, fits right in with the trend of heavy-handed action that the public seems to be happy with. America can’t get enough of superheroes or 9/11-related antics during films. So why hasn’t Ex Machina, especially with the close of the Special arc, been optioned yet? Talent, a far less eloquent (but interesting) series, managed to get optioned by Universal after a single issue. Over two years in, where is the attention Vaughan and Co. deserve, in the form of a franchise that should have begun last summer?
Perhaps the expected controversial conclusion foreshadowed at the beginning of the first issue of the main series will cause Hollywood to wake up, if Special hasn’t done the trick. Perhaps it’s because Special lays out the extra railwork needed to perfectly round out Vaughan’s world, but as a storyline has few tangible consequences in Hundred’s current world. It’s a nice story, but for all the hype Pherson received, his actual presence was almost too short-lived, especially because he ended up exceeding expectations as a character. With such a good bad guy to play with, Special should have lasted at least another two issues before pulling the curtain. Harris’ stand-in was definitely good enough to warrant more time on the Ex Machina cast, even if he didn’t stray far from Harris’ unique line-work.
But maybe it’s not over. A bit of foreshadowing at the end points to the Pherson concept as a future story element, with or without Pherson himself. Vaughan rarely disappoints, so perhaps he’ll give this story the satisfying close it deserves.