Ex Machina's Final Days in Office

Tue, September 15th, 2009 at 10:28am PDT | Updated: September 15th, 2009 at 10:40am

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer
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Ex Machina
"Ex Machina" #45 on sale this week

Writer Brian K. Vaughan told us what he was doing on the very first page of the very first issue of “Ex Machina.” Or at least his leading überman, Mitchell Hundred, did:

“This is the story of my four years in office, from the beginning of 2002 through the godforsaken 2005. It may look like a comic, but it’s really a tragedy.”

Now with only six issues left in the critically acclaimed series, no one knows how it’s all going to end -- just that it ain’t going to be pretty.

Launched in 2004 by WildStorm, the politically charged “Ex Machina” tells the story of the fictional mayor of New York City, Mitchell Hundred, as his life unfolds in a post-9/11 world. Hundred also just so happens to be America’s first and only superhero – the Great Machine – after he gains the ability to communicate with all machines during a freak accident that occurs while he’s working as a civil engineer on the Brooklyn Bridge.

In “Ex Machina” #44, Vaughan (“Y: The Last Man”) and artist Tony Harris (“Starman”) started to pull back the curtain a bit and revealed an all-important white box that not only has something to do with Hundred’s secret origin, but may very well have turned “Village Voice” journalist Suzanne Padilla into the Great Machine’s greatest enemy ever.

With the series’ final arc kicking off this week with the release of “Ex Machina” #45, CBR News checked in with BKV.

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CBR: With the release of “Ex Machina” #44, so ends the penultimate arc of your award-winning series. Pacing-wise, you’ve said from the outset this journey was going to run 50 issues, so have you arrived exactly where you wanted to be with one arc and six issues left to go?

BRIAN K. VAUGHAN: Yeah, I’d say we’re exactly where we want to be. This is my favorite part of an ongoing series, when readers get to see that we weren’t making it all up as we went along, that even the crap that may have once seemed innocuous or irrelevant is somehow important to our larger story.

I was actually grateful the WGA writers’ strike happened when it did, because it allowed me the luxury of working on nothing but the final issues of “Y: The Last Man” for several months, which I think really helped us stick the landing on that series. Similarly, the last issues of “Ex Machina” have been getting 100 percent of my attention these days, and as proud as I was of the ending of “Y,” I think “Ex Machina” might have the best finale of anything I’ve ever helped create. Certainly the ballsiest.

Pages from "Ex Machina" #45

Anyway, the whole creative team is very much on the same page as we come into the home stretch. On top of penciling every insanely detailed page of the last forty-five issues, Tony Harris also recently started inking himself, and the book has never looked better, thanks in no small part to JD Mettler, the most underrated colorist in comics. All three of us felt like #44 was one of our strongest to date, so we were heartened to hear how excited people were by it. Feels like everything we’ve been building towards over the last few years is coming to a head at exactly the right time.

How tightly have you had these last 12 issues plotted out and for how long?

I always knew exactly how the story was going to end, but not exactly how we’d reach that destination. I first pitched this concept back in 2001, but because I knew it would cover the new mayor’s first term through 2005, I wanted to leave myself the freedom to incorporate any major real-world events that might happen in New York City during that time, like the 2003 blackout. But yeah, by early 2006, Tony, JD and I knew everything we needed to know to line up our ducks in a row.

You really started to pull back the curtain in the last arc, “Ring Out The Old,” specifically with the return of some once prominent characters like Suzanne Padilla and of course, with the reveal of all-powerful white box. In developing this massive epic have you kept an “Ex Machina” bible where you jot down specific teases and reveals so you make sure you pay them all off before #50?

Definitely. Because of how often we jump around chronologically, I had to write a detailed timeline that spelled out Mitchell Hundred’s career from the minute he got his powers all the way up to the upcoming final panel of our last issue, which is incidentally going to be a double-sized extravaganza. And man, Tony’s last few covers are breathtaking.

What can you tell us about the White Box? Using the term “Pandora’s” seems almost too kind.

Well, like the Great Machine’s jetpack, the White Box is something that came to Mitchell Hundred in a dream after the accident that gave him his proverbial strange powers. He claims it was built to help keep New York safe, but we’re now learning it may have also helped Hundred steal the election. Either way, an accident with the White Box has now given Suzanne Padilla the power to control people just like Hundred can control machines, turning this journalist into our politician’s greatest enemy, which anyone who remembers Watergate could have probably seen coming.

What was Zeller’s purpose when he first visited Hundred and will he play a major role as things wind down towards the conclusion?

Pages from "Ex Machina" #45

Zeller’s purpose was exactly what he stated it was when he first appeared. He came to warn Mayor Hundred of “the dangers of immigration.” It’s just taken Mitchell a few years to learn exactly what that meant.

Will Connie Georges be revisited or at least what she said to Hundred before her death when she called him a “carpenter” and told him to “go spread the word?”

As a matter of fact, we’ll be hearing more about Ms. Georges in the pages of “Ex Machina”#45, on sale this week, plug, plug.

Do we find out who Hundred is speaking to in the first page of “Ex Machina” #1 when he says, “It may look like a comic, but it’s really a tragedy?”

You definitely will. And hopefully, it’ll be the last person you’d ever expect him to be talking to, but also the one who makes the absolute most sense.

Do things get worse for Bradbury before they get better? And what about Miss Padilla? I guess while we’re on the subject, does this end well for anybody?

I’ll just say that we weren’t kidding around when we had Mitchell open the story by just coming out and announcing that it’s a tragedy. I think our fiftieth issue will be a wildly satisfying conclusion to the story, but anyone who’s looking for a happy ending is probably reading the wrong book.

Hundred’s parents are named Thomas and Martha. Tie that in with his superhuman gifts as The Great Machine… is Hundred the BKV version of an amalgamated Dark Knight and the Man of Steel?

Mitchell Hundred was weaned on DC Comics as a kid, and early in the series we learned that his security detail’s codename for him is the rather unimaginative “Superman,” while reporter Suzanne Padilla says she always thought of him as more of a Batman kinda guy. We’ll learn exactly which kind of protagonist Mitchell is before the series is over, but it has nothing to do with superpowers.

For me, “Ex Machina” has always been a story about the way Americans of all political persuasions have sought leaders who are also quote-unquote “heroes,” especially after September 11. But is there really such a thing as a true hero, or is that just a fiction we unfairly impose on people?

"Ex Machina" Vol. 8 and issue #46 on sale soon

When “Y: The Last Man” ended, you left some mysteries for the reader to solve or at least consider on their own. Will “Ex Machina” end in a similar fashion or will we know exactly what created The Great Machine when this is all said and done?

Oh, you’ll definitely know who or what gave Mitchell his powers before the series is over. As a matter of fact, if you go back and carefully reread the entire series, you’ll see that most of the answers have already been revealed.

We’ll save any ambiguity for the politics, as Mitchell continues to learn that neither the right nor the left seems to have the answers to our most complicated problems. We’ve already explored everything from gay marriage to domestic terrorism, so I’ll let people guess which hot-button issue we’ll finally be tackling in our last storyline, which DC/WildStorm somehow let us title “Pro-Life.”

You’ve recently announced the sad news that you’ve left “Lost.” Can you share any details on what you’re working on now and if not, when you might let us know?

Thanks for being sad about me leaving “Lost,” but it’s with zero false humility I say that the show was usually awesome in spite of my meager presence on an otherwise incredible writing staff, not because of it. I’m sure next season is going to be amazing, but as I told showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, I’m haunted by the fact that they had both already helped create classic shows by the time they were my age, so it felt like it was time for me to get out there and try to make some more original stuff of my own.

As for exactly what I’ve been working on when I haven’t been writing “Ex Machina,” I should be able to reveal more around the time our final issue comes out in a few months. There’s one new film thing that will definitely be the biggest project of my career if I can somehow pull it off, but I’m most excited about the new creator-owned comics I started putting together shortly after “Y: The Last Man“ wrapped. It always takes me a while to develop new books, but I think these are some of the best ideas I’ve ever had and definitely some of the best collaborators I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, so I hope they’ll be worth the wait.

“Ex Machina” #45 hits stands this week from WildStorm.

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TAGS:  ex machina, tony harris, brian k vaughan, wildstorm

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