I like the newish comic from Wildstorm, Ex Machina. It’s about a guy named Mitchell Hundred who, through means which still aren’t completely clear, gains a superhuman ability: he can “talk” to machines. He becomes a hero, “The Great Machine” and does the usual crimefighting schtick, but on September 11, 2001, everything changes. You see, Hundred lives in New York City, and on that fateful day, he’s only able to save the second tower of the World Trade Center. Dismayed by this “failure”, he retires from superheroing and instead decides to help the city in a different way: he runs for mayor, and wins.
Thus, Ex Machina is an unusual comic. It’s about a superhero trying to work within the system.
The artwork is by Tony Harris, who I’ve liked since Starman, and it’s good that he reminds me of that comics. Both Jack Knight and Mitchell Hundred share the quality of being reluctant superheroes, people who just happen to have stumbled into this world and are trying their best just to be decent people and do the right thing.
But then there’s the writing. Don’t get me wrong, Brian K. Vaughan’s characters and stories are just fine. The end of the first issue, revealing the fact about the single twin tower, was one of the few truly surprising moments I’ve come across in comics in a long time. But here’s the thing: it’s the language.
Lord knows I’m not a prude. “Dirty” words don’t have much an effect on me in and of themselves. However, the way each and every character in this book talks bugs me, simply because it stretches credibility. I have a hard time believing that adults in a professional situation would talk the way these characters do. Certainly not politicians, standing in front of the press: witness what happened when Dick Cheney dropped the f-bomb near a reporter and everyone acted like they’d never heard it before.
It’s not just the amount of profanity, either, it’s the level of it. Sure, I’ll accept some of what’s being said. But when Hundred tells an intruder in his house that he’s a “c*** hair away” from being shot, this doesn’t do anything but make me roll my eyes. Who on Earth talks like that, really, other than comic book writers trying to prove how gritty and realistic they are?
I see this lately in a lot of comics. The two-step process towards making a “mature” title (especially if you’re writing for Vertigo or Wildstorm) is to make sure characters have sex early and often, or at least talk about it non-stop, and to have every other word of dialog be profanity. Sometimes this works. But sometimes it just sounds silly. Mature comics all want to be like The Sopranos, but more often than not, it just sounds like someone trying to be like The Sopranos.
Interestingly, there’s a plot line in the book right now about “offensive” language and censorship. I’m not saying the language in the book is bad and should be removed. Well, maybe I am. But not because it’s offensive, but because I think it’s making what could be an actually mature book seem very immature. There are a lot of interesting elements to the book, and I don’t want to miss any while I’m rolling my eyes or snickering at the juvenile language. Quit trying to show how mature you are and just be mature and the book will be even better than it already is.