Man is the political animal.
And when people are political, they are machines–ruthless, uncompromising, even blind. And our political nature can undermine our attempts at heroism.
*** SPOILER WARNING ***
So, I finished Ex Machina #50 and, thus, the series. And by the last page, I realized how well it works as the story of one man, of human nature, of politics, of hero worship, and of a society, specifically America. At the risk of trivializing the story, it shows how good people are corrupted by their intentions, as good as they might be. There’s no external machine or system that is responsible for the evil that people do. Sure, conditions can make evil more likely, but in the end, that turn begins and ends with each of us.
The main character Mitch Hundred has the ‘right stuff’ to be a hero, which is what he wants. He even saves the universe from an invasion from a parallel dimension. But, in motivations that ring so very real of many in America, he develops a palatable fear of that which he saved the world from. It dogs him in sleepless nights, to the point that he will do what is necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen. Vaughan exposes to a vice of heroes–not an obsession with the limelight but with the obsession of saving us. On a much smaller scale, I liken it to people who feel that the company depends on them and without their working crazy hours, the project would fail. Outwardly, this is noble, virtuous act, but, for the corruption of the person’s sensibilities and even guilt, it’s vicious.
I don’t think Brian K. Vaughan is simply condemning heroes/America/politics. He is condemning the seed of what corrupts our good hearts and intentions, a lesson that has been made so childlishly clear in a movie series called Star Wars. Fear. And difficult to practice are the simple lessons.
At first, I thought this last issue suffered from a rushed change of character. Where was the buildup to his corruption? Where was the foreshadowing? Then, I realized . . . that’s our expectations of a story, but life is not, in truth, a story. Hundred had ambition to help others. At first, he did so by becoming a super hero called the Great Machine. Then, he did it by becoming non-ideological, pragmatic politician. This isn’t a man corrupted by politics, as something outside himself. He is a man corrupted by his fear, by himself, by his political nature. Hundred realizes this:
When I turned forty last year, all I could think was, maybe I’ve live too long. I mean, there’s a reason most of the people we admire died young . . . they never got a chance to fuck everything up. Maybe there’s a world where I . . . . died doing good for the people I love. But that’s not the world we live in, is it?
We see the seed of his willingness to do whatever was needed to achieve his goal, as a reporter discovered how Hundred used his powers to get elected. Still, as wrong as that is, it is not evil. We see the rapid conversion to evil, instead, because he develops a consuming fear.
Vaughan has a few somewhat humorous points, often at what would seem the darkest moments. It’s not bad writing but purposeful, showing how incongruously people can act and talk, how we can be somewhat likable as we’re doing bad things.
As America deals with lies and phony issues about ground zero mosques, death panels, sharia law in America, the terror of socialist black men, I found this comic relevant and too real. The surpise twist seems to beg us to see how John McCain might have acted heroically at one time but now has succumbed to fear mongering and lying, hardly a hero to anyone. And, yes, for any conservatives reading, Vaughan doesn’t let Obama escape this criticism either.
My mother has a saying, one she’s been forced to adopt sadly because of things some of her children and grandchildren have done–you don’t hate the person, just the things they’ve done. Likewise, I don’t think Vaughan is cynical about heroism, but that we have to love the hero acts and not assume the hero is always a hero. A hero is fixed in a time and place, not some quality that necessarily existed before, like some latent ability.
What makes this issue and Hundred’s fall painful to read is that I had expectations, that Hundred was and is a hero. He saved a universe. And he would go to do great things. But like my country, like our leaders, I have found my expectation, my perceived rightful expectation, frustrated and wrong.