So one of the many great things about our recent trip to California is that I got to hang out with my friend Dave and talk a little bit about good comic books. After the thing with Tara Shultz that came up in the news last week, I mentioned it and we got to talking about the comics that she was objecting to. When I brought up Y: The Last Man and explained that I hadn’t read it, Dave got really excited and pulled all ten volumes out. He said I could borrow them, so I packed most of them up in our suitcase and put a couple volumes in my carry-on bag for the plane ride home.
Flash forward to today, and I’ve sped through the first five volumes of the series. It’s a lot of fun, and the variety of odd references and meta-jokes are incredibly endearing. I hadn’t realized that the series was so old, actually (it began running in 2002), and understanding the time frame for when it was written helps a lot in parsing out stuff that happens in the series.
The big thing that I keep coming back to is how much of what’s going on seems to be dealing directly with the fallout of September 11. That event gets referenced a couple times, but besides that, you see a lot of situations that have parallels with things that happened in the real world. One of the series’ early antagonists, Alter Tse’Elon, is a soldier in the Israeli army who takes control through military coup after all the men die, and she continuously pushes this ideology that the only way to keep the country internally peaceful is to remain in a constant state of war with an ever expanding circle of enemies. Alter doesn’t believe in the possibility of peaceful coexistence with outsiders, and so she proceeds to villainize everyone who doesn’t immediately fall in line with her ideology. It’s all extremely similar to the wave of national fervor that Americans experienced in the last decade, and I can’t help but wonder if the implicit critique of Alter’s position was made more palatable for American readers at the time by framing it in the context of a foreign power.
Besides the callbacks to 9/11, I’ve also been thinking about the gender issues present in the series. When your concept is that all but one of the men in the world are dead, gender is going to be something on the reader’s mind. The most obvious thing is that by making Yorick the last surviving man, the story automatically brands him with various Chosen One tropes as it proceeds to explore the mystery of how he survived the event and whether he can be used to rebuild the human population. At the same time, the story’s premise also demands that women fulfill all of the other character roles, so every character who would traditionally default to male is a woman instead. All of the leaders, soldiers, and experts are women in this world, and while the concept is jarring at first, it becomes gradually easier to accept.
I realize that last sentence is a little weird, especially when I’m constantly complaining about lack of diverse representation in fiction, but this total absence of male characters is really interesting, and I think it serves to show just how alienating other works which feature exclusively male characters can be to women. Yorick is the token guy, and in many of the story arcs that I’ve read so far, he finds himself frequently subjected to tropes that typically get applied to women: he regularly needs saving by his far more competent companions, he’s prone to causing unnecessary problems, and more frequently than is really comfortable, he finds himself being romantically pursued because he’s The Guy on which all the heterosexual women’s desires get hung by default (as an added nod to the absurdity of this trope, most of the women who pursue Yorick make a point of saying that he’s not usually their type).
The art on this series is consistently good, and much of the uniform look can be attributed to the inker, Jose Marzan, Jr. Pia Guerra is the regular artist for the series, but Marzan’s inks are distinctive enough that even when a story features a guest penciler, the difference in style isn’t readily apparent. If I have any complaints about the art, it’s that Guerra’s faces, while always highly expressive, tend to feel a little samey after a while so that new characters are sometimes hard to distinguish from more established ones, particularly if they have similar clothing or hairstyles.
Being halfway through the series now, I’m still enjoying the plot, and there are some really fun subversions that come up as the story progresses (I’ll detail those more in a future post once I’ve finished the series). From what I’ve read so far, the series has aged remarkably well, which is a hard thing to pull off for books that were written in that strange middle era of the late ’90s to early ’00s. I’m really looking forward to finishing this one up.