More Thoughts on Y: The Last Man After Finishing It

Last time I spent a lot of time discussing Yorick as the main character, which is kind of problematic given the premise of the story, that all men besides Yorick have suddenly died and so women are dealing with the aftermath of that event, dictates that the women in the story should be a much larger focus.  Rachael’s been reading the series behind me, and we’ve had a few discussions about it, which are very enlightening because she notes things that completely went over my head, like the fact that Yorick seems to exist within a bubble of a male privilege, and it’s not entirely clear that Vaughan is aware that he’s privileging Yorick in this way (Rachael’s big go-to example is the fact that even if Yorick is an accomplished escape artist, it doesn’t make sense that he’s always slipping away from 355 and Dr. Mann unless you just go with the old sexist assumption that men are more competent than women all the time).  These conversations are good because they really help illustrate my own biases in reading this series, because I’m having to think about things that were invisible to me on my own read-through (it never occurred to me to flip the situation and imagine myself in a world where all the women had died and the only possibility for romantic relationships existed through same-sex or trans partners).

So, briefly, Yorick is definitely written as a highly privileged idiot who gets away with a lot of things because he’s male, and the extent to which this is intentional is murky at best.

Moving on.

Perhaps the most egregious flaw in Y: The Last Man is the fact that the otherwise gorgeous covers often sexualize female characters unnecessarily. This is probably the best cover featuring 355 in the set. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

The other two major characters in this international road trip are Agent 355 and Dr. Allison Mann.  If Yorick is a privileged idiot who also gets a pretty interesting emotional arc, then my read on 355 and Dr. Mann is that they’re extremely competent professionals with really good emotional arcs that just don’t get enough attention.  Each character gets a flashback issue late in the series that explains their backstories in more detail, and it’s a real shame that more space wasn’t devoted to exploring these characters (I would absolutely read a series that was just about 355).

The thing about 355 that I most like is her gradual realization that she hates her job.  In the universe of Y, there’s a secret cabal of female government agents known as the Culper Ring (it’s patriarchy at its finest, as the lead agents are all explicitly men who are in charge of training young female recruits, which leads to more than one instance of highly problematic work romance) of which 355 is a member.  As part of her initiation into this agency, 355 has had to give up all aspects of her previous identity (a prominent thread throughout the story is Yorick’s curiosity about 355’s real name, which we never learn) and train herself to be a lethal combatant.  It’s implied over the course of the story that prior to 355’s assignment to escort and protect Yorick, her kill count was relatively low, and she preferred nonlethal methods of neutralizing threats.  As the roadtrip unfolds though, 355 gets put in a series of ever more extreme situations that require her to kill a multitude of opponents, and the stress of this aspect of her job wears on her.  She honestly hates that killing is part of what she does, and her relief at finishing her assignment with Yorick and trading away her pistol for an elegant dress is pretty poignant.  It’s a small reclamation of 355’s buried past (her father was a tailor), and it would be nice if that were where her story ended.

Beyond 355’s character arc, there’s also the matter of her being the only black character in the story.  While I buy Yorick and 355’s relationship by the end of the series, much of their interactions are kind of fraught with unacknowledged subtext surrounding the dynamics of a relationship between a white man and a black woman that I honestly feel unqualified to comment on.  Vaughan’s a white guy, and while I thoroughly enjoy his writing and characterizations, I can’t help wondering how much his own privilege keeps him from considering how the social schemas that we’re still trying to overwrite in 2015 were impacting his take on this relationship in the mid ’00s.  Also, as Rachael again so helpfully pointed out to me (this is another case where my own privilege makes it easy for me to miss things), 355’s death is absolutely a case of women in refrigerators; her death comes unexpectedly, and the ultimate impact is to heap feelings on Yorick’s character arc while giving 355 a pointless, violent end to hers.

I suppose next time I’ll get into my thoughts on Dr. Mann; she’s also very interesting, but it’s going to take some time for me to string together any coherent ideas about her character.

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