Even More Thoughts on Y: The Last Man After Finishing It

I have to pause for a moment and mention that many of my thoughts on this series have required some rethinking as Rachael’s been reading her way through the series behind me.  I said last time that she pointed out some things that really did go over my head when I read Y: The Last Man, and I attribute a lot of my obliviousness to the unavoidable nature of my privilege.  This has been something of a hobby horse of mine lately, but I can’t overstate enough how easy it is for the white, straight, cis male perspective to overlook significant flaws in a given narrative, especially one that he is inclined to like.  I enjoy Brian K. Vaughan’s writing, and my bias in favor of him as an author shouldn’t be overlooked when I’m forming thoughts and opinions about his work.  Glaring flaws in the narrative like 355’s token black status, her fridging at the hands of Alter, and Yorick’s failure to ever really acknowledge that the women he meets are more real than the ideals he imagines they embody need to be pointed out, and in my own reading I was too caught up in enjoying the story about a character who looks like me to notice them.  So before I go on, I just wanted to acknowledge that my conversations with Rachael about the series have been immensely helpful, and more than a little of my commentary from this point forward has been influenced by what she had to say.

Sometimes you just need a picture of clasping hands in the shape of a Y. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

Returning to the conversation about characters in the series, I have come to a conclusion regarding Dr. Mann: I like her, but I’m not sure there’s much that really commends her as a character.  The more I think about how she functions in the story, the more I realize that Dr. Mann seems to embody the trope of the joyless, put upon caregiver.  Yorick gets to be silly and do reckless things, and Dr. Mann’s job is always to follow behind and heal any injuries that Yorick sustains in the course of his risk taking.  It’s not work she likes, and when they finally part ways at the series’ conclusion, Dr. Mann begins crying over the fact that her years with Yorick have been the most miserable of her life.  I don’t know that Dr. Mann ever really feels any affection for Yorick beyond her sense of responsibility as his physician, and the haphazard way Yorick returns later in his life to visit when he hears she is dying almost reads like a belated realization that there was supposed to be a human behind the grouchy woman who scolded him for running barefoot through a field of plane debris.  Beyond her relationship with Yorick, Dr. Mann’s backstory is interesting enough, although it feels like most of the fleshing out comes a little too late, as it coincides with the big reveal about how her family is involved in the cause of the gendercide (one thing I still like to give Vaughan credit for: he acknowledges that the explanation he provides is pretty dumb, even if he does it with a bit of meta dialogue begging that we not concern ourselves too much with the how of the mystery).

Finally, I want to briefly touch on Alter, who begins as a relatively prominent antagonist before fading out for the middle part of the series and then coming back to really complicate the story’s ending.  I think I mentioned in my first post on Y that the series seems to me to be heavily influenced by the international climate following the September 11 terrorist attacks, and Alter emerges in those early issues as a focal point for the total war fervor that many people were gravitating towards in the years following that event.  The fact that she’s a focal character from issue #1 suggests that her story matters and will intersect with the others’ in interesting ways, but there’s a bit of disconnection between Alter’s early appearance and the introduction of her own suicidal tendencies when she comes back into the story.  At first Alter’s obsession with Yorick appears purely ideological; he’s a significant symbol, and she wants to control that symbol for the good of Israel.  Later, when she goes back on the hunt after orchestrating her coup, there’s this added bit about how she seems to want to die, but isn’t ready to do it yet for unknown reasons.  After she kills 355 and confronts Yorick, he concludes that it’s because Alter actually won’t be happy dying except in combat with a man.  This internalized misogyny is an interesting development, but it just doesn’t jive with Alter’s earlier characterization; we even see in her flashback issue that the army did everything they could to fast track her to leadership because they saw how capable a soldier she was.  It’s a trait that might have worked on a character associated with the Daughters of the Amazon (I wanted so badly for someone at some point to just say that Amazons never really cut off their own breasts, but them’s the breaks), but with Alter it feels like a last minute addition.

And that’s probably the biggest flaw with Y: The Last Man: on the whole it doesn’t feel like it was fully plotted when Vaughan began writing the series (kind of like LOST!), so the ending has elements that work well enough in isolation but don’t seem to quite mesh with what’s happened before.  Despite the flaws, it is an enjoyable series, and considering the time period when it was written, the feminist elements that are present are good.  It’s just looking at the series in our current social climate where there’s a lot more that people expect from fiction that’s supposed to have a feminist bent to it.

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