Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review- Y: The Last Man, Vol 1: Unmanned

I first came across the graphic novel series Y: The Last Man when I was searching for the latest Buffy Season 7 comic.

Yep, I read comics.

I first started reading them when I was much younger. Even back then, I had this vague uneasiness about it all, as most of the comics I read, and even knew of, were about male heroes, female victims, and were obviously targeted toward boys. Eventually, I grew out of my comic book phase during high school, when I was Obviously Much Too Cool for such things. Only recently have I gotten back into the habit a couple of years ago after watching the entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. After the end of Season 6, the canon continued via comic book.

And alas, here I am, reviewing a comic book, oh- excuse me- a graphic novel, on my blog. While I have already read most of the volumes of Y: The Last Man, I will review them one by one without including spoilers contained within subsequent volumes.

The premise of Y: The Last Man is simple. In 2002, a plague destroyed every living thing containing a Y chromosome with the exception of of one guy and his monkey. So, Volume 1 finds us observing, 29 minutes before the big plague, the life of the one dude who's going to be left on Earth. And when you think about it, isn't it, like, so very revolutionary for a comic book to be about a man, even if he's the only man in the entire world?!

Oh, I should probably mention that some people might find this review Not Fun, especially in light of the "critical acclaim" this graphic novel has received and the buttloads of amazing reviews that doods have given the series on Amazon.com.

Moving on then, to summarize, this mysterious man-killing plague-thingy instantaneously kills every male thing on the planet. Airplanes literally fall from the sky, cars stop on the highway, and females watch on in horror as their male friends and loved ones die right in front of them.

Now, putting aside the fact that watching masses of humans die would be incredibly traumatic, can we go back to the cars-stopping-on-the-highway bit for a moment? You see, the cars that had ostensibly been driven by men remained sitting on the highway a month later, effectively blocking ladies from being able to drive on highways! Why, it is as though, when all the men died, women completely forgot how to drive those mechanical vehicular contraptions that stubbornly blocked their paths. Women simply could not figure out how to move all of those cars!

A bit later, however, we learn that this problematic highway cloggage served an important purpose: the necessity for the protagonist to find a bitchin' motorcycle to weave through the chaos. Cowabunga!

I know it's silly, the idea that women would just let cars sit on the highway for months on end and not think to move them or anything. But that, in a nutshell, is Volume 1. Not only is the protagonist male; it is clear that the author of Y is also a male (Brian Vaughan, is his name). It is not (yet anyway) a serious exploration of a world without men. It is one man's exploration of what he thinks the world would look like without men. Which is fine. But, I think Volume 1's greatest failings lie in the stereotypes and ego porn that it feeds its male audience which, for me personally, don't quite let me forget that a dood wrote it.

The knobjectivity continues on page 41. There, we meet a woman who is collecting dead male bodies to take to a crematorium. She, driving a big dump truck, has apparently figured out how to drive (but just barely, as she complains about how haaaard it is to steer a big ol' truck). The male protagonist, who is named Yorick by the way, encounters this woman. He listens as she complains about how she used to have a modeling contract and that she paid loads of money for a boob job. But, now that all the men are gone, her "tits" are pretty much useless and she is nothing but a "goddamn garbage girl."

Is that what men imagine women think of themselves? That women find no inherent value in their bodies or selves if no men are around to appreciate them? Is that like the ultimate male fantasy- for women to feel completely worthless in a world with no men? Indeed, one of the very first images Y gives us is a woman holding a revolver to her head saying "All of the men are dead" (4), as though her life has no purpose, no meaning, in a world without men.

Or, to be more pessimisstic, is Ms. Whatshernam Tit Model a projection of what men (or one man, anyway) thinks of women? That, if a woman doesn't have big tits and a pretty face to please men with, she's nothing more than a "goddamn garbage girl"?

In any event, the woman tells Yorick that she used to have a "tranny" boyfriend who was murdered. Aside from wondering why someone would flippantly refer to one's deceased boyfriend as a "tranny," I realized that this was the smooth segue into talking about.... ThE AmAzOnS! Many possible villains in this particular graphic novel exist, yet the most cartoonish and mustache-twirly are the anti-male extremists oh-so-creatively titled the Daughters of the Amazons.

Wait...wait just a minute... say, is "Amazon" a code word for something that starts with an "f."

Now, I don't know if Vaughan intended for the Amazons to represent feminists, but these extremists certainly fit the caricature that many people think of when they think of feminists. Many people learn about feminism, not by actually reading feminist works, but by (a) reading the SCUM Manifesto under the belief that it is some sort of feminist agenda, (b) listening to what Rush Limbaugh says about feminists, and/or (c) reading what "Men's Rights Advocates" say feminism is. So, whether or not it was Vaughan's intent, the Amazons undoubtedly represent, to some readers anyway, Feminist Archetype. True to their medium, cartoon, they embody virtually every negative stereotype about feminists that exist.

Our protagonist Yorick eventually encounters real live Amazons near the end of Volume 1, when he finds them defacing the Washington Monument. In an eye-roll-inducing indulgence in the ultimate hetero male fantasy, this monument has oh-so-subtly been turned into a memorial to The Men. Upon this great white prick in the sky, a few suspiciously-dykey looking women are spray-painting "Good Riddence" [sic] (95). Get it? They hate the menz, and on top of that they can't spell. The Amazons are stoopid. With that gimmick, I wondered if Vaughan took a page from the Ayn Rand Manual on Villain Creation, imbuing his villains with unflattering, unattractive, and mock-worthy traits so the readers will relate to the author's beloved hero rather than the idiot villains. In Rand's case, of course, her villains were pasty, unattractive socialist types; in Y, the villains are, so far, moronic man-hating feminazis who spray-paint the memorial that honors a horrific tragedy.

Prior to this incident, we see the remaining members of the US government, all ladies of course, trying to figure out how the government is going to function without the menz. A secret service agent taps the Secretary of Agriculture to become President because, after all of the men died, it is she who happens to be next in the chain of command. Actually, to give credit to Vaughan, I appreciated this scene. Because of the sex composition of the US government, it wasn't until we got to the position of the relatively-lowly Secretary of Agriculture that the survivors were able to find their next Commander-in-Chief. And that was the result of the previous world, where women comprised a whopping half of the human population.

Unfortunately, this lady Secretary also suffers from Lack of Self-Worth Without Male Approval Syndrome. Insisting that she is not qualified for the office of presidency, she laments that she is just a "stupid farm girl who misses her worthless ex-husband" (45). Not only is she herself nothing, her husband is nothing and thus she is, like, doubly nothing without him.

This woman later, however, has some sort of transformation once she accepts her role of President. Later on, we find her facing down some gun-wielding ladies who have gotten themselves into a Republicans vs. Democrats fight and she intervenes. Apparently, the ladies were bickering about succession and questioning how it should be done- in accordance with the existing legal framework, or by new standards? Madame President declares that the rules of the Founding Fathers were sort of null, given the extreme circumstances. However, Yorick- appearing from nowhere- jumps in and says oh hell to the no is he going to sit back and watch "this great nation, which millions of [his] brothers shed their blood to forge, [be] completely undone by--" (77).

Hint: Yorick doesn't finish his sentence, but I bet he was going to say women, ladies, bitches, or cunts. Choose your own adventure, kids.

In his statement, we see the last man on Earth desperately trying to keep men relevant in a world full of women. In reading Yorick stand up to those women, ladies, cunts, or bitches who audaciously want to craft a government that works for them, we reads more ego porn for the modern man's soul. Even though our Founding Fathers often acted as though men were the only relevant beings on the planet despite the abundance of women, Yorick voices the great fear of Today's Everyman. Namely, that as women become more and more relevant to the public sphere, men will become less so.

The dystopian future presented by Y, combined with the enormous success it has amongst male readers, perhaps gives us some insight into their psyches. Undoubtedly, as women have made great headway in the public arena, some dudes already feel as though women are Taking Over the World. As we advance toward equality of the sexes, some men instead interpret equality as the Mass Feminization of Everything in Society.

In reality, men are only becoming de-centered as the human norm. It will be interesting to see how Yorick negotiates that. It will also be interesting to see how one dude envisions another dude coping with the fact that, by definition, females are the new Default Human- a condition that men have had the privilege of experiencing for much of history, despite comprising only half the human population.

To end, I know this review is a bit harsh. I don't actually think Y is all bad. In Yorick's bodyguard, for instance, Vaughn gives us a smart, strong, competent woman of color who kind of plays "straight man" to Yorick, who has a quirky sense of humor and who struggles to keep his strong emotions in check.

And, the premise of the series is an interesting thought experiment, even though I question whether a man can adequately envision a world comprised almost entirely of women. I had high hopes for the series. It could have been done in a really thoughtful way, or it could be done really badly- relying on caricatures and stereotypes, rather than nuance and subtlety.

So, for now, I still like Ursula La Guin's version better.

Related Links:

My review of Volume 2: Cycles

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