Readers of The Lost Art

Y: The Last Man vol. 1 – Unmanned

March 4th, 2009

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan.
Artist: Pia Guerra.
Reviewer: Louise

Y: The Last Man vol. 1 - Unmanned

Y: The Last Man starts with an interesting premise. A mysterious plague kills every male mammal on Earth, creating a world populated only by women – except for a twentysomething escape artist, Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey, Ampersand. At the time the plague hit, Yorick had just proposed by cellphone to his girlfriend, Beth, who happens to be travelling in the Australian outback. This book, the first in the series, deals with the beginning of both Yorick’s quest to be reunited with her, and the search to find out what happened and why.

This is a very original premise, but it could have been done so much better. For me, the most glaring example of this is in the opening pages. If you read the hype about this series, you open the book expecting a comic with something genuinely new to say, taking advantage of its gripping premise to explore gender issues in graphic form.

Then you read the first few pages, and find that a lot of the art depicts a nubile young woman in a bikini. (Beth apparently hasn’t read the Australian Tourism Board’s warnings about how it’s a good idea to cover up from the sun if you don’t want to die an untimely death from skin cancer.)

Not impressive, guys. And it continues. We’re meant to sympathise with Yorick and his heroic quest to find his lost girlfriend, marry her and have babies, and indeed his general determination not to be used as a walking sperm bank. Except that in the context of the situation he’s in, it comes off as less romantic than stupid; he’s the last human male on Earth, the best chance anyone has of reproducing and continuing the survival of the species.

Okay, it wouldn’t be a very interesting story if he simply stayed in the White House and got on with impregnating women. But the fact that his mother (who’s also the President – don’t ask, it’s a long story) simply lets him walk off with one bodyguard without the issue of whether he’s so important he actually shouldn’t be allowed to do whatever he wants even being raised is pretty sloppy.

Likewise the Amazons (sigh). These are that old staple of post-apocalyptic literature, the mad biker gang out for world domination, led by a charismatic leader. Mad Max anyone? Since this is a female-only society, they’re a bunch of radical feminists who believe the plague was a blessing, and who are busy trashing memorials to the dead men, burning down sperm banks, and removing their left breasts as a sign of gang membership.

Needless to say, they’re out to kill Yorick, seeing him as the last of their oppressors. Victoria, their leader, is fond of ordering her followers to shoot people, then murmuring: “Believe me, I despise barking orders like a patriarch.” Yes, we get it; women too can be manipulative power-hungry dictators. It would be much more effective, however, if the writers trusted us to be smart enough to figure out the contradiction between Victoria’s belief that male-dominated societies have oppressed women for hundreds of years and her authoritarian, patriarchal approach to leadership, without feeling the need to spell it out for us in such a clunky fashion.

It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence that the rest of the series is going to deal with the issues raised by its premise with anything approaching sensitivity or thoughtfulness. The action in this book is set in America; personally, I’d have been very interested to see how women in patriarchal, oppressive societies were dealing with the deaths of their oppressors. Instead, it’s more like “The men have died! Society has fallen to bits! But one man and his quest will save us all!”

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh here; it’s an interesting read; quest stories usually are, and the plot does rattle along quite quickly. Also, this is the first volume, and is necessarily hampered by having to set up the plot and get the exposition out of the way. Having read it, I would read the following volumes in the series. I just wouldn’t expect them to contain anything very deep.

Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (24 Jul 2003)
Language English
ISBN: 1840237082

(First published 27/07/2006.)

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