Monday, November 08, 2004

Why "The Last Man"?

Begun in 2002, Y, The Last Man (from DC’s imprint Vertigo) has been praised by many. Wizard has said, “This book blew us away.” Other reviewers have echoed this tribute.

Taking an old science fiction premise, writer Brian K. Vaughan and primary artists Pia Guerra and José Marzá, Jr., have built a new story around a curious Armageddon. All of the men died suddenly and mysteriously. In fact, every mammal with a Y chromosome died a violent, bloody death. All, that is, except for the eponymous character Yorick Brown and his pet monkey.

Adrift in a sea of estrogen (to paraphrase Yorick’s lament), this last man must find a way to solve the mystery of the deaths and keep the human race from dying out, despite his myopic desire to find his missing girlfriend.

This, of course, sounds like the start of an X-Rated movie. But Vaughn avoids the titillating aspects of the premise and builds action adventure/thriller-style momentum as Yorick picks up some traveling companions. Key among these is Agent 355, who is charged by the new president (formerly a low level Cabinet member) to keep the lone male resource alive, and a genetic scientist, who may be able to repopulate the world through science.

After reading the first 17 issues in the three trade paperbacks (Unmanned, Cycles, and One Small Step) it’s hard to agree with the positive reviews of this series. It is somewhat captivating, but only in the way that a train wreck, moving in slow motion, captivates a bystander. The artwork is quite good – very clean and simple. But the writing is not good.

This series is based on a single premise – and not the obvious one. Vaughn wants to show us that women can be as vulgar, petty, and dangerous as men. Every panel is filled with women behaving badly. You could (with minor alterations) plug men into the story in place of women and not lose a beat.

All of Vaughn’s characters speak with the same voice. Every one of them say “f---“ this and “f---“ that. Every character. Vaughn would defend his choice by saying that’s how people speak. Well, it isn’t. Certainly there are plenty of people who speak like that in the course of normal conversation, but not everyone.

But this complaint goes further than just a pile of expletives. Every character sounds the same. Their cadence is similar. Their word choice is similar. In short, there is no character in these characters.


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