Saturday, August 13, 2005

Y: The Last Man

Over the past few weeks I've been reading the comic book series, Y: The Last Man. I just finished the fifth volume, and will have to wait a few months until the next trade comes out. The series has a great premise, a plague wipes out all the men on Earth except for one, our main character, Yorick Brown. So, he has to go around and figure out why he survived, and also try to get back to his girlfriend, Beth, who's over in Australia, and doesn't know he's alive.

First off, I really liked the book, it's been a while since I had a good longform comics series, and like Preacher, this book goes down smooth, and you don't want to stop reading it. I don't think it reaches the insane heights of Preacher, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable book that tells intelligent stories. I really do want to see where things are going.

So, the five volumes follow Yorick on his journey across the country to get to a lab in San Francisco, where Dr. Mann can test Yorick and see why he survived. They decide to go there at the end of book one and it takes until the end of volume five to actually make it there. This book definitely follows the new trend in comics of decompression, i.e. pacing the story slowly. Decompression came about as a reaction to older comics where there's nothing but plot, and no time to relax and get to know the characters.

However, in reacting against this, a lot of creators have taken this to mean pacing stories so slowly that the book moves at a glacial pace. Warren Ellis was a big offender during the end of Transmetropolitan, when it took nearly twenty issues to tell a story that would have probably taken five issues at the beginning of the book.

The whole point of decompression is that it gives you a chance to spend time with the characters and get to know them, because they're not always dealing with plot. The problem with this book is that there's not much character development, so the plots just drag on and things move forward very slowly. Books 2-4 are basically a series of distractions on the way to San Francisco, where nothing really happens.

I suppose the point is to show us a bunch of people in this world, to give us an idea of what it's like. The problem is Vaughan gives us some isolated pieces of the world, but we have no feeling of what things are like on the whole. Especially as things move forward, we don't learn more about the world. Considering the premise of the book, it's absurd to spend all our time on this road story, and get no sense of what it's like for ordinary people in this world. There's so many issues and we never really get the sense of how things have changed, outside of what's necessary for the story.

For example, there are no men, so what are families like. Are women moving in with each other and forming sort of nonsexual couplings, how people feel about lesbianism now, are people realizing that lesbian couplings are the only option available, or are people still clinging to the hope that men will return? I'm not just saying this from the heterosexual male point of view, but it's absolutely ridiculous that this book hasn't dealt with lesbian sexuality in 31 issues. As a writer, the potential for drama there is huge, and I have no clue how Vaughan could not touch on the issue.

Vaughan has very different priorities in writing than most of the fiction I like. People like Joss Whedon or Alan Ball always have the plot come out of character problems, to the point that the show basically writes itself. Vaughan doesn't write particularly strong characters, so he's constantly imposing new random threats on the characters. In a long form series like this, I'd rather see a focus on character development and growth than just have them run into another bunch of crazy women. That's why it feels like the book isn't going anywhere, Yorick has this one desire to get to Beth, but nothing else, so it feels like most of the events that occur are pointless. The plots play out, but in most cases, they don't change the characters, and if the characters don't change, why am I reading the book?

The best storyline in the run of the book is 'Safeword' because it's about examining a character, rather than just having another arbitrary random encounter. In this story, Yorick encounters a dominatrix, who imprisons him and forces him to examine his attitudes toward sexuality, and find out why he's not taking advantage of his status as the last man on earth to have lots of sex. It explains one of the major character issues from earlier in the book and is also an interesting storyline in and of itself, however this storyline is the exception, and we get no similar insights into the lives of Dr. Mann and 355.

There's another major plothole in the book and that's the fact that there's no indication of what's going on with artificial insemination, and if that's worked to help give birth to any new men. It's been over two years of book time, so someone's definitely tried it. There's one pregnant woman who we hear gave birth to a son, and he's treated like mankind's last hope, but someone must have tried the sperm bank.

And if the sperm bank doesn't work, isn't it Yorick's obligation to impregnate as many women as he can? He's so concerned with being faithful to Beth, they don't seem to have considered what he'd need to do to continue the human race. There's some references to these issues early on, but this should really be the dramatic meat of the book. How would Yorick feel about having the entire next generation of humanity be his children? This is the stuff that great drama is made of, and Vaughan never even touches on it.

I guess my biggest problem with the book is that the premise offers so much drama, but Vaughan uses it merely as a gateway to a road trip story that only marginally takes advantage of the premise. So, it's one of those books where a lot of stuff seems to happen, but looking back, there's been a ton of stories that don't contribute anything to the characters or our knowledge of the world, so the stories are entertaining, but don't really go anywhere.

And, despite all these problems, I was still hooked on the book. It is entertaining moment to moment, but once you step back, it becomes apparent that it was thirty issues of going nowhere. Still, I probably will pick up the next collection.

1 comment:

muebles oferta said...

The dude is completely just, and there is no skepticism.