Thursday, March 03, 2005


Y: The Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan and pencilled by Pia Guerra, is a highly acclaimed example of the "New Mainstream" in comics. (For those unfamiliar with this term, it refers to comics which are neither superhero nor "arty," usually in genres which are popular in other media. Such comics, according to proponents of this concept, are what is needed to get the general public reading American-made comics again.) If you follow the American comics scene, you're probably aware of the series's high concept: every male human and mammal on earth has mysteriously died, except for the protagonist and his pet monkey. Looking at the single issues in my comics shop, I was never interested enough to buy one; but when I saw the first trade paperback collection in a local library I figured I might as well check it out.

Well, I didn't loathe it as much as Daredevil #56, but that's about all I can say for it. A whole lot of characters are introduced in this volume, and no reasons are given to care about any of them. And the protagonist, a self-centered jerk, is about the least likable of all (aside from the lunatic-feminist "Amazons"). His motivation throughout most of the book is to go to Australia to find his girlfriend; but this "love" of his is totally unconvincing.

To be sure, a book can get by without likeable characters if it has other virtues to make up for this lack, such as humor and suspense, both of which are also absent here: I wasn't the least bit interested in the various conspiracies Vaughan waves in the reader's face. On the other hand, it would be unfair to criticize Vaughan for not having realistically depicted the emotional and social consequences of half the world's population suddenly dying, when that's clearly the furthest thing from his mind. (Judging by this volume, the main consequence is that there are a lot of chicks with guns running around.)

The dialogue is plastic Hollywoodspeak, and the art is dull. I rarely read "mainstream" superhero books; but seeing the acclaim this and similar books receive makes me wonder if the average comic is so bad that slickly-produced crap like this looks good in comparison.

If you have a yen to read about what would happen if all the world's men suddenly disappeared, instead of Y: The Last Man I'd suggest The Disappearance by Philip Wylie (a prose novel, not a comic), which was recently reissued. Wylie really wasn't a good writer, though The Disappearance was probably his best novel. And some of Wylie's views on gender expressed in the book, which was originally published in 1951, appear retrograde today. (In some respects, though, the book's treatment of gender is surprisingly progressive, especially given Wylie's reputation as an arch-misogynist; but that's another story). But at least Wylie's characters are real people, not posable action figures being maneuvered through a hackneyed thriller plot.

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