Welcome to the first post of the 2012 (Post-)Apocalypse Blogfest. In this post, I will introduce and discuss the history of the world in the graphic novel Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra; published by Vertigo.
On a typical day in 2002, every man and male animal die. The story follows Yorick Brown, a twenty-something who miraculously survived the gendercide, and his pet Capuchin monkey Ampersand. Yorick teams up with Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist researching cloning, and Agent 355, an agent of the Culper Ring with a side mission of her own. The three are forced to travel across the United States, from New England to San Francisco, to find the reason behind the gendercide and find a way to keep the male species alive.
With the apocalyptic incident happening in 2002, some of the references in the graphic novel are a bit dated. For instance, as our team crosses the Pacific Ocean to Japan, they hear that Australia is the only country that had allowed women to serve aboard submarines. I contest this fact when I think of a good friend of mine in the Navy ROTC. Two years ago, she spent her summer serving on a submarine with several other women. Because of this fact, I believe that other countries, or at least the United States, are catching up to Australia in the realm of women serving on submarines. Despite these outdated references, the message behind them is clear: “This nation/culture allowed women to do this, and they allowed that aspect of technology to keep on going.” Or, what happens most often: “This nation/culture restricted women from this activity or skill, and because of this, there is a pressing need for the activity or skill.”
The constant that keeps the graphic novel interesting is not the historical and political anecdotes, but the relationships of the characters and the exploration of the human condition within the story. The panic caused by the gendercide is captured very well within the pages of Y: The Last Man. The opening images in the first volume show a cop committing suicide after watching a whole street of men die in front of her eyes. Later on, a former model complains about getting a boob job a few weeks before all the men died. She goes on to say that it was money thrown away. Women fail to carry themselves through the grief, women rise above the event and take control of their lives, women fail to cope with the event in a healthy way . . . all sorts of action is taken by different people in the entire series. I find the sheer diversity of reactions very realistic; different people react to everything differently, and there is no one method everyone conforms to.
And then there is Yorick, the miraculous survivor who continually walks into dangerous situations. Spoiler alert( Yorick later reveals that he doesn’t want to be the last man alive and his walking into these situations is a fairly indirect method of suicide. Walk into enough dangerous situations, you eventually don’t walk away again. Agent 355 picks up on this and takes their cross-country route past her good friend Agent 711, also of the Culper Ring. Agent 711 manages to break Yorick of this suicidal path, and all is well until they hit Arizona )End Spoiler.
Once the panic of the gendercide settles, the world starts to build itself up again. I mean, where else is it going to go? The first instance of a small utopia premiers itself in Ohio, where the women of a rural community have started to work together to keep their small town running. I think they even have electricity! Although our heroes discover that the town is far from perfect, this is the first instance where people aren’t panicking or scrounging for food or doing anything else that suggests society’s downfall. The further west our heroes travel, the more time has passed since the gendercide, and the more the world adapts to the changes. Once they reach the west coast, most towns have electricity, and communications seem to be starting up again across vast distances.
One thing that takes much longer to catch on is currency. Since the gendercide, paper money and credit cards are useless because, let’s face it, outside our normal 2012 lifestyles, they have no value. Instead of coins or paper money, women trade food and other items. Canned food and boxes of tea are mentioned the most, but there are other methods. Yorick pays for passage on a train by offering a woman the motorcycle he used to get to the train yard. The world after the gendercide trades goods and tactile materials long after men have disappeared from the Earth.
I almost forgot to mention the general baddies in the world. Immediately after the world-wide phenomenon, a group of extremists called Amazons rise up, and they are not friendly to anyone but their own. Their main goal is to destroy everything that showcased the oppression of women, particularly churches, the government (most noticeably the Washington Monument), and other cultural icons. A woman named Victoria leads the women in the New England area. Her hate seems to stem from the fact that she was better at chess than all the men she knew and yet she was still unable to compete in world chess competitions. The Amazonian mindset is eventually seen as a disease through the portrayal of Hero Brown, Yorick’s older sister. Hero joins the Amazons shortly after the gendercide, and she is helped out of that mindset with the women of the small town in Ohio. Although Amazons make it as far west as San Francisco, they don’t seem to exist beyond the United States borders. At least they don’t turn up in the other countries our heroes visit.
On Wednesday, I will talk about how different parts of the world adapted to the gendercide. And on Friday, I will present a more in-depth literary analysis.
Comment Question: Other than Y: The Last Man, do you know of any other graphic novels that aren’t based around superheroes?