In today’s post, I will analyze Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. As obvious as gender relations are, I’m going to spend this post talking about the portrayal of men who aren’t Yorick. As a result, the source of my analysis comes from the first issue of the series, entitled “Unmanned.”
I’m not going to comment on Vaughan’s portrayal of women. Of course we’re going to see a wide range of diversity in women characters, from weak and static to strong and dynamic and everything inbetween. But what about the men? Men are scarce in this story like women are scarce in other stories (Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings anyone?). So how are men portrayed? Let’s take a look at the very first issue, which details the events of the main characters immediately before the gendercide.
Yorick and Beth are having a long-distance phone conversation. Yorick is escaping from a straight jacket upside down (on speaker phone) and Beth is walking across the Outback in Australia. Right away, we’re seeing Yorick as a standard Nobody Twenty-something who didn’t get the job and, on a whim, volunteered to train a monkey for the disabled. Opposing this is Beth, who is in the Outback and obviously doing something with her life. The entire first issue returns this phone conversation, emphasizing the fact that of all the men in the world, this is the man we must rest our hopes upon.
Next we have Yorick’s mother, Representative Brown, talking with a Senator named Marty. They have a back-and-forth with what is probably typical politician stuff. You scratch my back on this bill, I’ll scratch yours for that one. However, they get into an argument and Marty reminds Representative Brown that she was elected because of him. He is then called by his assistant to meet with the present on the matter regarding “355.” I thought Mrs. Brown was fairly powerful for being a representative in the first place, but this exchange shows her dependence on her male colleagues. This particular colleague, Marty, is even shown to be above Mrs. Brown. Although she assumes “355” is a topic relating to baseball, we later learn that it’s actually in relation to Agent 355 of the Culper Ring, the secret organization for the executive branch. Her lack of knowledge on the subject subverts her power in the government, and this power makes a big leap after the gendercide. The fact that Marty the male knows about Agent 355 and Mrs. Brown doesn’t shows the difference in power men and women have in the US Government.
Our next interaction is with Christopher, a news reporter in Israel, and Commander Alter Tse’elon of the Israeli army. Christopher proves himself to be the standard annoying reporter, twisting words to get what he wants and not being as smooth as he believes he is. Alter shows herself to be more adept with the environment than Christopher, easily jumping barriers and showing disappointment with her current position in the military. I wasn’t very sympathetic with Christopher from the get go. His opening panels show him talking with someone who is intentionally acting in the news story. Furthermore, he is obviously bugging Alter while she’s going on her rounds. Christopher is portrayed as capable but disliked in the surrounding area, but I suppose journalists aren’t well liked anywhere, are they?
Allison Mann is introduced in labor. She is rolled into the hospital by her assistant, a male. Thus we have Allison Mann above the men around her. When her doctor comes to introduce himself, he mentions being in a class she taught at Harvard. The doctor is highly respected, being a graduate from Harvard and all, but it is Dr. Mann who has the higher position of authority. I find this scene subverts what I would expect from the story. The women should be capable yet undermined by the males around her. Instead, we have Dr. Mann, obviously the more highly respected, being vulnerable and volunteering herself into the care of a subordinate. I don’t think this is undermining her capabilities as a character. At least she’s going to an actual doctor and not trying to have her baby by herself. That, I think, would make me not respect her as much.
But do you know who doesn’t earn a lot of respect? Yorick’s sister Hero. She’s introduced getting it on with a firefighter in the back of an ambulance (she’s an EMT). Outside, we have two other female EMTs talking about Hero’s sleeping habits (ahem) behind her back. I think we can get a general idea what the men want in this scene. If Hero’s been with almost every firefighter in the ladder, than I make the presumption that the firefighters are just as promiscuous. In which case, I would like to call out that Hero is the only one with questionable sexuality and not the firefighters. Go ahead and point out that she’s probably the one instigating these meet-ups. But those girls didn’t say anything about why the men would want to share one woman, or whether the men’s sexuality is in question.
In conclusion, men are portrayed as they would be any other story. We have the man of obvious higher authority (Marty), the man who can speak his way out of any situation (Christopher), the man who acts as the pillar of strength (Dr. Something), and the possibly promiscuous males whose sexuality is never questioned (Joe). The actual story, of course, doesn’t take place until these guys disappear, and that’s when things get more interesting.
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Discussion Question: How would you prepare for the apocalypse? Detail your plan below!