Everyday Semiotics

Monday, July 07, 2008

How I spent my 4th of July

Picked up the final trade paperback installment of “Y: The Last Man” this past Wednesday, and resolved to read all 10 volumes in one go. I averaged about an hour and a half per volume, so it turned into a two-day affair.

For the uninitiated, “Y” is the story of the eponymous Yorick Brown, ostensibly the only male to survive a mysterious plague that spontaneously and immediately wipes out every mammal with a y chromosome on July 17, 2002. Womankind then inherits a devastated, corpse-strewn Earth.

Yorick teams up with secret agent 355 and geneticist Allison Mann to: (a) survive, (b) figure out what killed all the other men, (c) find a way to save humankind from extinction, and ultimately (d) find his long-lost girlfriend.

All of these things are accomplished in the end, and none of them matter. I’m not too concerned about spoiling anything --- the storytelling in “Y” is so compelling that there’s nothing really to spoil. As Yorick himself remarks, discovering what actually caused the plague is “vaguely unsatisfying,” and that aliens, witchcraft or nanobots might have been cooler (“Whys and Wherefores,” 58-9).

The “gendercide” is one of the baldest plot devices ever conceived and executed in fiction. More than simply propelling action and character development, though, it creates an artistic canvas on which the “hard” science fiction of an Isaac Asimov and the idealistic science fiction of a Thomas Moore can converse.

What would happen if there suddenly were no men in the world? Writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra envision marauding bands of “Amazons” bent on toppling remnants of the patriarchy, like the phallic Washington Monument, and harassing those who cling to memories of beloved men as well as female-to-male transgender people. Marauders in fiction are rarely so idealistic. Think Morlocks who read Dworkin. The Amazons are just one example of the myriad ways in which female society could go; but the richness and diversity of the creators’ vision of the post-male planet is fantastic.

Another thing I love about “Y” is that readers see every one of the major characters as a child. One of the earliest flashbacks of Yorick as a boy is more clever than illustrative, but the episodic Bildungsroman sequences only get deeper and more relevant as they go. Rendered in pictures and words or just words, fictional characters don’t often have such detailed histories.

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