WARNING: Given how far we are into the series, and the fact that I’ve read the series in its entirety, this will be more discussion than review, meaning those who haven’t read this or the previous volumes should steer clear if they want to avoid spoilers.
Vaughan has subjected his characters to a ton. Really put them through the emotional wringer. So why is it that it wasn’t until the second to last volume that I came to feel for these characters? I mean, I liked Yorick and didn’t want his early attempts at suicide by proxy to work, but that was primarily because a) he is our (reluctant) “hero” and b) he’s easily the most entertaining of all the characters. I was never, not for a second invested in his hunt for his “fiancé,” Beth, primarily because I knew that was destined to blow up in his face from the moment his proposal was cut short. Beth never had the chance to answer, and I’ve been rejected enough times to be able to see when one’s coming. Had Vaughan given Yorick the happy ending with Beth, I would’ve raged… hardcore. I, and many others, like to joke about how Mario never gets so much as a kiss from Princess Peach any of the times he risks life and limb to save her from Bowser, but to see him get the girl would just feel wrong on a deeper level. No one is, or should ever feel, obligated to reciprocate someone else in any way, particularly sexually. Yorick and Mario both run the gauntlet to get to and/or save their respective “princess,” which is chivalrous and all, but Beth and Peach shouldn’t allow themselves to stumble into a relationship out of obligation or, put another way, guilt.
Even if their relationships had a less psychologically manipulative foundation, wouldn’t they, and others, always have that concern that it wasn’t? For me, Yorick and Beth could never have had a happy ending together, no matter how it was spun, which is why I couldn’t even stand when Vaughan teased it momentarily. Beth eventually admits things between them are a lie of sorts, as she was ready to dump him prior to the plague, but her being so weak-willed that she could be strong-armed into this in the first place was tantamount to character assassination for me. In part, it felt like a study of how events like this can be, as I put it earlier, “psychologically manipulative,” but mostly it feels like a reinforcement of what is a dangerous, yet popular, line of reasoning. Although he may not have meant it to be taken that way, it’s something that deserved a blunt rejection by both parties, and I don’t feel readers are given that. The ball appeared in Yorick’s court; if he had wanted to keep up the charade, keep fooling himself, I get the sense that he very well could have, and that disgusts me.
Disney has become more forward thinking with their princesses as of late, challenging the idea of theRomeo & Juliet model of (whirlwind) courtship in Frozen, promoting female empowerment in Braveand Frozen, and in Brave suggesting that not every princess needs a prince, but I’m still waiting for Disney to put out a movie in which a prince “saves” the princess, acts as entitled as Mario does in the video below, and is summarily rejected and called out on his bullshit… all in a child-friendly and –palatable manner.
I can think of times when Disney sort of addressed this, such as Gaston’s attempt at “rescuing” Belle from The Beast, but that’s nowhere near enough for me. I’m sure Disney fanatics will pour of the woodwork to correct me, but I’m drawing a blank. With Yorick and Beth, Vaughan had the opportunity to give that whole concept the stern rejection it needs, as this most recent tragedy and the reaction to it goes to show, and I feel he dropped the ball on that just like he did with the short-lived “I’m in lesbian with you” angle in Girl on Girl.
Yeah, remember how I said he appears to double back on the later on? First, I should clarify that I don’t think Agent 355 having feelings for Yorick invalidates what she and Dr. Mann shared. What does make that seem like a throwaway thing is that Vaughan has been laying the groundwork for Yorick and Agent 355 the entire series. He even lets us toy with the idea of Dr. Mann possibly wanting some of that, like every freaking woman Yorick encounters and spends a significant amount of time with. He uses Yorick’s promiscuity as a means of questioning his fidelity to Beth, as well as his maturity, which I can get behind, but wasn’t there another way he could’ve done it? One that doesn’t make this seem sort of like him playing out his own personal “last man on Earth” fantasy? Most of the women in this series are more man, in terms of our societal construct of what it means to be a “man,” than Yorick; he is, as we see pointed out numerous times, more boy than man. Except Agent 355, one of the characters who seems to recognize that and point it out, is just another one of the girls who falls for him.
Vaughan could’ve used this as a commentary on how girls, and guys alike, often fall for the “fun” guy/girl when they really should be after the more secure and mature options. But, again, I’m not of the opinion that he really makes readers question it, or that he wants them to. That goes for nearly everything in Y: The Last Man. He could very easily critique a whole host of things… and yet he falls short of doing so. Instead he, knowingly or accidentally, perpetuates dangerous ways of thinking. And for what? For Agent 355 to get shot mere moments after the two finally reach a mutual agreement to give things between them a chance? No, fuck you, Brian. K. Vaughan. You don’t have your strongest female character become just another dumb bitch to fall for Yorick’s not a boy, not yet a man bullshit, then kill her off and expect me to feel anything for her, or for Yorick, who of course never quite gets over it.
Especially not after the bombshells he dropped in the penultimate volume concerning the backstory of Dr. Mann and her entire family. That moment when we first meet her father and see the numerous clones of her, her father’s attempts at starting back over and fixing the mistakes he made raising her, is one of the most tragic moments I can recall seeing/reading in some time. So to go from that to this nonsensical drivel… well, fuck that. Had the final volume not been preceded by one as strong asMotherland, I wouldn’t be practically seething with hatred for it right now, hence the two stars instead of one. In many ways, it offends me, but a large swath of that hatred has more to do with unmet expectations than anything. As I said in an earlier review, Y: The Last Man manages a greater degree of consistency than Irredeemable, thus causing me to view it more positively than that series, but in attaining that consistency it sacrifices most of the extreme highs that make the lows seem even lower, which really is a double-edged sword.
Besides this final one-two punch, Y: The Last Man just doesn’t have the requisite ups and downs to inspire true disappointment or anger. I wanted so much more from it, but it never really showed me any signs of reaching those heights, so why waste time and energy being bothered by it? It makes for a more positive overall experience, yes; however, I think it’ll most likely be Irredeemable I’m still thinking and talking about years down the line, Y: The Last Man a distant memory at best. To sum up, if you want a series that’s consistently entertaining, give it a read. As long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you can’t get too disappointed. But if you’re not content with something that’s just consistently entertaining, if you want those highs, even if they come with corresponding lows, you’re better off giving it a pass.