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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/31/2004 Archived Entry: "Graphic Novel Review: "Y, The Last Man""

Y, The Last Man, Trades 1-3
Publisher: DC Comics

Reviewed by Ginger Mayerson

Y All the Misogyny in "Y, The Last Man"?

Before we get started, I wish to recommend my fellow reviewer, Kathy LaFollett's review, Itís the Women, Y, be read along with this one for another point of view on this work. GM July 10, 2004

After reading the first three trades of "Y, The Last Man", and learning that there is a film in the works, I must wonder why there is so much institutional support for such a negative vision of a world, for whatever reasons, dominated by women? Are women really that scary or are women just scary to the people who produce pop culture?

Basically, here's what happens: For reasons yet to be explained, all the men on earth die, except one guy, Yorick Brown, who just wants to get from NYC to Australia so he can marry his vacationing girlfriend. Yorick has a male pet monkey, who has somehow also survived and couldn't care less. In the 1980s, Frank Herbert published a novel like this called "The White Plague" (ISBN 0517445158), which killed most of the women on earth with a lethally designed virus that spread like the flu. So, some women survived simply because they didn't come into contact with the virus before it ran its course. This left enough women around for the practice of polyandry to be necessary, which is not only logical, but is about as close to a happy ending as a book like this gets. Interestingly and unlike "Y, The Last Man", the world after the White Plague did not devolve into savagery presumably because there were still enough men at the tiller or something. Also along these "last man" lines is Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and his Dog" (ISBN 1883398479), of which I've only seen the film (ASIN B0000C825J). However, when the literally virile protagonist is captured by the underground literally sterile family values-types, he is not allowed to run amok among the maidens, impregnating them willy nilly. No, unfortunately for him, he's strapped down and is being milked for his sperm because these family values-types must control everyone's reproductive system. Of course he escapes and feeds his girlfriend, who helped him escape, to his starving telepathic dog. I'm not sure if this is a happy ending or not; I'd say the species imperative (reproduction) is as strong in the boy as any other virile boy, but his desire to keep his telepathic dog alive outweighs his desire to mate with that particular female (loyalty and gratitude aside), especially when his chances of finding other females to mate with were higher with his telepathic dog, and lower with his girlfriend. Happy ending? Perhaps not, but it is certainly a more logical and natural narrative than anything in "Y, The Last Man". [1]

Alas, poor Yorick (that's who he's named after, honest)! He is the only male human left on earth and therefore is so precious, he must be enslaved for his own good. And by whom is he enslaved? By a bevy of powerful women, because only powerful, resourceful, and heavily armed women can protect him from the enraged, homicidal, and heavily armed lesbians, and the cold, steely-eyed, and heavily armed Israeli Commandos (female, of course), who are trying to kill Yorick for some as yet undisclosed reason.

Hey, I had nothing to do with this plot line. When this book was first described to me, I had visions of a Kevin Costner-type hunk, marching across a blasted American landscape on a quest for his soulmate and perhaps delivering a little mail on the way. What you have in Yorick Brown is more a Jim Carrey-type of guy, which tells you how much trouble the species is really in. He's a loveable nebbish of a guy, the kind of guy whose wife wins the arguments with auto mechanics, files the taxes, and generally props up his misshapen ego so as to allow him to lead the life of a sheltered maiden of old. Now, am I still talking about an improbable sci-fi comic or am I talking about a sizeable number of inept, but charming, men who've found strong, gainfully employed women to take care of them in exchange for sex (maybe), companionship (of sorts, what does a househusband have in the way of conversation?) and staying out of the (paid for by the wife because she can't stand the mess) housekeeper's way once a week? If marriage wasn't state sanctioned prostitution before, it sure is now. In a world where brains and typing speed have, for better or for worse, prevailed over brawn, is the very best the West can come up with really the Institutional Gigolo?

Full disclosure: I like men who are good at something other than male posturing. The word "mastery" is a good word and everyone should, in addition to having enough skills to support themselves, master or strive to master at least one thing in life. Whether it's a musical instrument, a sport, the stock market, feng shui, gardening, or working for world peace; there's all kinds of things out there to make it a better world, it's just a matter of getting off the couch because the Institutional Gigolo, and the Professional Wife for that matter, are not doing much to make the planet a place future generations are going to thank anyone for. In fact, the way things are going, the Institutional Gigolo and the Professional Wife aren't going to last long in the wilderness they are contributing to and only the Kevin Costner-types will be left to rule the wastelands.

However, back to "Y, The Last Man". The writer on the first trade, Brian K. Vaughan, sidesteps the issues of how men and women can live together in peace by giving us a world where they no longer have to live together at all. This is accomplished by killing off all the men on earth, except the one whose DNA or RNA or endocrine or immune system or aftershave or something has saved him. And all that's left in the world to prop up this one guy (and his monkey) are women: good ones, bad ones, fat ones, thin ones, you name it ones, because that's all that's left, folks. Is this comic misogynist? Yes, because women are stereotyped, parodied and often trashed in it.

So, let's take a look at these humans with two complete chromosomes:

1. Yorick's girlfriend, who is vacationing in Australia, has no real purpose in the story yet beyond a plot device and some cheesecake value.

2. Yorick's mother, who is an anti-choice liberal member of Congress. Aside from providing the comic value of an anti-choice liberal and illustrating how messed up things are after all but one of the men die, she hasn't done much else in the story thus far. She does appear to be helping the Secretary of Agriculture (a woman) who is now President run the country from D.C. Of course if the U.S. really did devolve into chaos, D.C. would be the most irrelevant place on earth.

3. Israeli commandos or commandas, who are trying to kill whatever men are left along with anyone who can explain what the hell might be going on (which would be nice in this story), but we readers have no idea why these soldiers are on this mission. Even they don't seem to know. Why are they Israelis? I've no idea other than that there was a hint of a subplot that takes place in Israel, but nothing more was made of it by the end of the third trade. And if there are anti-Semitic notes here, I missed it in the sea of misogynistic tympani.

4. The good, blond Russian agent with bad English who gets to save the day, but that's about it.

5. The homicidal, radical, lesbian feminists who lend an element of psycho menace to the story. These characters are the worst nightmare of every little boy trapped inside the body of an angry thirty-plus year old man. Rush Limbaugh couldn't have done a better job realizing his Feminazis, who, no longer having any innocent men to oppress, must oppress each other. These villainesses are a weird combination of a 1970s feminist rally and the Manson family. I found it hard to take them seriously as villainesses because they are such an extreme version of feminism gone wild, they become a humorless and insulting parody of gender scholarship, feminism, women, and women in society as we know it.

6. The weird and clueless scientist lady wearing glasses who cloned a baby boy to save her nephew from leukemia and somehow killed all the men when she went into labor. Okay. I'm not an expert in parthenogenesis, so I asked Professor K.E. Rodgers, Ph.D., DABT, at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and she said it is only possible to create women that way. You can fertilize an ovum with an ovum, but without a Y chromosome, which lives in sperm, you can't get boys, only girls. And then, how one event -- the birth of a child -- could trigger the death of every male but one on the planet is going to take a great deal of explaining to make any sense. I could accept a virus, an allergy, a toxin, a climate change, or some organic event wiping out the male population, but just one birth? I mean, neither sex of our species has a global "off" switch that I'm aware of. I'll be very interested in the comic book explanation of this phenomenon. [2]

7. And then we have Agent 355 who is the only major black character in all four hundred and more pages I read. She's a secret agent for a secret bureau of the U.S. Gov; she's so secret no one can know her real name; she only kills as a last resort; she has no sense of humor; she's tough as nails, and she's getting a crush on Yorick (remember him?). Now, perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but when I combine a strong black woman protecting an inept white man on a journey to freedom or whatever, how can I not start feeling that this is some kind of a futuristic "Huckleberry Finn"? I'm just waiting for Yorick to say "Come back to the raft, 355, honey" and I can retire from all this review stuff.

Yes, there are other women in this story; there are even two other men who don't last very long, and all of these characters are even flatter than the ones I've mentioned above.

And then there is Yorick, who is saving all his sperm for his girlfriend in Australia if he can ever get there. Now, this kind of fidelity would be admirable in a normal world, but in a world where he should be spreading his seed as much as possible, it's merely effete, passive, and self-castrating. I cannot help but feel that Mr. Vaughan's presentation of Yorick's sensitive modesty is not designed to make the last man among us look good (it only makes him look weak), but to make the women around him look bad. Compared to Yorick, the women around him are savages, brutes, and psychopaths, when in the hands of a more sympathetic writer, they might simply be trying to rebuild a world that was at least 50% screwed up by men, who are no longer around to clean up their half of the mess.

What comic book consumers is "Y, The Last Man" aimed at? Certainly not women reading comics; every female stereotype is blown out of proportion and frequently in the most offensive way possible. I can't speak for all men, but I don't know many who would be able to identify and sympathize with Yorick (or his monkey). People of color are pretty much invisible in this comic, so they're not going to like it. Israeli commandos have better things to do than read comics that cast them as the morally questionable, if not bad guys, I mean, gals. Science fiction lovers are going to be annoyed by the bad and improbable science. Little kids are not going to understand it and shouldn't be reading it anyway. So... who does that leave to buy this comic?

I don't have a copy of Susan Faludi's "Backlash" (ISBN 0385425074) handy, but I do remember her passages about the audiences, mainly the men, cheering at the end of "Fatal Attraction" where the inept husband is trying to drown the woman who has been stalking him and his family after he has a one-night stand with her. I can remember the tension of that scene, but not feeling any bloodlust. Yes, she was a villain, but cheering? And mostly the men cheering?

When the film of "Y, The Last Man" is released, I wonder if the men in the audience will cheer when the homicidal, radical, lesbian feminists die. This film, like "Fatal Attraction", sounds like more Hollywood produced propaganda for misogyny and I find that sad, if not a little alarming. [3]

Intentionally or not, I think this series and film are aimed at young white men who hate and fear women and who get off on manufactured violence toward women. If you take away all the men, who is left to kill and be killed horribly, but the women? It's misogyny squared.

Our society has advanced far enough that, although thousands are murdered every year, it is generally considered uncool for a man to kill a woman. So DC Comics is doing its readers a great favor by allowing them to sublimate what are decidedly illegal urges by reading about women murdering each other. Hey, Y not? It's like porn for the impotent; if you can't do it, you can at least watch it.

Disclaimer: However much I didn't like what I saw in "Y, The Last Man", I am by no means advocating censorship in this review. I'm advocating consciousness in how we read and interact with pop culture and how that percolates into the world we live in. Here in the U.S. we still enjoy freedom of speech, so "Y, The Last Man" has every right to present a world of women (except for one guy and his monkey) in what I consider a negative light and I have every right to point that out and also limn what I consider the wider implications of such ideas and their presentation. Without discourse we are truly doomed, even more so than if suddenly one or the other sex were to disappear from the planet.

* * *

Other Reviews of "Y, The Last Man":

http://www.comingsoon.net/news/irobotnews.php?id=1882

http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2003/07/21/yorick/a>

http://www.thefourthrail.com/reviews/critiques/071502/ythelastman1.shtml

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1563899809/104-6743230-2851940?v=glance

http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=13665

Endnotes:

1. In discussing this revessay with Jane Seaton, a more serious sci-fi fan than I, two issues came up. Firstly, Jane chided me for trashing "The White Plague" and "A Boy and His Dog". As much as I like those works, the latter more than the former, I just don't take them very seriously. They are amusing and interesting as speculative sociology and at least Herbert speculates with something close to feasible science, but they still only amusing to me. However, it was never my intention to trash either of those works or authors.

Secondly, Jane mentioned a long out of print work called " The Disappearance" (ASIN 0446828378) by Philip Wylie, which leads me to believe that any work of fiction where one sex or the other dominates the world is going to have huge gender issues in it. Here's a link to the best revessay on "The Disappearance" I found in my admittedly limited search, http://www.lostbooks.org/reviews/1998-12-22-1.html, review by D. D. Shade, who gave it a rave on December 22, 1998, so I'll quote from that:

"Wylie covers a lot of ground in this novel and there are many fresh, new ideas for a book written in 1951. Since I'm without notes, we'll go by what still lingers in my mind. First off, I was quite intrigued by the idea of comparing a world run by women to a world run my men. Herein lies the most disastrous aspects of the book. I was totally unprepared for the havoc that such a catastrophe would cause. Because in the fifties men were in control of nearly everything, they didn't have to suffer as much as quickly. Yes, they had to find all the male babies who had been deserted but the factories ran, water poured from kitchen taps, trains kept their schedule and the government was a resilient source of support. However, there was also rioting, looting, and the resurgence of gang violence.

"In the woman's universe things are much better socially but fall apart functionally. According to Wylie, because men had kept women home and ignorant of the way the world works, even keeping them out of careers that would have kept the turbines generating electricity, the trains running and the water on, the women suffer more and it comes quickly. Yet he doesn't leave us to think that women are incapable. There are many that have the necessary training or are willing to learn what it takes to keep things running. Wylie's women do a great job but are limited by how society has dominated them. Even today, were the same phenomenon to occur, given the few women senators and congressmen we would have little government left in spite of the fact that we currently have a first lady well suited to taking on the role of president. Wylie clearly argues that we are fools to allow the intellectual potential of women go to waste."

So, to fast forward 52 years into the world of "Y, The Last Man" and you have worst of all possible worlds: chaos and aggression run amok and all because there are no men. Is this progress? I think not. At least Wylie allows women to retain some dignity in his 1950s world even if they can't fix a leaky faucet.

However, I wonder at Wylie's opinion of women; he did after all co-author "Generation of Vipers" (ISBN 1564781461) still very much in print and still containing this very famous passage on Momism, which begins thus:

"She is Cinderella, the creature I discussed earlier, the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis, of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession."
http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/momism.html for the rest of it, which goes on and on in the same vein and just gets nastier. (Full disclosure: I have tried to read "Generation of Vipers" and couldn't get through it.)

If Wylie's point was that letting the intellectual potential of women go to waste, how would his method of attacking women, mothers in particular, fit in with rescuing the female from her oppression? Isn't this more oppression? What am I missing here?

To be fair to everyone, I'm not a connoisseur of this type of dystopian novels, but of these four ("The White Plague", "A Boy and His Dog", "The Disappearance" and "Y, The Last Man"), there are palpable misogynistic themes in all of them. I don't think misogyny comes with the territory, but as I said, I'm not an expert on this genre.

2. I'm well aware that "Y, The Last Man" is fiction, science or speculative fiction at that and not fantasy, which is why I am about to pick the science in it apart. It is my firm belief that if you are going to write speculative fiction, at least get your speculations close to correct and it would take one measly phone call to really anyone at a medical school to do that. Most scientists are fairly patient with people who call them if there is a sincere desire on the callers part to understand that field of science for the purposes of pop culture or journalism. But anyway, here's what I found out from Dr. KE Rodgers and what I think based that conversation:

It would take a week minimum for a virus as virulent as Ebola to go through any size population, let alone all the men (except one and his monkey). Also, viruses are not gender specific, the only way it could kill only men would be because men have less flexible immune systems and might not be able to respond in time. (Real science fact: Men have less flexible immune systems because they don't incubate fetuses. Female immune systems are able to recognize an embryo and not kill it.) A nerve gas-toxin would make more real science sense, but a) how would one birth release that kind of toxin?, b) toxins are not gender specific either, c) it would have to be potent enough to cross oceans and land masses to kill all the males (and females, for that matter) on the planet.

I mean, if I were going to kill all the males, I might introduce an environmental toxin that would progressively weaken the immune systems of all the young, healthy males, so that when the virus or toxin went through the population, they would have no immune defense against it. It would not be necessary to do this for the very old or very young males because viruses and toxins have no problem killing them off. For example, in the early 20th century influenza epidemics and the more recent SARS outbreaks, the young and healthy of both sexes survived it, but it killed the infirm, old, and/or very young populations. But again there is the problem that toxins are not gender specific and even though men have a less robust immune system than women, it still works well enough to keep most of them alive. So, not that killing all the men was ever an option or in the least bit desirable, it isn't even possible. War and poverty are still the biggest killer of males, but both of those are ugly routes for androcide.

The other way-the-hell-out-in-left-field-and-on-the-edge-of-possible option Dr. Rodgers mentioned was grafting a "death gene" (i.e., an "off switch") to the Y chromosome of every male. The "death gene" could be introduced through the water supply and activated also through the water supply by tetracycline (I think). This idea was actually and coherently explored in Robin Cook's "Mututaion" and even there it wasn't particularly well done. (I was surprised that Dr. Rodgers reads Robin Cook, but she said he always has an evil Ph.D. in every book and this is usually good for a few laughs.)

Parthenogenesis: According to Dictionary.com, this is a form of reproduction in which an unfertilized egg develops into a new individual, occurring commonly among insects and certain other arthropods. In mammals, it can only produce females. If the weird and clueless scientist lady wearing glasses bone marrow and if her bone marrow was good enough for a baby boy (if that were even possible), it would be good enough to give to her nephew for a bone marrow transplant. I mean, why wait 9 months to term and then however long it would take for the spare parts baby to be old enough to harvest its bone marrow. And if the weird and clueless scientist lady wearing glasses was just carrying the her sister or sister-in-law's ex vitro fertilized fetus to term, then it's not cloning, so the weird and clueless genetic science falls apart right there, too.

Dr. Rodgers parting words to me on this subject were that she didn't understand why I cared about the bad science in "Y, The Last Man", it was, after all, only a comic book. I didn't have the heart to tell her that a sizeable number of people get their science ideas from comic books and pop culture. Such as, when the Galileo probe was malfunctioning some years ago, someone suggested that NASA send another probe or the space shuttle out to repair it. Apparently many people don't seem to realize that it takes years, many of them, for a machine to reach, say, Jupiter: Galileo was launched in on October 18, 1989 and got to Jupiter on December 7, 1995 (http://www.seasky.org/spacexp/sky5c01.html). Yes, I know the starship Enterprise would have been there in fifteen minutes and Scotty would have had the bugger up and running in no time, but if NASA has a warp drive, they're being awfully quiet about it.

Researchers like Dr. Rodgers are too busy doing real science to worry about bad science fiction, which leaves it up to omni-science fans like me to worry about. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Rodgers for her time and patience in answering my science questions.

3. Okay, why am I so het up about what I perceive as the institutional support of misogyny in this comic? Because it plays into what I perceive as a larger and more serious problem in our society. We live in rather strange times, here's a laundry list of our current governments actions to control women: http://www.thetruthaboutgeorge.com/women/ and this sums it up better than I can. As far as violence against women goes, we here in Southern California (where your worst nightmare is probably happening to someone else right now) are in the middle of something called the "OC Rape Case" (http://www.hypocrites.com/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=17006) in which the attorney for defendant Gregory Scott Haidl, Joseph G. Cavallo, wrote in his motion: "The complaining witness was undiscriminating in her sexual encounters and was willing to do anything with anybody if it met her needs and desires." Back in reality as we know it, the circumstance were thus: In 2002, "Prosecutors allege Haidl, 18, Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann, both 19, drugged her unconscious and then videotaped themselves having sex with her on a pool table in a Newport Beach home owned by Haidlís father - Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl." (http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/04/29/news-moxley.php) The video show the (unconscious) victim had no gag reflex when being violently orally sodomized and no pain response when lit cigarettes were put out in her vagina and a pool cue into her anus. Do I shock you? I apologize, but real life is much more shocking than the comics because it's real. However, what really shocks me is when callers to "The John and Ken Show" (which I usually loathe but they're on the side of the angels in this one) make statements on the radio to the effect that the girl should not have been in a position where she could be drugged, raped, and abused. Aside from the fact that this is an outrageous idea, she knew these guys from High School, she was dating one of them, she was sixteen, and there is a law that having sex with someone who is unconscious is rape, what Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann did was wrong in every sense of the word. They videotaped it and then passed it around like a stag film, so it's not a matter of whether they did it, but how guilty they are of it. Trying to make the case that "she had it coming" or "she was just faking being unconscious" (yeah, right), is unforgivable, but it is just a lawyer trying to get his clients off the hook. On the other hand, for private citizens, all male that I'm aware of, to say she had it coming is extreme woman hating and a case like this shows us how deeply ingrained virulent and casual misogyny is in our society. I hate to sound like Germaine Greer in "The Female Eunuch" (ISBN 0374527628), but my final question here must be why do (some) men hate women so much?

July 10, 2004 note added: Kathy LaFollett sent this to me a few days after the OC rape case ended in a mistrial:

"BEDFORD -- A 15-year-old girl was raped while fellow students watched after being drugged at a weekend party, police said."
Police: Teens watched rape at party, Associated Press June 30, 2004 UPDATE 052707: Goddam newspaper links, here's a link I don't like, but proves this article did exist once even though dammif I can find it now.

When did rape become fun to watch? Has it always been fun to watch and I just don't get it? I don't get cockfighting or looking at car accidents either.

* * *

Note: I had a hard time putting this review up because a) it was from review copies from DC Comics and b) I don't want to alienate anyone there because they're been very nice to J LHLS. But then I remembered that self-censorship is as bad as any other kind of censorship, so here's the review.

Ginger Mayerson
May 2004


The End?

June 20, 2006: Another review wondering about this title's popularity " the last man, because..." and a blog entry on how porn has become confused with empowerment.

Hate mail:

This much anger about a comic book is just further proof I'm on the right track with this review.

And, posted for your amusement, more hate mail that I kept the emails on.

Replies: 2 comments

Hi Ginger!

I've read the first "Y" trade so I think I can talk about it. I'd like to give you my opinion.
When reading the book I never felt that women (generally speaking) were portrayed as bad or stupid or violent. All those "bad girls" in the book are, for me, just crazy people. People get crazy when things like that happen, I imagine. So when reading the book I didn't think "Wow, women have lost control!" but "Wow, people have lost control!". And I don't think all those amazons are making Yorick look like a nice guy compared to them. In fact Yorick is an archetype of the perfect inactive character: he provides the McGuffin for the book (he's the only man alive, he's travelling to meet his girl) but, besides that, he does nothing. The rest of characters are who make the story move and evolve.
Some things about "Y" reminded me a book titled "Our Kind" by Marvin Harris, that I read some years ago and you may have read too. In that book about anthropology, Harris discusses that, when talking about behavior, 90% of the diferences between men and women are just cultural facts, not natural. This said, men are as sensitive as women are supossed to be, and women are as violent and competitive as men are supossed to be. It's just a social distinction, not a biological one. I don't know if Vaughan has read that book or any other by Marvin Harris, but when reading the book I felt that that's the point that Vaughan was trying to get.
Or, well, let's do it other way. Imagine this story: "X, the last woman". One day, suddenly, all female animals die, and Xandra is the only girl alive. Except for her, the only human beings on Earth are men: violent men trying to reach power, forming tribal groups, fighting other men for food or weapons or whatever. In this world Xandra must hide her true identity in order to avoid being kidnapped or raped by some men. Would it be so weird? Then, women can be bad too.
I have read some other works by Brian K. Vaughan and, although nobody is infallible, I give him some credit, as I think he'll be answering all the questions that were put out in this first trade. I don't think Vaughan tried to create a controversial book (to get some free publicity) because I would have never thought about the book's premises being so controversial. I also would like to think that Vaughan didn't create "Y" as a mysoginistic comic, though I understand that it can be considered that way if you think of how women have been socially mistreated for so many centuries.
Well, that's just my opinion. I assure you that if I felt, when reading "Y", that women are being insulted, I would instantly stop reading the book.

Bye!

Posted by the Walrus himself (Israel) @ 01/21/2006 09:20 AM PST

"Without discourse we are truly doomed, even more so than if suddenly one or the other sex were to disappear from the planet."

Nope, discourse is dumb. I'd rather wait for our great president and hollywood to tell me what to think. In other news, I'm working on a plan to get all the books in the library replaced with Bibles. The only books that matter.

Posted by Tyrell @ 01/29/2006 05:52 PM PST

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