I was gathering my thoughts on the last two volumes of Y the Last Man that I’ve just recently finished when there are suddenly two comic book internet stories that peaked my interest. I think they both relate to what I was going to say. Firstly there was Abhay Khosla's story about the role of women in the recent Marvel mega-crossovers. Then there’s DC’s announcement of the new Batman and Superman original graphic novel series.
Yeesh, where to start? I’ll do the quick hits first I suppose. Y the Last Man’s narrative continues to move along crisply as Yorick arrives on the shores down under to discover his quest has been extended as Beth has moved on to Paris. The main action then gears towards Japan as the misfit group goes to find his monkey who is likely the key to the whole gendercide. Hijinks ensue and this continues to be one of my favourite series. There are more flashbacks giving the reader greater insight into Agent 355’s past as well as Dr. Mann’s. I think I’ve kind of figured out what it is that I like about this series. It just presents its ideas to the reader as fact. Australia is dealing with a major heroine problem (good pun by the way). Yorick is a talented escape artist. 355 is a bad-ass. Japan has sexbots and a Canadian pop star managed to take over the Yakuza. Things just come and go and while you never get the whole story, the narrative is stronger because of it. There is just enough plot and information provided to keep things moving. A lot happens and people continue to all focus on their own agenda as they try to survive.
At it’s core, this is a book that continues to show the petty nature of people as everyone continues to have their own personal goals and objectives and that is their focus whether it benefits others or not. All of the loftier goals are merely a side product of the personal quests for each of the characters and that is what makes the quest continue to be interesting. We, as readers, are experiencing the plot through these characters so having them each bring something relatable to the narrative is key to keeping us engaged. Sure we can also see the bigger narrative which makes all their petty nature seem even more frustrating. In the end though, these are characters that just seem human. There aren’t a lot of people who are altruistic – most of us would spend all our time pining over lost loves or trying to make ourselves more comfortable. It’s all very human in all its frustrating glory.
Then I read The Savage Critic post about the women of Marvel and I’m stuck with a terrible thought that the only way I can read a superhero comic where the women are presented as characters is only when all the male characters are killed off. I know that Y isn’t a superhero comic and that equating the two is apples and oranges but I think it’s a decent thought experiment. I wonder what would happen if a similar gendercide took place in the Marvel U. The cynic in me thinks that we’d end up with the flip side to Y the Last Man where all the same criticisms and failings of people are reduced to the criticisms and failings of women. I don’t think Y strays from critically examining certain behaviours, and it really shouldn’t – I mean how could it? This is a world populated by women, struggling to survive gender roles are explored but not in a hamfisted way. Yes, there’s subtext that reaches into the real world and by not ignoring that, the creators of Y the Last Man have created a stronger narrative in my opinion. It works because it is aware of what it is saying beyond the page.
I shudder to think what a Marvel cross-over that involved all the male heroes dying would entail. I just think it would involve too much of a cultural shift at the company to manage anything other than more male power fantasies and stories that more or less continue to entrench perceived gender roles rather than explore, critique or comment upon them. It could all very well be coincidence what Abhay points out, after all, but there is still a trend that he easily identifies and to not be aware of that is in itself a problem. Sort of like the racist stereotypes in the last Transformers movie - you see it and wonder how the heck that could happen, then you think of all the people disinterested, unconcerned or simply too busy to provide positive oversight. In the end, I’m just glad I continue to buy the comics I buy and that I’m not limiting myself to reading superhero stuff.
Then there’s the DC announcement that’s been making the rounds on all the other comic blogs and retailer blogs that you already read, right? I want to be optimistic about this, and I’m going to be until there is a reason I shouldn’t be. I like what they’re trying to do, and I wish them all the best in their efforts. I agree with pretty much everything I’ve read about yet another origin story. These origin stories are pretty much in the realm of public domain. Ask anyone on the street, at random, to give you the origin of Batman or Superman and they can do it. Then ask them if they read comics, or have ever read comics and you’ll see that it doesn’t matter. Sure, an updated origin can help set the context for the narrative but change it too much and you don’t have the characters anymore.
I’m no retailer or marketer so I won’t presume to tell anyone how to market and sell their books, but I do know what I’m looking for when I buy something. If this series takes the same old approach to continuity as all other comic book series then it won’t be on my list of items to buy. Yes, if the stories are strong enough and the creators are creating something fantastic I’ll buy, however, I don’t just want more stories where I need to read everything in the series to understand it. If they take a “monster of the week” approach rather than a “to be continued” approach, then I’d be more likely to be interested. I hope the creators just come to this project from a place where they assume you already know the basics so they just explore the story and the characters revealing the new world through the plot and narrative presented rather than “oh but this Alfred is Scottish SAS and he has a goatee! And Robin is an interdimensional robot!” Actually, that robot thing would be kind of cool. What I’d like is a series of GNs that could be read in any order. That would be groundbreaking. It worked for Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, and it worked for superheroes when they started. It can work again with this undertaking.
I guess I can’t help but be cynical about something marketed directly at a core demographic in the core demographic’s terminology with a smattering of “new reader friendly.” I don’t think that’s a concern for new readers. They just want Batman and Superman stories that they can pick up and enjoy without being required to read x, y or z to understand what’s going on. Heck, I want that and I’m not a new reader.