Book Marx: Y: The Last Man

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Welcome to the world of “Y: The Last Man”.

After all the men died in an explosion of blood and horror, women began turning to each other for comfort, support, sexual gratification and versions of love. Most human beings simply aren’t designed to live a solitary existence devoid of physical touch. Even for those who were primarily and even solely attracted to men, the need for companionship often transcended sexual determination. Life always finds a way to protect its own.

The official term for it is situational homosexuality, but that phrase is wildly misleading. First of all, it assumes that sexuality only comes in two varieties, straight and gay, ignoring the wide range of emotions and various degrees of attraction that exist in most people. Secondly, it implies that women become lesbians under certain situations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sex has as much to do with being gay as a stethoscope has to do with being a doctor. It plays a part in most relationships (sometimes majorly, sometimes not so much), but it’s not the sexual act that defines who a person is, it’s the feelings inside. Take a physician’s tools away and she will still have her knowledge and compassion. Remove the possibility of sex from the equation and a lesbian will still be attracted to women. It’s as simple and complicated as that. Having sex with a woman doesn’t make a heterosexually-inclined woman a lesbian just as walking into a garage doesn’t make someone a car.

Sexuality has always been an extremely complex issue. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most misunderstood. There are actually words to describe people who have not had sexual intercourse (and many more words to describe those who have). Even acts of violence and anger are treated differently when they are of a sexual nature – someone who’s been robbed, for instance, would never be interrogated or made to feel at fault the way rape victims routinely are. With so many people – especially the fundamental and conservative leaders who should know better – being both obsessed and terrified by the entire subject, it’s no wonder there are so many misconceptions.

Brian K. Vaughan has always loved to dive into troubled waters. In his intense exploration into Yorick’s sexuality in “Safeword”, the fourth trade paperback of his “Last Man” series, Vaughan proved that he’s not afraid to touch on very sensitive topics that cut to the heart of humanity. But I have to admit I was a little worried about the latest collected volume, the provocatively titled “Girl on Girl”. With a cover shot of Dr. Mann and Agent 355 embracing, I was afraid the book was going to be controversial at the expense of being honest.

I should have known better.

Ampersand has been kidnapped. The monkey isn’t just Yorick Brown’s friend; he’s the reason why Yorick survived when the rest of mankind died. Now Yorick and his companions are crossing the Pacific Ocean on the good ship Whale, hoping to find Ampersand in Japan.

One night when they’re together and horny, Allison Mann and Agent 355 share a few moments of heated passion. Dr. Mann is a lesbian who finds herself attracted to 355, and for good reason. The woman’s strong, intelligent, confident and gorgeous. But Agent 355 is also “straighter than Nixon” and has long been infatuated with Yorick (a fact that often makes her angry and extremely defensive). When Mann and 355 get together, the sex is as exhilarating as it is unexpected. It also complicates matters dramatically.

Afterwards, Agent 355 doesn’t want to discuss it. “Last night was a mistake,” she insists. Dr. Mann has her own doubts regarding their one-night stand when she realizes just how different the two of them are – 355 could care less that Rose, a suspected murderer, has been stabbed, while the horrified Mann immediately offers her help.

Interestingly enough, their story is somewhat paralleled by Yorick and Kilina, the captain of the Whale.

Until recently, Yorick has been faithful to his girlfriend in Australia, relying on his hand for gratification when necessary. Even though it’s very possible that Beth is dead, Yorick has remained abstinent for almost two years. But recent events left him shaken and confused, and one night outside of a church he made love to a woman who shared the same first name as his girlfriend.

Now he finds himself faced with more temptation. Kilina is his ideal woman. She has a comparative literature degree (Yorick was also an English major), owns the DVD of Jack Nicholson’s “The Last Detail” (one of his favorite movies), enjoys playing Battleship, and even has a pet monkey of her own. It’s not surprising that he would be attracted to her.

In a world where the women survived after the men perished, Yorick could have almost any female he wanted. Yet he was able to resist “casual” sexual encounters for one simple reason. He’s monogamous by nature, and he found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He was still a sexual being, but he had no desire to cheat on his girlfriend. Still, just like Agent 355, who jumped into Dr. Mann’s arms after having to survive one too many nights without physical contact, Yorick’s need eventually overwhelmed his natural inclination to remain faithful.

Any port in the storm.

Yorick and Kilina don’t end up having sex (just as things are getting hot and heavy, the ship is attacked by a submarine). But when 355 finds out the two of them kissed, she’s shocked. “You’re going to lecture me about ill-advised romantic partners?” Yorick replies incredulously, reaffirming how similar their situations are. They are both acting against their natures, and it’s to Brian K. Vaughan’s credit that he refuses to condone or condemn them. As much as some people want to believe in black and white, there is very little in this world that can be reduced to such ridiculously limited labels.

As if to offer an ironic counterpoint, Kilina says, “Wait, you and your girl are engaged? I... I never would have kissed you if I’d known that.” It’s a bizarre rationalization – it’s acceptable to make out with a guy who’s got a girlfriend as long as they’re not engaged? Again, this is a type of situational ethics, one that’s used to justify all kinds of behavior. A married man gets off with his best friend but tells himself it’s okay because at least he’s not cheating with another woman. The bride-to-be sleeps with her ex-boyfriend the night before the wedding, but it’s not infidelity because she hasn’t officially tied the knot.

Is it wrong? Vaughan leaves it up to the reader to decide, because honestly, there is no correct answer to that question. There is no such thing as a universal morality. Each person has to decide what is acceptable and what isn’t on an individual basis. Certain moral principles are more common than others – robbery and murder, for instance, are rarely tolerated by most people. But when it comes to intimacy, especially in regards to sexual behavior, attitudes vary greatly from person to person.

Based on my own moral code, Agent 355 should have left Allison alone. She knew the doctor was attracted to her, and she also knew she couldn’t offer Allison the kind of relationship she’d want. But 355 had sex with her anyway. I find that abhorrent.

I don’t have a problem with the two of them having sex – even though 355 isn’t normally attracted to women, the circumstances are extreme, to say the least. But if she needed a sexual outlet so badly, why didn’t she get together with one of the women on the ship, instead of targeting the one person that would suffer the most emotional damage from such an encounter? Agent 355 could give a damn about Dr. Mann’s feelings – in fact, she used those feelings for her own immediate gratification. Again, I find that abhorrent.

On the other hand, it didn’t bother me at all that Yorick was attracted to Kilina (or that he wasn’t always faithful to his girlfriend). Yorick has no way of knowing if he’ll ever see his girlfriend again – if she’s even alive – and personally, I’m not sure it would be a good thing if he did. When Yorick proposed to her over the phone, she was about to tell him something, but their connection was broken when the plague struck the world. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think it was good news.

Yet how much of what I feel is based on being a man and sympathizing with men over women? How are my opinions influenced by being gay and being put in situations similar to what Dr. Mann faced? And just how wonderful a writer is Brian K. Vaughan that he allows people to bring their own perspectives into his stories and make their own decisions about what they can accept and what they can’t? How great is it to read a book that challenges you to think and forces you to care about characters and situations that are completely fictional?

I have long been a major fan of “Y: The Last Man”. Each new collection I read only deepens my admiration and love for the series. Vaughan has so much compassion for his characters. He puts them through hell, that’s for sure, but he also celebrates their every strength and flaw. And sometimes he even gives them a little hope.

Once the events of “Girl on Girl” have reached their fiery conclusion, Dr. Mann has a conversation with Rose, one of the women they met in their overseas adventure. She wants to tag along with Mann and the others, and it becomes immediately clear that her reasons are less than puritanical. It turns out that Rose is also a lesbian and, like Allison Mann, understands the difference between situational sex and the chance of having a rewarding relationship.

With Brian K. Vaughan writing, there’s no telling what will happen next. But for now, at least, it’s nice to know that if Agent 355 can’t be with the guy she’s secretly interested in and Yorick can’t be with the woman he wants to marry, at least there’s the possibility of happiness in Dr. Mann’s future. It might not be the best of situations, but it’s far from the worst...

Disclaimer: The preceding article was a commentary, not a review. If it had been a review, it would have been informative and well-written, with quotable phrases like “I laughed, I cried, I danced the Lambada.” Instead, it’s an opinionated rant by a man who had a blue, blue Christmas without you. If you agree with anything I’ve written, please send cash. If you don’t agree, please send money. But either way, please feel free to leave your own opinions on the Lowdown forum. Thanks!

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