The comic book series that I come back to over the years tend to be the ones with the most memorable and well fleshed out characters. I generally also re-examine these treasured tomes from a more critical perspective as time goes on, often from an explicitly feminist one. Of these all-time favorites, one that particularly warrants that reexamination is Y: The Last Man.
The team dynamic in a nutshell. (Scan from Y: The Last Man.)
I won’t lie, I’ve been wanting to write about Y since I survived the Jedi/Sith training required to write for LGG&F; I’ve also been absolutely dreading it. For those of you not familiar with the series, Last Man is a story by Brian K. Vaughan that ran from 2002-2008 in which all the characters aside from the titular protagonist are women, as is nearly every other human being alive. It’s a story, written by a man, about the last man alive in a world full of women. To say that there are some inherently problematic issues in the series from that information alone is an understatement. Many of my favorite comic book authors are men and many of my favorite comic book characters are women; that critical angle is one I encounter frequently, but Y takes it to a whole new level as nearly every character you encounter or see is female (or AFAB).
In looking back at The Last Man here, let’s explore how it inverts exploitation narratives in order to undermine them and how it uses gender as a lens through which to examine human nature.
Spoilers for the whole series, including the end, follow.
Like many fanbases, the Bioware fanbase/playerbase is a trash fire at any given time. Said fanbase didn’t even let Mass Effect: Andromeda get off the ground before lambasting it for various graphical inadequacies and stilted line delivery. However, while there do exist some graphical glitches, weird bugs, and a disappointing character creator, ME: A is not that bad. Since I’m not even halfway through the game yet (no spoilers!) this isn’t going to be a full review, but rather a look at a troubling reaction by Mass Effect’s audience. After already being labeled as “SJW propaganda” by people who loathe anything that looks like a diverse cast, it’s absolutely no surprise that there’s such negativity surrounding a woman in charge; even less surprising when that woman is Black. While there’s absolutely fault on the fanbase for the unfair treatment surrounding her, in what I’ve seen and experienced I can only come up with one conclusion: Bioware set up Sloane Kelly to fail.
Fiction is a great source of escapism. And honestly, many of us have been in the mood for escapism lately. Politics have been more stressful than ever, turning on the news feels like an onslaught of depressing events, and grimdark fiction is still pretty popular. Cynicism in media just isn’t cutting it the way it has in years past. Movies like The Dark Knight, with its message that great people can turn to evil with a little push, just don’t feel the same anymore. Since so many things in the world are sketchy, I don’t want fiction telling me that it’s only going to get worse.
Luckily, optimism seems to be making a comeback. Although it comes in many forms — horror, fantasy, comedy, etc — a simple through-line no matter the genre is hope and optimism. I think that this is the commonality that brings us to escapist media. In horror, the chance of survival brings hope; in a fantasy, there’s the awe of the mystical and unknown, showing that unfamiliar things can be positive; comedy shows us that any situation can bring joy. This hopefulness is what creates the escapism, and I believe that there are some very good examples in our contemporary fiction in properties like Steven Universe and Overwatch.
In honor of Earth Day, which was just this past Saturday, let’s talk about Earth magic! Many fantasy stories are filled with the idea that the Earth is a magical thing, and it certainly seems that way in real life. After all, this beautiful planet is where we live and grow, and where we get to see gorgeous sights or amazing animals. After watching just one episode of Planet Earth, you can understand why so many fantasy authors see the Earth and magic as one and the same.
But despite the fact that our world is so beautiful and amazing, fantasy authors have also recognized that humans, for whatever reason, seem intent on destroying it. Because of this, fantasy authors tend to incorporate nature spirits that fight on behalf of nature and call us to take up the fight as well. Even when fantasy authors write about other worlds that are different from ours, they still address issues of environmentalism that are relevant to our society.
Perhaps to the surprise of very few, it wasn’t too long ago that I sat down and finished Love Live!’s second incarnation, Love Live! Sunshine!!. For all intents and purposes, Sunshine is exactly the same plot as the first Love Live!: a group of three second-year high school girls working hard to become school idols, eventually recruiting three first-years and winning over the skeptical group of three third-years to round out their final group. While a good portion of the Love Live! fanbase and tenets the show is built on are problematic due to their sexualization of young girls, the show itself is typically not any worse than any other anime you may have seen. Unfortunately, though the first season gave me a wealth of girls supporting girls and legitimately touching moments, Sunshine never quite got its feet off the ground. Much of this can be attributed to protagonist Chika’s lack of personality or drive, but the aspect that truly ruined the whole season beyond redemption was the gaslighting of Mari by the two friends she trusted the most, and the show does nothing to show how what they did was wrong.
Spoilers if you haven’t watched past episode 8 of Sunshine.
(Screencap via Love Live! Sunshine!!, “Young Dreamer”)
I love me some musical theater. So while I had heard from a friend that Dear Evan Hansen had a deeply unpleasant storyline, when my mom offered to buy me and my brother, who was visiting from my hometown, tickets, I figured I’d give the show the chance to prove itself. I headed into the theater last Saturday night knowing none of the music and with only my friend’s brief synopsis of the plot to go on. What followed was two and a half hours of the most disgustingly tasteless story I have had the misfortune to experience in a theater. I spent the entire first act feeling like I was actually going to be sick to my stomach, and found no real solace in the second act, which was frustratingly absent any repercussions for the title character’s reprehensible behavior.