After revisiting the adorable Doctor Strange of the Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comic last week, I found myself craving more Strange stuff. And while I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to watch the MCU movie, I do own a few trades’ worth of Doctor Strange comics. I remembered enjoying them well enough when I first read them, so I figured the time was nigh to revisit one and see if older, woker Saika still thought they were any good. And that’s how I ended up rereading the 2007 comic Doctor Strange: The Oath, by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. Turns out, while it’s a good standalone story to read if you’re interested in the good Doctor, it’s also full of some tired tropes and isms.
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.
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.
The “star-crossed lovers” trope is pretty much the oldest, most worn-out convention in literature. It was old news when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, though no one can dispute that he did it with exceptional flair. It was certainly long since old news when Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan conceptualized Saga, yet theirs has been one of the most engaging and innovative independent comics of the last several years. There is no single reason for Vaughan and Staples’s success, as they are an exceptionally talented team and the story and characters they have created are brilliant, but they have managed to hit on something specific that gives new life to their own star-crossed lovers tale: filthy, nasty sex.
Content warning: graphic sexual/anatomical comic book images below the cut.
Confession time: until just a few weeks ago, I still hadn’t read Saga. I actually bought the first trade paperback of Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s award-winning comic ages ago when I had some extra money, but for some reason I had never sat down and actually read it. Well, unemployment has its upsides, and one of those is significantly increased amounts of reading time, so let me tell you a thing:
You should be reading Saga.