Comic Recommendation: Y: The Last Man

All comic books are tights and fights. That seems to be the immediate assumption people make when they think about the medium. To be fair, the artform’s biggest celebrities (Superman, Spider-Man, Batman) all wear spandex while  purposefully throwing their fists into faces. And when a movie not based on superhero comics is released, there always seems to be a level of shock or surprise when the film’s secret origin is revealed (usually the question “Ghost World/Redemption Road/From Hell was a comic?” followed by a brain cave-in). The truth is, comic books are a means of expressing a story and are not confined to the superhero genre. So to those of you reading this who snicker at trailers for films starring grown men wearing bodysuits made of an incomprehensible mix of spandex, leather and rubber, I give you…Y: The Last Man.

Yorick Brown and Ampersand, as illustrated by cover artist J.G. Jones

The series takes place in the aftermath of a mysterious plague that kills everything with a Y chromosome…except 22-year old amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his male Capuchin helper monkey, Ampersand. Yes, post-apocalyptic settings and population-destroying plagues are nothing new to science fiction, but that doesn’t mean that Y: The Last Man lacks originality. The complexity of the characters and their continued growth as well as recurring themes and an intricate narrative make this a completely thrilling read. The voice of this series, which mixes political thriller elements with irreverent humor (via Yorick),  is so unique that it makes you forget that you have previously read similar tales.

Throughout its 60 issues, writer Brian K. Vaughan weaves a narrative that hops around the globe as much as it does the story’s own timeline. Events unfold chronologically for the most part, but Vaughan intercuts the expertly paced plot with Rashomon-style point-of-view shifts that show you where the different characters were when the plague hit. This nonlinear approach is key to maintaining suspense as the protagonists slowly start to uncover clues about what caused the plague and Yorick and Ampersand’s immunity.

Gender politics probably top the list of Things That Will Never Be Discussed In Comics for many science fiction fans, but Y: The Last Man tackles issues head on. Vaughan uses the setting of a world populated almost exclusively by X chromosomes to make gender equality, sexuality, feminism and women’s historical importance seamless parts of the story. None of these Very Special Topics, which could easily feel lecture-y, feel out of place thanks to Vaughan’s thought-out approach. It’s also of note that the series features a remarkably strong cast of women, all of whom fight off the stereotype that many of the big-buxomed and scantily clad super heroines perpetuate. A few of these women are:

  • Agent 355, who is Yorick’s bodyguard on his continent-spanning journey and a member of a mysterious government agency whose origin dates back to the Revolutionary War
  • Dr. Allison Mann, an expert geneticist whose recent breakthroughs in human cloning prove to be important in a world with no men
  • Hero Brown, Yorick’s older sister and former paramedic
Dr. Allison Mann and Agent 355, as illustrated by series artist Pia Guerra

While the global ramifications caused by the death of every male are interesting in their own right, action fans need not fret. The mix of drama and explosions, chases, espionage and intrigue will satisfy anyone who enjoys shows like “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica.” The world of Y: The Last Man is dangerous and the series truly pulls no punches.You will root for characters who are constantly in peril. Be prepared.

Everything I’ve written so far pertains to the writing, which would be worthless if it wasn’t being illustrated by a true top-notch talent able to convey subtle emotions and complex action sequences. Series co-creator Pia Guerra is just that; she’s top-notch. Her art isn’t overly flashy or stylized. Her people look and move like proportional people. But as a series that is set on portraying what would really happen in the event of a gendercide, Guerra’s art is perfect. It sells the elements that might push probability by portraying them in a grounded fashion, and also makes the intensity of the story hit that much harder because of how familiar it all feels. Her art is so essential to the story that the handful of substitute artists the series employed match up fairly seamlessly with Guerra’s artistic vision.

If you are a fan of science fiction but have yet to take the dive into comic books, then Y: The Last Man is the comic your diving board. It’s an excellent example of the artistic heights that the medium can achieve, as well as a phenomenal serialized story that, in my opinion, nails the landing. Don’t believe me? Check it out. I just finished this series a few days ago and I’m dying to talk to someone about it.

Review of Another Earth

Another Earth is an indie science-fiction film about a young woman, Rhoda Williams (played by Brit Marling), who on the eve of heading off to MIT gets in a tragic car accident. There’s a remarkable discovery that there’s another planet in our solar system, and that planet is the titular Another Earth. Over the next few years as the other Earth comes closer to our Earth, where the story takes place, we follow the dramatic turns her life takes as a result of her car accident.

As a sort of counter point to movies that use science-fiction to provide a reason for special effects and explosions, this is a quiet film that uses a science-fiction plot element to examine the weight of loss and regret. Here the focus is on the characters. The young Rhoda struggles to determine how to live a life after the accident. We see the damage the accident did to the man in the other car (played by Lost‘s William Mapother), and the hope they both have that a better life is happening above them on the other Earth.

The muted tone and slow, deliberate style of this film isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re a fan of sci-fi where the human condition is dissected, and where fantastical elements are minimal, you owe it to yourself to catch this film. Unfortunately, the film saw a limited release in theaters, so many people won’t be able to catch it until it’s released on streaming, DVD & Blu-ray.

iPad PADD application: disappointing

Ever since it was released, the iPad has been compared to Star Trek’s PADD – the “personal access display device” used since the original series.  The official iPad PADD app (from CBS Interactive) brings the PADD-iPad loop full circle by turning an iPad into a PADD simulator (US$5 in the App Store).

The interface of the app mimics the LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) interface that was used in The Next Generation.  This is well done, with appropriate sound effects, Majel Barrett‘s voice, and good-looking graphics.  The only complaint I have here is that the app doesn’t rotate to portrait (which PADDs in TNG certainly did). Note that while it looks authentic, this is mostly cosmetic – tapping an image of a cast member will take you to the cast index page, not the page specific to that character, for example, and many areas you would expect to be ‘hot’ do nothing at all.

The app provides access to the information available on StarTrek.com (aliens, locations, technology, and an episode guide).  This is the most disappointing aspect of the app —one of the reasons that I purchased it was that I hoped it would be a useful reference source for answering [tag]star-trek[/tag] questions; unfortunately the information available is extremely limited and superficial.  If the app was an interface to Memory Alpha or Wikipedia, it would contain a wealth of information, in an attractive interface (and would be much closer to the actual PADD).  Although Memory Alpha’s content is only available under a non-commerical license (non-commerical and Star Trek merchandising are rather like matter/antimatter), I think Wikipedia’s content could have been included (supplementing the official StarTrek.com content) and would have significantly increased the amount of information available.

Personally, I would have preferred if the links went beyond Star Trek information, and if this was a LCARS interface to a true encyclopedia (Wikipedia would suffice).  There are plenty of other Wikipedia browsers, but this one would hold a certain fan appeal.  I doubt I would use it for most Wikipedia searches, but it would appropriately set the mood when doing Star Trek research.

The app description does say “The official Star Trek PADD app database does not contain all information within the Star Trek Universe.  We will continue to update the database as information becomes available”.  I’m hoping that they do mean the whole universe here (and not simply whatever is available on StarTrek.com), and I’m hopeful (but skeptical) that there will be regular updates that significantly increase the amount of content available.

I’m keeping the app installed on one of my iPads for now, but I suspect that I’ll rarely use it, and when I next purge unused apps, it’s likely to go.  If you’re only interested in the cosmetic appeal, or if the shallow information available at StarTrek.com is all you’re interested in, then it might be worth $5 to you.

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old boy: but he is no ordinary 12 year old; he is quite possibly the smartest 12 year old that has ever lived. He is born into the Fowl family, known to be criminal masterminds, and he is no exception. He is on a mission, to discover a secret that no one, adult or kid, has ever discovered, namely the existence of fairies. Assisted by his bodyguard, who is known only as Butler, he sets out to find the fairies, and sets a plan in place to kidnap one of them in exchange for a ransom of 1 ton of gold.

This series is aimed at a younger audience, but as with many books, it holds equally well with adults as kids. The books contain enough suspense in trying to figure out what Artemis’s next move should be that it quickly builds suspense. It is an easy read, the current edition contains only 304 pages, yet it really draws you into this fascinating universe. It contains high technology, magic, thrills, and a tale of redemption, as Artemis ages. Currently, there are 7 books in the series, which all of them have the same level of quality.

Bottom line: I highly recommend this series to any children interested in fantasy or technology, or who are just looking for something new to read. I will equally recommend this to adults who are looking for an easy read.

For more information, see the Wikipedia page.

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