Last Man Volumes 1-3 by Balak, Sanlauille, and Uiues
Usually the books I review here at fanlit are those I’ve either requested or because the publisher has noted I’ve reviewed earlier books by a particular author and so sends along that writer’s newest work. Thus, I’m already somewhat predisposed to enjoy most of what I review. But once you’re on the BLOOR (Big List of Online Reviewers), truth is you get sent a lot of books you never asked for (I know, I know — you bleed for me). Some you may wonder what the publisher is thinking (“Have I ever reviewed books on the undergarments of 14th century French monks?”), and you simply pass them on elsewhere. Others, though, you think, “I didn’t ask for this,” but then before you put it in the Not For Review pile, you have second thoughts: “It’s probably not a great idea, but who knows, I might like it.” So it goes in the Not for Immediate Review pile instead.
Sometimes you and the book get along great — you might even end up in bed together all night that first night — and you’ll ask to see that author again, and soon you’re going places together, and your friends get tired of hearing you talk about it, and eventually the two of you live happily ever after. Other times it doesn’t take long for you to realize this is the worst book you’ve had in a while and you’re considering chewing off your own leg off just to get out of the narrative. And finally there’s the middle road, where you’re like, “well, I had a decent time, but you’re just not my type. Really, it’s me, not you. But I have a friend I think might work out for you . . . “ And that’s middle road is mostly where I ended up with the first three books in the Last Man graphic story series, though I might have glanced at my leg once or twice.
Really, I had trepidations from the very beginning. As mentioned, these were books I hadn’t requested. Plus, there were graphic stories, and if you’ve seen my reviews, you know that I tend to have difficulty getting into a lot of graphics, though thanks to my GSM (Graphic Story Mentor) Brad, who has introduced me to a few and also given me some reading tips, I’ve been more open to their possibilities and have even fallen hard for a few (Saga for instance). But still, more often than not, they still fall short for me. Plus, of the graphics, I’m least a fan of the digest-size ones, finding their art too often cramped and difficult to follow. All of which means that Last Man had the odds stacked against it from the get-go.
But what graphics do have going for them is that they’re easy and fast. Hmm, maybe I should rephrase that. What I mean is that giving an unrequested graphic a shot (or three of them) isn’t the same investment of time as trying out that 789-page tome that my poor mail carrier just dropped off. So I gave them a chance.
I’m not going to say much in detail about the plot, as there are some twists and revelations in volumes one and two. Basically, volume one is set in a medieval-like village about to hold their major annual battle tournament (no weapons, some martial arts, a good amount of magic). Young Adrian Velba is thrilled in anticipation of his first tournament, but then his partner has to drop out and his dreams are crushed. Until a mysterious stranger (is there any other kind in these sorts of stories?) named Richard Aldana arrives in town also in need of a partner. The two team up, even though Adrian’s mother isn’t too thrilled about the cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking, rules-eschewing partner he’s picked up.
Volume One details the tournament’s early stages as Adrian and Richard advance in surprising fashion. The tournament concludes in Volume Two, with some subplots tossed in and a broadening of characters and the world. And Volume Three gives us a major shift in both setting and narrative focus.
I found Volume One’s near-utter focus on the tournament, and the step-by-step moves through each bout dully repetitive, both narratively and visually. I guess that battle manga is a “thing”, so if you’re into that, you’ll probably enjoy this, but I just didn’t care and wanted to see something, anything, besides another fight scene. The plot that wasn’t focused on the fighting wasn’t much better, with swings between too predictable and too out of nowhere/over the top, as with an unrequited love involving Adrian’s mother (Marianne). Visually, the art was mostly clean and clear in the fights, but a bit too cramped for my liking in other scenes; characters’ faces seemed inconsistently drawn, sizes seemed disproportionate, and there was a bit too much focus on Marianne’s cleavage. Finally, it all seemed to take place in a vacuum — with next to no sense of this world (part of this I think is purposeful, but I’m not sure that justifies all of the thinness).
Volume two still had too many pages devoted to fight scenes for me, though at least it wasn’t the whole book and one of them was a bit more interesting. I did like the way the setting zoomed out and how more characters, and thus more of the world, was introduced, though both setting and characters still felt thin, with little sense of depth or motivation. Character relationship get more complicated, but in somewhat predictable, and predictably too-quickly, fashion. The focus on Marianne’s body in Volume One gets balanced here by some eye-candy scenes with a naked Richard, but unfortunately this sense of balance is terribly marred by a horrible scene involving a tournament bout between Richard and a female opponent. I’m guessing the authors were going for humor here, or maybe some sort of plot detail that wasn’t made clear, but the scene was just awful as it read for me.
Volume Three seemed to have the most potential — the world really blew up as we shifted to a wholly new and quite intriguing setting, the background story also deepened, and I completely appreciated the shift to Marianne as the major focus in terms of character. I also liked how the satire ratcheted up. But there was also the accordant jump up in overt sexuality, and then both the plot and the satire just seemed to spin out of control and so the story ended up in a big chaotic mess for me. As for the visuals, I thought the more spartan panels were great, but as more shapes/figures intruded into the panels the less pleasing the artwork became. And I still had issues with how characters didn’t seem consistently drawn.
So I think I’ll be breaking up with Last Man on our third date. But like I said, it’s probably more me. Those who read more of these sorts of comics, who aren’t as bored by multiple panels of various fight scenes or who might be less bothered by some of the sexuality, and who don’t mind the visual style, would, I’m guessing, find this a relatively fast-paced story set in an not-quite-clear-but-intriguing world. But if you don’t already enjoy those things, then I’m guessing that for you, as for me, you just aren’t going to be that much into Last Man.