Being the Last Man on the Earth would suck
Fox is set to start airing the simply titled Last Man on Earth series this Sunday (3/1). Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as the titular last man on the planet who gets to eats whatever he wants, loots fine art and searches for anyone else left alive.
Which got me thinking, while Last Man on Earth looks to take a serious/goofy take at being alone what would it really be like to be the last person on the planet?
We’re never really more than a phone call away from help. One call to 911 from just about anywhere in the US and the emergency services will come running. Even people on the sides of mountains trapped there after avalanches have been able to call 911 and be rescued soon afterwards.
But imagine if that was gone, that we were really and truly on our own and the last person on the Earth. There’d be no one to help us if we needed it and even worse resources that we depend on to live would slowly be depleted/perish leaving us to fend for ourselves.
Yet these ideas are very rarely used in all the various last person on the planet stories that have been popular the last half century.
Those stories take place in a mostly bloodless environment, where our male hero, and the last man is almost always a man, must fight against the elements/some sort of ghouls to survive. Where are the other 6.99 billion bodies? There NEVER around or if they are around they’re in the form of some zombie/monster.
But in reality the last man would have much more to contend with than being alone/monsters.
First all the things we take for granted like electricity and heat and food water and medicine would all eventually drain away. If there’s no one throwing switches at the electrical plant there’d be no more electricity. And while a smart person would be able to live off of whatever food stores were left after the end, fresh food would spoil almost immediately but canned food would last years and years, eventually everything left over after the end would be suspect since everything, even the stuff in cans, spoils. And eating some spoiled food can kill.
Since water only requires gravity to flow from the taps and most municipal supplies are designed to refresh a city full of people rather than just one person that would last much longer than the food. But eventually it too be it by a burst water main from a cold winter or a clogged pipe somewhere in the line and the supply would run out.
With no more supermarkets or water coming out the taps the last man would have to revert to the skills our pioneer ancestors had in growing their own food, hunting animals and digging wells. Only there’d be no one around to teach the last man things like how to stalk a deer and everything would have to be learned on the fly.
And one bad harvest could lead to starvation.
All of which is terrible, but is nothing when compared to what would happen if even a minor medical crisis would arise. Things today that result in taking a trip to the ER to get a shot to prevent tetanus, taking of a few pills to clear up an infection or outpatient surgery to remove an inflamed appendix would result in death to the last man. Sure, all the medicines would probably still be around after the end but I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t know what to take if I cut my finger on a rusty fence to keep tetanus at bay without consulting Google, would you?
Which is all why most last man stories take place pretty near the end of the rest of us. I Am Legend takes place a few years after the end where nature has just started to take back over while the New Zealand movie Quiet Earth starts moments after the rest of humanity sans one person has vanished. In these stories survival is still interesting, Neville’s driving a boss Mustang in I Am Legend and Zac in Quiet Earth spends time shotgunning his town when survival has yet to become desperate.
Which is how all of these last man stories would end. You can’t be on your own forever. Eventually some vital supply would run out, a sickness would take hold that’s more serious than an amateur could treat or old age would finally catch up with the hero leading to his demise. There’s no limit to the ways that our hero might meet his end.
That’s how all of the last man stories would have to end. Come to think about it, that’s how the story will probably end for the rest of us too.
The Last American
With Fox set to debut their new Last Man on Earth TV series this Sunday (3/1) I wanted to look back at another last man on the Earth story that’s all but forgotten today; The Last American (1990).
This four issue comic series written by Alan Grant and John Wagner with art by Michael McMahon follows Ulysses S. Pilgrim, a US soldier placed into cryogenic hibernation on the eve of a third world war. He’s ordered to spend 20 years asleep, awaken and then venture out to the US where he’ll bring together whoever’s left and reform the United States of America.
Except that when he’s awakened by three robotic helpers and they venture outside two decades after the last bomb fell, 1999 in this story, they emerge to find, well…nothing. It’s as if someone literally burned down everything on the planet from sea to shining sea. The sky is full of dust and is a noxious red while everything else is burned to a blackened crisp.
The highways are full of blasted cars and there are skeletons everywhere of those killed in the war or whom soon died afterwards. As the story progresses, Pilgrim begins to lose his mind and starts seeing living manifestations of things like George Washington and the turtle from the Duck and Cover civil defense movies from the 1950s.
That is until the group receives a mysterious message from a bunker located nearby.
Where The Last American is different from every single last man on the Earth story that’s come before, or at least all the ones I’m aware of, is that Pilgrim really is the last America, if not the last person on the planet. He never finds anyone else and other than his three robot helpers and his imagination never gets to talk with another living soul.
In The Last American there are no gangs of motorheads blasting down freeways battling over gasoline, heroes hold up in fortresses staking vampires or groups of people who mysteriously survived the end. There is only Pilgrim.
I discovered The Last American when it was originally published and it quickly became on of my favorite comic stories – I own two sets of the series. But over the last 26 years The Last American has been all but relegated to the back bins of pop culture history. Part of this is because soon after the publication of the comic the threat of world nuclear annihilation by the US and USSR quickly diminished. While that threat still exists today it’s nothing what it was like in the 1980s when the series was written and without that threat looming overhead The Last American turns from a threatening “what if” to a relatively benign fictional footnote.
Also, I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Last American is one of the most depressing comic series I’ve ever read. Not only are there no other living people in the series other than Pilgrim there isn’t even much of anything that’s living period. Other than a few insects and a deformed eagle Pilgrim spots in the story there’s not much left alive after the apocalypse of The Last American.
Worse still, the last issue in the series is told from the diary of a woman stuck in a bunker after the war. She’s there as things go from bad, no power, to worse, cannibalism, as her group delves deeper and deeper into the bunker complex looking for escape
Even so the series does end on a bit of hope, even if it’s at the tiniest scale from a flame of a Zippo lighter.
The Last American might be depressing but it’s also a great story. A collected edition of The Last American is available online via ComiXology and back issues of the series are still available at comic stores and eBay.