Resin Heroes

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).

Last_American_Vol_1_4This 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.

Last_American_Vol_1_2Where 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.

AHu71Vtp_1004141330141Also, 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.