The Bookshelf: Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man

Imagine you are on the phone with your girlfriend as she travels through the Australian Outback and the phone suddenly dies… along with every male mammal on the planet, except for you and your monkey Ampersand.  This is what happens in the first issue of Y: The Last Man… and for the following 59 issues, we go on an incredible global adventure in search of what caused every man to die as Yorick, the titular last man, gathers friends and enemies along the way.

Hugo enjoying the Spanish edition of Y: El Ultimo Hombre on LOST

Y: The Last Man is one of those comic series that gets bandied about as a must read constantly.  I’d heard of this series well before I ever took an interest in comics, whether as a reference in LOST (of which Vaughan was a writer) or in relation to other science fiction properties that were either influenced by or influenced from… but it was finally reading Saga (now up to issue #13) that tipped the scales in favor of my wanting to dig into Y: TLM… and dig in I did… again and again.

Vaughan creates a story that bucks most assumptions about what it would be like to exist in a world where you are the last man.  Most men would immediately think it would be a non-stop orgy of sex as Yorick moves from town to town repopulating the earth, but Vaughn takes the story, and Yorick, into very unexpected situations that avoids most (not all) cliches found in both sci-fi and comics.

During that aforementioned phone call to his girlfriend, Yorick proposes just as the line goes dead… and just before she gives him an answer.  As far as he’s concerned, he’s engaged… and he spends most of the next five years trying to get to Australia in the hopes of finding his one true love.  So instead of banging every woman he sees, which is essentially every human left, he saves himself for Beth.

Alas, poor Yorick

Along the way we meet his mother, a congresswoman who sets him on a path to find Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist working on human cloning.  Unfortunately, Yorick is a young immature man in his early twenties (Ampersand, his male Capuchin monkey is a helper monkey that he was attempting to train), so the odds of him making his way across the country unharmed is slim to none.  His mother enlists the help of Agent 355, a secret agent working for something called the Culper Ring, to assist in Yorick’s search for an answer to what caused the plague and why Yorick and Ampersand were spared.

As their journey begins, we are introduced to many different antagonists and various people with multiple motives for either wanting to embrace Yorick or kill him… whether it is a group calling themselves Daughters of the Amazon, who cut off one breast and burn down all sperm banks in an effort to wipe out the patriarchy that held them down for so long, or a rouge Israeli soldier hell-bent on starting a war between the U.S. and Israel as a means to put an end to the crippling infighting that exists without a common outside enemy, or a seemingly innocuous supermodel-turned-corpse-collector… all have a vested interest in Yorick.

Not only is Yorick dealt with in a surprisingly non-cliche fashion, so to are the women throughout.  At times Yorick himself is shocked to discover that the world hasn’t become a huge hug-a-thon with all socio-economic and cultural problems eradicated… turns out that women may be as multi-faceted and incompetent as the men ever had been… and when the half of the population that were government officials, engineers, pilots, and military dies… the world is left in shambles, and it takes quite a while to reassemble the pieces.  When those pieces get reassembled, who’s to say it would resemble what the world looked like in the beginning?

Hero: Yorick’s sister

Although the artist switched a few times over the course of the series, the main artist is Pia Guerra, and her work is stunning throughout.  My first thought as I began reading was the similarity in style to the art found in Garth Ennis’ Preacher series.  Imagine my delight when they inserted a Preacher reference in the story.  Although I have a few qualms about Preacher (I may do a review of that one of these days), the impact of that series in comics towards the end of the 90’s and beginning of the 21st. century cannot be stressed enough… and it’s influence is found in many places during the run of Y: TLM.

I had previously commented on the fact that Saga is drawn by a woman, Fiona Staples.  I love this.  I believe there is something revealing in the honesty behind a female pen that is sometimes obscured in either steroidal, overly violent, or overtly sexual works by men.  Not to say that either of these talented women don’t delve into sexuality or violence, they most certainly do… but there is something less bombastic and more artistically viable to be found in these pages (Y: TLM and Saga specifically) that draws me in in a way that other properties simply haven’t.  In fact, I recently made a point of saying how Fiona Staples work in Saga may be what tipped my opinion over into “stupendous” as opposed to just “great”.  Pia Guerra’s work feels the same to me… a deft artistic hand with an understanding of how the art helps move a great story… and Brian K. Vaughan knows how to craft an incredible story.

Y: The Last Man… the final issue

The series spans five years over the course of 60 issues (5 hardcover deluxe editions {which is how I read it}, or 10 trade paper backs… and volume 1 is currently unavailable)… and over these five years we witness Yorick, and everyone he comes into contact with, grow.  We watch him move from thoughtless and irresponsible to eventually becoming a man with all the attendant maturity and perspective that only comes with time and having lived… and Yorick most certainly lives… and comes alive within the pages of Y: The Last Man.

Plus, and this will be a shock to anyone who watched LOST (although Vaughan left in the sixth season), this story may have the most rewarding and perfect final issue of any graphic novel or comic series I’ve seen yet.  In fact, Vaughn sticks the landing so perfectly I immediately went back to the first book and restarted… only to find myself rewarded for doing so within the first couple of pages.  Vaughn began this yarn with the whole arc in mind, and it shows.  I was reminded of the series finale of Six Feet Under… it is that good… seriously.

A must read… if you enjoy sci-fi or a compelling post-apocalyptic tale, Y: The Last Man is something you will love diving into.

Everybody’s got something to hide, except for me and my,
Cornelius J. Blahg 

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