Comic Shop- Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn

September 9, 2008 at 11:18 pm 7 comments

Brian K. Vaughn’s taut, heart-wrenching epic begins moments before a worldwide catastrophe. He plunges us into the midst of a half dozen story lines, jumping from beat to beat as the clock ticks down to the moment when, spontaneously, every man on earth dies.

(Click to enlarge)

One man survives, however. That would be Yorick, a geeky aspiring escape artist with no prospects. His girlfriend, Beth, is doing humanitarian work in Australia, which inspires Yorick into his only real act of selflessness– volunteering to train a helper monkey, a rambunctious capuchin named Ampersand. Ampersand, incidentally, is also male. The two survive the event, hiding out for weeks until Yorick is convinced that whatever happened hasn’t affected him. As far as anyone knows, Yorick and Ampersand are the only male mammals alive anywhere on Earth.

Yorick and Ampersand make their way from New York to Washington D.C. through congested highways and back roads. His mother, a Congresswoman from Ohio, sets him up with a bodyguard known only as Agent 355, and sends them off to find Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist specializing in cloning research. Yorick goes along reluctantly; all he wants is to go to Australia to find Beth.

The post-disaster landscape is rich with details. In D.C., women have set up a shrine to remember the men- at the Washington Monument, naturally. Long distance communication is impossible, and food is difficult to find. Ad hoc communities spring up, but it’s not all about sisterly love. An extremist cult calling themselves Daughters of the Amazon believe the men were supposed to die, and will kill anyone who appears to think otherwise. They terrorize women from their motorbikes, with bows and arrows. And, like the original Amazons, they traditionally burn off one breast.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the town inhabited solely by former prisoners of the nearby women’s prison, who’ve pulled together one of the only communities with live electricity and growing crops. It would have been easy to dip into sexist stereotypes, but Vaughn is great at demonstrating a wide range of personalities for his female characters. Yorick isn’t quite as broad-minded, and makes the mistake of assuming every girl who likes science fiction and dirty jokes is his soulmate. Over the course of the books, though, he grows out of his goofiness into a well-rounded character.

The characterizations are one of the series’ greatest strengths, actually. Often flawed yet nearly always likable, the people who populate Vaughn’s world pop off the page. The comic’s pacing is utterly cinematic. The reader’s eyes leap from one panel to the next, not wanting to miss a detail, but eagerly anticipating what happens next. Both of these are attributable not just to Vaughn, but to Pia Guerra’s brilliant, vibrant artwork. She’s great at capturing various nuances of a facial expression. The remains of the pre-gendercide world are meticulously detailed, making the environment eerily similar to our own. Disappointingly, in spite of the strong feminist message of the books, Guerra’s women still tend to be over-sexualized and physically unrealistic. Is this excusable because she’s a female artist? Mmmm… probably not. I’m willing to overlook it, though, because the writing is so strong.

The storylines weave in and out of sync, tracking the lives of these people attempting to right their world after it has been so brutally toppled.  In 10 volumes, Vaughn crafts a true epic, taking on themes of family, love, sexuality, and hope without flinching.  He successfully combines melodrama, humor, and true poignancy.  I’ll leave you again with the first page of the first volume, and strongly encourage you to seek this out.  (Click to enlarge.)

By the way, I have a few more comics I’m planning to review in the future, but am always looking for new things to read.  If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!


Entry filed under: Betty, Books for Hire. Tags: , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michael Mitchley  |  September 10, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Y: The last man was pretty rad, but if you are allergic to cliffhanger endings you will hate it. Oh, you will hate it so much.

  • 2. Seresecros  |  September 10, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Michael speaks the truth. Once you have the first TPB, you will need all of the others immediately.

    On the suggestion front, if you like madness and shouting, sweaing and explosions, and robots who call their boss “oh fleshy one” and comics that are ridiculous but brilliant: Nextwave, by Warren Ellis. If you’d like a ‘proper’ comic story though, then I suggest Invincible, by Robert Kirkman.

  • 3. Betty  |  September 10, 2008 at 10:41 am

    ooh- I’ve read Transmetropolitan and Crooked Little Vein by Ellis and love his style, so I’ll probably check that out, but I’m sure I’ll be adding both suggestions to my reading list.

  • 4. Betty  |  September 10, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Also Mitchley is correct, but that’s just more incentive to set aside six hours or so and read it all in one go!

  • 5. Nicol  |  September 12, 2008 at 2:16 am

    When I picked up Black Hole, I got a little flyer for the Marvel adaptation of The Stand, which was just released yesterday over here. The novel, by Stephen King, was pretty much awesome, and the artwork on the flyer looked great, so you might want to look into getting that.

    I’m going to pick it up when I get the chance to. And after the Stand, I’m definitely going to get this series.

  • 6. Betty  |  September 12, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Ooh, cool. I’m glad you enjoyed Black Hole, too! I did really like The Stand- I had a whole class in high school devoted to it,actually (teacher’s pick). I can’t say the same for the brilliantly terrible TV miniseries, but I’ll try to check out the comic when it comes out.

  • 7. Disco Stu  |  September 22, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    This is definaitely one of the best comics I’ve ever read. It nearly murdered me to have to wait for the trades, as I missed its start, and only picked it up once the first few volumes are out.

    It’s an incredibly written story, and manages to sidestep or satirise all your preconceived gender notions.

    I don’t entirely agree about the women being unrealisticly drawn. Certainly a lot of them are pretty, but I put that down to Guerra’s own limitations rather than a deliberate (or even unconscious) attempt to make all the women “sexy”.


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