I finally read Y: The Last Man

In a world with one man, the best comedian is still a man.

In a world with one man, the best comedian is still a man.

Brief introduction: I am Ben, oft-known as Pickett. If you know Aaron there is a high percentage chance you already know me as the cranky asshole who whines a lot and is not very good at video games. Ergo, I will mostly restrict my writing to comic book and television show-related topics.

As a bonus gift for reading, please download this fan-translated ROM of Mother 3, aka Earthbound 2. Available for your GBA emulators.

Get your Mother on!
And yes, you can still name your favorite food.

Brian K. Vaughan is an excellent comic writer. His Mystique stand-alone series is one of my favorite comics overall, including the non-superhero stuff. It helps to have some familiarity with X-Men, but it’s not necessary. Of course, X-Men knowledge is helpful in all facets of everyday life, when push comes to shove, as people say. In any case, outside of the author, that has little to do with Y: The Last Man.

The number one drawback to Y is that it’s very difficult to talk about audibly, as the phrase Y: The Last Man can be confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with it. Honestly, that is probably the worst thing. (It’s pretty annoying)! Also I have been asked to keep this spoiler-free to appease The Aaron, so I will do my best.

The basic premise of Y is simple enough. Except for plants, everything with a Y chromosome on the planet earth dies. The lone survivors are Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. The letter Y itself is a pervasive symbol throughout and it can be viewed as gimmicky or thought-provoking. In any case, that is the story. What would it be like to be The Last Man on Earth?

One topic Vaughan handles with aplomb is the very first thought of Every Man on Earth: “It would be awesome! I could fuck anyone I wanted!” Really, though? And what if you were in love? What if you cared about only one woman? Yorick has that love interest- Beth. Their “relationship” throughout Y is akin to that of Adam Chamberlain and Cassie in the earlier stages of American Virgin, another Vertigo title which is not great but unique enough to be worthwhile. For the unfamiliar, essentially Yorick remains tied to Beth despite a level of temptation the average man has only experienced in their entire junior high existence. The difference being that Yorick could actually get laid, of course.

The story has several key and obvious elements: what caused the virus, or attack, or phenomenon which killed all the men? Why did Yorick and Ampersand survive? How will people re-populate without men? Can what saved Yorick be put to use in the future?

I felt throughout that the why of Y was the least interesting factor. For the story it does not matter too much why Yorick is the only man left. What is interesting is that he is. Of course, this question is dealt with, but it is not a major factor for much of the story, which was much appreciated. It’d be like really spending a lot of time thinking about and caring about the origin stories of a superhero. Does it really matter why Hulk came to be? In the end, not really. And so it is with Y.

A nice touch to the story comes from the amount of travel. Yorick and his traveling companions- who are among the very few people on earth aware that a man exists- travel across vast swaths of America, travel on the ocean, and wind up in Japan, among other places. The varying scenery adds to the story. Pia Guerra’s art isn’t revolutionary or distinctive, per se, but it fits the book and is always quality work.

The other main negative point is that much of the story is contrived. Not only does Yorick end up in situations which seem to have come about from Vaughan thinking, “wouldn’t it be interesting if…,” but too many of the cliffhangers and plot twists seem almost shoe-horned in. Perhaps had I read this serially instead of in a few large chunks this would have been less bothersome. Regardless, it is a flaw which can be lived with, and does not detract from the enjoyment.

For those familiar with Vaughan, his sense of humor is alive and well in this comic. It is rarely laugh-out-loud amusing, but Vaughan has a way of crafting dialogue and reactions which it is difficult not to at least chuckle about.

There is a large social undertone in this work. It’s not surprising that a comic like this would be a perfect ground to explore gender relations. Mostly this is restricted to America, but not exclusively; countries such as Israel, Australia, and Russia also factor into the story with differing degrees of import. Although sometimes heavy-handed, especially at the ending- which is perhaps the only real love-it-or-hate-it moment of the comic- much of this sensitive topic is dealt with lightly or subtly. Topics such as racism, religion, and war are also given their light of day. At times this pulls Vaughan too far off course from Yorick’s story for my liking, but he always recovers.

His main means for this is via character interaction.  Dialogue drives comics, and Y has great dialogue.  People talk like people actually talk, for the most part.  Vaughan may have put his own opinions in the book, sure, but it doesn’t sound like the character is speaking for the author.  Rather, the characters have their own voices.  Perhaps the best and most important character in Y is Yorick’s bodyguard, Agent 355.  Her character grows more than any other- not just in how she feels and acts, but her motivation and back story are fleshed out wonderfully.  Any scene with 355 is vastly improved by her presence.

While by no means a perfect comic, its 60 issue run-time feels about right. It bogs down a bit in the middle and rushes a tad toward the end, but by that end, the questions are answered and the reader can end up satisfied. Or, in my case, not so much. This, too, is a testament to the story-telling: it certainly does not wind up the way the reader might want. I find it hard to believe anyone who becomes invested in Y could take in the final page and be completely satisfied. This by itself is a nice accomplishment, especially as the book actually has an ending. That, too, is a rarity nowadays.

Y offers numerous love stories, violence, hot girl-on-girl action, monkeys, and social commentary. To me, Y: The Last Man is required reading for any fans of the comic medium. The two years I took off in between starting and finishing never dampered my desire to get back to it. It was worth the wait.

3 thoughts on “I finally read Y: The Last Man

  1. I think I’ll have to let this sink in a bit before I can deliver a full fledged comment. I’m also not as far into the story (vol 5 or so, so 1/3 to halfway?).

    One thing I did like in particular was how they re-reference the Day Zero event. Initially it is handled very clinically. Discussed.

    “is that really the worst thing you’ve ever seen.”

  2. I’ve read a bit (end of vol 3) and it seems like the end of all the story arcs they had introed in the first issue.

    It is pretty good as a concept, but I will agree that sometimes, it seems like a bunch of set pieces put together and the characters are just going from situation to situation because they are “interesting”.

    I think I read comics differently because I honestly am interested in the why. Sure, the journey is its own reward, but I think that knowing what happened is a pretty good reward too.

    Also, in case you didn’t see my other comment in the theme part post, there are rumors that there are possibly remaking Syndicate.

  3. I’ve made it through Vol 6. Still enjoying it. Certainly a fun read, but that helps it catch you off guard every once in awhile (like with the above quote: “is that really the worst thing you’ve ever seen.”)

    They like to play with moral grey area, but I’d like that to be done a bit deeper. Mostly it’s people who are “good”, but do or have done bad things. I’d like to see some people who come across less good, but still have questionable moral ground without being “bad guys.”

    I have a feeling I’ll see some of that before the end.

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