Y: The Last Man, Book One, by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra (Vertigo) — a comic book review

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Here’s what I know about writer Brian K. Vaughan.

He was a writer, story editor and producer on the television series Lost from seasons 3 through 5. He automatically gets storytelling cred from me for that, especially since he wasn’t around for Season 6 and the series finale that I like to pretend never existed. He also helped develop Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome into a television series. I enjoyed its first season, after which Vaughan left the series, which quickly went off the rails after running out of King’s source material. Even today, although I watched it all, I can’t remember how the series concluded. Maybe all of the characters assembled in a nondenominational church for a reunion.

That’s a limited sample size, I’ll admit, but the conclusion I drew from this is that things seem to be better when Vaughan is involved with them but go quickly to crap after he leaves.

The truth is that I drew a different conclusion originally. I thought Vaughan was the reason Under the Dome went into decline after it went off-book. I didn’t realize he had also left the show after the first season until just recently. This may be part of the reason I was in no hurry to read his comic book work, even though he has won a room-full of awards and frequently gets talked about in the hushed reverential tones reserved for the likes of Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore.

But, I finally picked up Saga and enjoyed it, though it felt less plotted and more stream-of-consciousness to me (I’ve still only read the first volume, so don’t bother to tell me I’m wrong because I’ll find out soon enough). Y: The Last Man was a title I kept hearing frequently as well. I understood the premise and was interested in it, but continued to put off reading it for reasons I can’t fully explain.

At least, until recently. This is in no way meant to disparage Saga or the legions of fans of this book (of which I count myself a member). But, for my money, Y: The Last Man is even better.

I realize this is all a matter of personal opinion, of perspective. This is mine.

The simplicity of the story’s premise is also a part of its genius. In 2002, every man, every boy, every mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly drops dead. Except for a young man named Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yorick suddenly becomes the most important person on the planet. Perhaps the key to repopulating the world and curing this odd gender-specific plague.

I know that 2002 seems like a long time ago now, but Y: The Last Man issues #1 – #10 (which are collected in Book One) were published in 2002-2003, right around the time we purchased our house here in central Arkansas. That does seem like a long time ago. It supports my thesis that stories are our only viable means of time-travel.

Very soon after he is introduced, we find out that Yorick has a girlfriend, Beth, who is somewhere in Australia as the story begins. His mother, it turns out, is a congresswoman. In short order, we meet an Israeli colonel who doesn’t know her real first name but goes by the nickname “Alter.” She seems like a badass. And then, Agent 355, an agent of the super-secret Culper Ring—also a badass. Dr. Mann, one of the foremost experts on cloning, about to give birth to her own clone—badass. Yorick’s sister, Hero, probably also a badass though it’s too soon to tell. But, her name is “Hero,” so there’s that.

The first issue ends with a single page of facts about the plague. 2.9 billion men were immediately killed by this “gendercide.” This is almost all of the Fortune 500 CEOs, and 99% of the landowners in the world. In the US, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains are dead. Also 92% of all violent felons. Internationally, 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction workers are dead. With most of the world’s soldiers who’ve seen active combat now dead, Israel now has a distinct advantage since all women between 18 and 26 have performed compulsory military service in the Israeli Defense Force for at least one year and nine months.

Like Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, this work also examines how the world reacts to losing a good percentage of its population. Only, this examination is more clearly gender-specific. Plus, we are presented with the mystery of Yorick Brown and his monkey. This becomes a story that is immediately thought-provoking. And, because it focuses on certain characters, the story has a human face (or a monkey face, sometimes), and is relatable.

This story is densely, and deftly, plotted. I can tell that Vaughan has given the topics he’s writing about a lot of serious thought. How would the government continue to govern after most of the politicians are gone? Would the old party system even make sense anymore? How would women choose to consolidate power, and are women as capable of being assholes as their deceased male counterparts?

On the personal front, will Yorick reconnect with his mother and sister? SPOILER: the answer to that is “yes,” but this may not be an overwhelmingly positive experience. Will he reconnect with his girlfriend Beth? Not in this volume. We’ll have to keep reading to find out.

The story becomes a travelogue following Yorick and Agent 355 as they go on the search for Dr. Mann, who just may be able to do something about the plague with Yorick and Ampersand as test subjects. Then, because the Israelis burn down Dr. Mann’s lab, Yorick, 355 and Dr. Mann have to make their way to the West Coast, where Dr. Mann has another lab. Along the way, they get into adventures with various female thugs, escaped prisoners, and newly minted Amazons.

We don’t quite reach our goal at the conclusion of issue #10 and Book One, but we have been entertained. Plus, we’re left with a tantalizing cliffhanger. Yorick just may be the last man on Earth, but there may be a couple more somewhere above it.

This was an effective cliffhanger that motivated me to order Book Two immediately after I finished reading this one.

It occurs to me now that I’ve been writing solely about story here and haven’t mentioned the art. Pia Guerra is a good artist, but not a flashy one, at least not in this book. Which is the proper restrained approach to take in a work where story is more important than spectacle. I have nothing bad to say about Guerra’s work in these issues. If you didn’t read the script in the word balloons, you would still have a good idea of what’s going on in the story. So, Guerra is doing her job by telling the story, economically, through pictures that enhance, and not distract from, the written word.

I’m late jumping on this bandwagon, I know. But, Y: The Last Man is great storytelling and worth your time before the movie or television series airs.

Firewater’s End-of-Man’s-World Report Card: A

A

I nearly went with the A+, but I honestly think this one will get even better. I left a bit of room to grow on.

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