My original mission was to read all of Brian K. Vaughan’s graphic novel Y: The Last Man before the television series premieres on FX.
Mission accomplished. Probably with an assist by our current coronavirus pandemic. The filming, which was originally scheduled to begin this past April, is now supposed to begin in October 2020, somewhere in Canada. The irony that a television program based upon sequential-art fiction about a global pandemic has been delayed by an actual global pandemic has probably not been missed by anyone. To the best of my knowledge—and the Internet’s—the series is still coming.
Book Five collects issues #49 through 60 of the original comic book run. These issues were published from the end of 2006 through early in 2008. The final issue had a March 2008 cover date, which means it was probably on the stands in February of that year. Since I’m always fashionably late to the party, I never read a single issue until I began reading the trade paperback collections about a year ago.
And, now, I am finished. Just like the story.
I know that endings can be tough. All loose story threads need to be tied off. All red herrings need to be revealed as such and explained away. Plus, the ending needs to be a satisfying one that makes everyone happy.
This can be tough to pull off when you don’t have a definite ending in mind while writing the story. If you require an example, look no further than the television series Lost, for which Brian K. Vaughan was a writer and producer on Seasons 3 through 5. Of course, Lost had six seasons, so we can’t blame Vaughan for the finale of that story. I’m certain, now more than ever, however, that he contributed to the snarl of story threads during the show’s long second act.
I’m going to avoid any of the BIG SPOILERS from this final collection, because I’d really like you to read it for yourself. If you’re reading this now, you probably have some idea of what this story is about. If not: it’s about what happens after a global pandemic kills off every male in the world, including every mammal with a Y-chromosome, except for the titular “last man,” Yorick Brown, and his pet male Capuchin monkey Ampersand.
That’s the elevator pitch.
The story itself is sprawling dystopian fiction that ultimately spans the entire world.
Issues #49 through 52 comprise the story arc “Motherland,” in which Dr. Mann’s father plays a huge role. We also get an explanation for the pandemic that, really, wasn’t that necessary by this point. I had accepted the premise from the beginning, and was happy when Vaughan left behind some of the more magical causes the story was initially teasing us with.
With one story thread trimmed, sort of, Yorick and the indomitable Agent 355 are free to continue Yorick’s defining quest to locate his fiancé Beth.
The following two issues are single-issue filler stories. Issue #53, “The Obituarist,” revisits Waverly, the body collector we met way back in Issue #2. Issue #54, “Tragicomic,” gives us a peek at what the Fish & Bicycle Troupe have been up to since we last saw them.
Frankly, I thought these detours from the main story broke its stride a bit. If I had been reading these books as they were published, I would have resented the delay a bit more.
Fortunately, these were followed by the story arc “Whys and Wherefores,” which is briskly told in the five-issue span between Issue #55 and the penultimate issue, #59. Yorick and 355’s paths converge with Beth, the other Beth, Hero, and Alter’s Israeli army. As often happens in quest stories, the protagonist achieving his goal doesn’t always necessarily get what he really wants. Plus, another thing I didn’t see coming happens. I won’t tell you that, because if the story told on the television series remains faithful to the source material, you need to be surprised.
I thought this final arc brought the story to a mostly satisfying close. It wasn’t all happy, of course, and I’m not sure I expected it to be. As far as I could tell, no story threads were really left dangling at the end. Or, if they were, they were threads I had already forgotten about along the way.
It’s natural to wonder what becomes of the characters after the “end.” That’s why we get the final entry, Issue #60, which catapults us sixty years into the future. While it answers one nagging question (will humanity survive the gendercide?), it also heaps some additional sadness upon the reader, with an ambiguous ending that could have inspired a similar ending to the 2015 Academy-Award winning movie Birdman. I’m not sure all of this was necessary. But, as I pointed out earlier, endings are hard.
I still recommend this graphic novel to anyone whose interest might be sparked. The journey of the story is worth the investment of time, even if the destination isn’t everything you might expect. Keep in mind, this is the same rationalization I use to recommend the television series Lost as well.
Firewater’s Alas-Poor-Yorick Report Card: A
This story has earned its hype. I look forward to seeing what FX does with it.