30th May2017

Catching Up With the Classics: ‘Y – The Last Man Vol.1′

by Dan Clark

Written by Brian K. Vaughan | Art by Pia Guerra, José Marzán Jr. | Published by Vertigo

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Synopsis: “Y” is none other than unemployed escape artist Yorick Brown (his father was a Shakespeare buff), and he’s seemingly the only male human left alive after a mysterious plague kills all Y-chromosome carriers on earth. But why are he and his faithful companion, the often testy male monkey Ampersand, still alive? He sets out to find the answer (and his girlfriend), while running from angry female Republicans (now running the government), Amazon wannabes that include his own sister (seemingly brainwashed), and other threats.

My Background:

As a reader of comics I adore Brian K Vaughan’s work. So it makes no sense that it took me this long to finally start this series. When I began this blog series I mentioned how Saga brought my comic book reading to another level. So when I pick up a book from Vaughn my expectations are extremely high. So far he has not really let me down. I have adored everything I read including Paper Girls, Private Eye, Ex Machina, and even We Stand Our Ground.

A few years ago I bought the first volume and as often is the case on my shelf it stayed. I actually did start reading it and got through the first issue. For some reason I did not continue and its pages began to collect a nice layer of dust. Now I am happy to have a reason to return to it once again.

What I have heard from fellow comic book fans and critics is this is the series that put Brian K. Vaughn on another level. Where he went from an up and coming talent and established himself as one of the best of the business. When people mention some of the best comic book runs of the 2000’s this tends to be near the top of the list.

My Thoughts:

With this being released in 2002 you can see how it was impacted by the political landscape at the time. Being shortly removed from the September 11th terrorist attacks it certainly took inspiration from the way the world reacted on both a social and political level. However, never are those influences overt nor does it ever feel outdated. If you were to give someone this series and never tell them when it was released I doubt they would be able to exactly pinpoint the specific year or time.

What Brian K. Vaughan may be better at than any other writer is the ability to build worlds and characters simultaneously. Here he accomplishes that by setting the stage before the event the launches the series takes place. We get to see most of the main characters in their everyday element. It is not a ground breaking story technique but often with comics the urge is to lay all your cards on the table immediately to grab readers with your first issue. Vaughan plays the long game by not forcing in big moments that could stifle storytelling.

Although the post-apocalyptic genre is played out at this time I am still a fan of it when it is done right. This obviously came out long before the genre exploded. Before The Walking Dead was the biggest show on television. Even if you are tired of the watching the world end Y: The Last Man stands out. For one the idea of all men dying except one immediate raises a lot of questions. Why did only men die? Why did this one person and his pet male monkey survive? Was it science? Was it supernatural? Within this first volume none of those questions are all answered, but hints are given that could lead to possible conclusions.

It helps that answering that mystery does not consume the entire story. Driving the story forward are all the repercussions of what took place. Most post-apocalyptic stories are simply about surviving. Here there is still a ticking time bomb where the world could quickly become worse. Not only have all the human men died but the males of all the animals have been killed as well. With that a huge portion of the world’s food source could quickly go extinct. The only people who may have answers to this crisis are an average man who cannot get out of his own way and a scientist who fears she was responsible for dooming the world. If their lives are lost you are not just losing a character you like but also their death would lead to surefire destruction for the entire world. Vaughn clearly knows what he is doing right from the start.

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Concerns for New Readers:

I know many comic book readers hate it when politics are brought into their comics. They just want fantastic stories about fantastic characters that allow them to escape from their everyday lives. Oddly I think gender politics are more of a hot button issue now than they were fifteen years ago when this came out. So I could see some would be worried that this series about a world ruled by women where all the men but one have died would lead to some massive political statement.

Certainty this series has political and social commentary. It would be wasted opportunity if it didn’t have any. Overall it is pretty well balanced at least in my opinion. Early on we see a Yorick’s mother who is also a Congresswoman being patronized by a fellow Congress person for not supporting an Abortion bill. In her response I feel you see Vaughn showing these characters will not fit into a specific political bucket. From my interpretations Vaughn is never trying to force an agenda rather use these issues to demonstrate the complexity of individuals.  Some may take issue a man is writing a series regarding key issues that affect woman personally. Personally do not feel someone’s gender should dictate what type of stories they can or cannot tell.

Worth the Hype:

As I mentioned in the opening of this article I have high expectations when it comes to Brian K. Vaughn. I don’t expect good, I expect great. Sometimes that can lead someone to be a victim to their own success. So based on Volume 1 of Y: The Last Man is this a great series? My answer to that is not quite yet.

Some of the issues I had are with many of the decisions Yorick makes in order to force in some early tension and plot threads. For example as he and Agent 355 are on their journey to Boston he comes across a group of women who are celebrating the loss of men and taking the events as a postie for the world. Not only does he choose to confront them but chooses to reveal he is a man to prove an attempted point.

My issue with this is it makes no logical sense for him to do this and works against his current motivations at the time. At that point he had already experienced a person attempting to hold him hostage, he knows how much is at stake, and he has made evident how much he wishes to see his fiance. For him to go out of his way to do act in such a manner came off as a cheap way to move the story in an unexpected direction. Clearly this instance was there to create conflict and established this antagonistic extreme feminist group as the major villain threat. I simply wish it was not so transparent as a story choice. Vaughn tends to be more disciplined than that so this hiccup was out of character.

What does work with this story though is the overall tone. It barely feels like a comic. For ages now they have been trying to make this into a film or TV series and I can see why. What is already on the page would translate perfectly to the screen. It is not ultra-realistic like another Vertigo title Sheriff of Babylon, but it is not hyper realized like Preacher. By doing this Vaughn grounds this insane concept to a relatable level, which corresponds with the social and political commentary of the book. If it were too crazy, at least to start, the thematic messaging would certainly get last.

Overall if you are on the fence about reading this series I would fully advise you picking it up because it is a quality read. Just temper your expectations some for the first volume, especially if you are a fan of Vaughn’s most recent work.

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