Y: The Last Man
Created by: Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra
Published by: DC/Vertigo
ISBN: 1563899809 (Amazon)
Imagine a world in which every creature possessing a Y chromosome has just died. In a single moment, the world’s animal population has been reduced by roughly half. This is a world where most of the world’s politicians, most of the world’s scientists, most of the world’s military, most of the world’s pilots, most of the world’s film-makers, and most of the world’s businessmen are no longer with us. This is a world of chaos and desperation, a world trying to find its way in the cataclysm-wrought darkness.
And this is a world of nightmares and madness for Yorick Brown, the lone surviving man.
To be fair, it’s also a nightmare for all the surviving women as well—after all, nobody wants to wake up to a world of three billion rotting corpses. But since our present story explores such a world through the eyes of the most definitionally unique person in that world, the concerns of the remaining women are, for the most part, glimpsed through a lens primarily concerned with Yorick. This is not to say that we don’t get a good look and what their healthy and unhealthy, successful and unsuccessful reactions might look like. More it’s just to say that every story has its necessary pericope, embossed wholly by its narrator and that narrator’s circumstance of interest.
Y: The Last Man begins on July 17, 2002—about a half-hour prior to the great extinction, and introduces Yorick, his pet monkey Ampersand (also male and also a unique survivor of the coming pandemic), and the beginning of a large cast of well-conceived female characters. The second chapter picks up several weeks after the plague hit, revealing a world very much changed. Apart from those women who are simply scrambling to survive in and make sense of this new world, the new society-in-flux has given rise to numerous factions struggling for and abusing power. From the ultra-feminist gang who burned all the sperm banks (assuring that the world would never again be plagued with men) to those women who were already involved in the national and internation political scenes prior to the fall of man, author Brian K. Vaughan presents a world that believably captures both the horror and hope of the human condition.
And all the while Yorick is racing from Boston to Australia on a quest to find his would-be fiancée Beth, who was participating in anthropological research in the Outback when the plague hit.
It’s a very slow race. The entire scope of the ten-volume series covers approximately five years and follows Yorick as he and his two companions, Agent 355 (an American spy) and Dr. Allison Mann* (a bioengineer who hopes to clone Yorick to preserve the human race), as they traverse the globe (via foot, train, and boat) in search of Yorick’s Beth. The travel aspect is helpful because it allows Vaughan to naturally explore a number of different reactions to the cataclysm along with the shifting landscape of their journey. Through their travels they experience enlightening episodes with Amazons, astronauts, agents, assassins, actors, antagonistas, androbots, atheists, angry Arizonans, and a whole mess of lesbians (both long-time and newly blossomed).
Vaughan’s book is of that very best kind of science fiction—the kind that presents the standards of society and forces you to question them and consider their weight without (and this is the important part) rendering judgment itself. The best science fiction makes you think. It prompts the reevaluation of one’s mores and assumptions about one’s world.
With a subject as ripe for exploitation as a tale of a single man left alone with a world of women, Vaughan exerts considerable restraint. While his characters are indeed sexual beings (even as we are), they are always first and foremost individuals (even as we are). There are women who can’t live without their men. There are women who rejoice that the patriarchy is finally and truly vanished. There are those who take stock of their lives and move on as they might. There are those who take charge, those who acquiesce, those who are violent, those who are scientists. Really, every kind of individual you could think of exists as denizen of this new kind of life. And their ideologies are equally diverse.
As far as speculative fiction goes, Y: The Last Man is really the creme de la creme, hitting all the right notes and being funny, grim, and mind-blowing for its duration. Vaughan has lessons to leave and pedagogy to forge, but he never gets too preachy—and the moment he begins wading in that direction, his characters themselves seem to call him on the carpet for it. These are intelligent people and pretty well representative of the human race. While the book most overtly concerns Yorick and his quest, Y: The Last Man is not a story about men. Rather, Vaughan seems to use the “world unmanned” concept as little more than a framing device for an exploration of humanity itself (and to a lesser degree, women). Vaughan succeeds wholly in taking a genre concept that could have been the basis for the typical male fulfillment fantasy and spinning it into one of the most worthwhile fables of the last hundred years.
As an epilogue, I suppose I should speak briefly about the art. Largely visually composed by Pia Guerra, the illustrations of the book sing in their subtlety. This is not a book featuring hyper-dynamic heroes. It’s not about muscles and maidens. Instead, it’s about real people. And Guerra’s line captures that about as well as any artist out there. So good is her skill that I cannot imagine any other artist succeeding so well at capturing Vaughan’s story, characters, and setting. Her talent is made still more obvious by the occasional instances of filler artists.
*note: Allison Mann is A. Mann, get it?
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad
I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
Review copy submission may be facilitated via the Contact page.
Browse Reviews By
- Popular Sections:
- Top 100
- Top 75 by Female Creators
- Kids Recommendations
- What I Read: A Reading Log
- Best Books of the Year:
- Top 75 of 2015
- Top 75 of 2014
- Top 35 of 2013
- Top 25 of 2012
- Top 10 of 2011
- Other Features:
- Why I ❤ Zita the Spacegirl
- 31 Days of Comics
- Bookclub Study Guides
- Publisher Spotlights:
- 31 Days of First Second
- 10 Days of SelfMadeHero
- 20 Days of Vertical