Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughan)

Here it is, my hotly anticipated first comic book/graphic novel review! Ok, so maybe "hotly anticipated" is a slight exaggeration. "Moderately anticipated" maybe, or "somewhat vaguely anticipated because of that allusion to comics from the Declaration of Interdependence that never made it clear whether or not it was a joke" might be more realistic. Regardless, here it is, and for my first cb/gn review, I wanted something that met a number of specific criteria:

1) A finished series (as opposed to one that is currently ongoing)
2) A self-contained universe (who needs all that funky cosmic backstory?)
3) A kick-ass concept (easily summarized, infinite implications)
4) Something that any reader could enjoy, not just comic book readers.

Having scoured my shelves for something that met all of the above criteria, I finally settled on one of my favorite series of all time, Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.

Now, for those of you familiar with the comic book world, BKV is the highly acclaimed creator of some incredible books, most notably Runaways, Ex Machina, and The Hood. For those of you who don't know much about comics, you might recognize him as one of the principle writers of a little ABC show called Lost, which he's been with since season 3. So he's got some street cred.


The premise is fairly straightforward: a mysterious plague kills every mammal with a Y chromosome except Yorick Brown, an amateur escape artist/comparative lit major, and his pet helper monkey, Ampersand. Seriously, humanity's last hope is a Shakespeare nerd and his capuchin. This might not sound like an instant formula for success, but the real draw comes from the power of the writing. The story is extremely plot-driven. Yorick's main goal throughout the series is to get from NYC to his girlfriend, Beth, who is in Australia when the plague hits. The trip is extremely difficult, though, considering the devastation caused by the simultaneous deaths of half the world's population.

Yorick heads first to Washington, D.C. to look for his mother, a Representative from the state of Ohio. In D.C., the new president (previously the Secretary of Agriculture) orders a secret government agent, codename 355, to escort Yorick to find renowned geneticist Dr. Allison Mann to try and figure out why he alone survived. Along the way, Yorick and 355 encounter a group of women calling themselves the Daughters of the Amazon, who believe that Mother Earth was cleansing herself by getting rid of the males, and that they should kill the last man. Yorick is also being tracked by operatives sent by the Israeli government (who are unique in that they've maintained their military through the large number of women in service before the plague).

And all of this is in the first 5 issues (there are 60 total, collected in 10 volumes).

The over-arcing plot aside, the series also picks up many more subplots as Yorick, 355, and Dr. Mann travel across the country and affect other people's lives. The supporting cast is huge, and most of the characters are very well filled out. BKV uses many of these characters to illustrate the different ways in which people deal with devastating loss. The theme isn't primarily depressing, though, it's actually very funny. Between the jokes that Yorick tends to tell to cover his feelings of inadequacy regarding being "chosen" as the last man on earth, and the sometimes ridiculous situations that he gets himself into, Y is able to cover a broad spectrum of emotional and intellectual topics in a highly amusing way. Throughout the series, Yorick has to deal with issues like love, suicide, depression, adultery, responsibility, and plenty of others, mostly on his own, but always with a clever quip or witty remark. With an epic scope and some tremendously impactful scenes, Y: The Last Man is a smart, funny series that challenges the limits of what people might be willing to label "respectable literature." I would absolutely recommend this series to anyone.


Y: The Last Man
by Brian K. Vaughan

Brian K. Vaughan takes a plot that can be summed up in one sentence and writes it out to its very limit, creating unforgettable characters and putting them in unique conflicts.

The voice is strong if not the most original in the world, but so many themes are touched on in so many new and dynamic ways that it's hard to think of anything written in the same style that's done so well.

Y is so much fun to read, and covers so many topics and issues, with so many amazing characters, that's it's hard not to get sucked right in. Truly one of the most enjoyable things I've ever read.

Overall: 9

1 comment:

  1. I'm not so sure that summarizing the story as "very plot-driven" is best...the characters in this piece really drive it (although I do suppose that it's each of their own agendas which drive them to drive the plot...or something?).

    Otherwise...dead on. This is one of the greatest stories ever told, regardless of the medium.


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