Book Review: Y: The Last Man (graphic novel series) by Brian K. Vaughan
You may debate whether a series of graphic novels should be counted as “books”, but there’s no question that Y: The Last Man is a gripping, inventive, character-rich story, with layers of intrigue, masterful plotting, unexpected laughs and sorrows, and plenty of thought-provoking propositions.
Originally issued as a comic book series beginning in 2002, Y: The Last Man is also available as a series of ten trade paperback collections or as five hardcover “deluxe” editions. In whatever format you choose to read these, read them you should. I read the ten TPB volumes over the course of the past week, and it was very difficult to stop for little annoyances like sleeping and eating.
Y: The Last Man begins in the year 2002, when a mass “gendercide” occurs. For no apparent reason, all male mammals on the planet die suddenly and bloodily one afternoon in July. All, that is, except for 22-year-old unemployed English major Yorick Brown and his pet capuchin monkey Ampersand. Why has Yorick survived? And what does it really mean to be the last man on earth? While any answers to the “why” are long in coming, Yorick realizes very quickly that being the sole male is not everything an adolescent’s fantasy might imagine it to be.
For starters, the world as we know it comes crashing to a halt. The majority of airplane pilots, factory workers, nuclear power plant engineers, and politicians are all male, as are most of the farmers, truckers, and others who keep the world fed and powered. Highways are impassible, due to all the crashed vehicles from the time of the big wipe-out. In Washington DC, the small minority of female Congresswomen are left holding the reins of government, but opposition is brewing — and armed. While most armies of the world are now defunct, the Israeli army, with its trained female soldiers, is not taking this sudden change in the world power structure lying down.
Meanwhile, Yorick begins a pilgrimage to reunite with his girlfriend Beth — in the Australian outback at the time of the disaster — and to help find a way for human beings to avoid extinction. Along with way, he is joined by secret agent 355 and super-scientist Dr. Allison Mann, and between these three, they just might be able to figure out what happened and what they can do about it. But not if the bad guys (yes, there are always bad guys, even if they’re no longer “guys”) get to them first.
Social commentary is threaded throughout the series. For those who think a world without men would be all peace, love, and kumbaya, think again. Arrow-wielding feminists calling themselves “Daughters of the Amazon” believe the gendercide is Mother Earth’s way of shaking off infection, and in their zeal to cleanse the world, make it their mission to incinerate all sperm banks to ensure that males never come into being again. A group of Arizona militia women cut off all trade through their state and, armed to the teeth, shoot anything that might threaten their autonomy. The religious are sure that the rapture has arrived — and left them behind. A new sex trade arises, as women desperate for a man’s touch seek out the next best thing in the arms of women who don fake facial hair and lower vocal registers. And radicals around the world sit up and take notice when rumors of a surviving male start to circulate.
The adventure is non-stop, and the action spans the globe with a large, varied cast of characters. The tension is high, but Yorick is a funny guy, even in this most awful of situations, and so Y: The Last Man crackles with snappy dialogue and moments of humor and joy, along with heaping doses of anger, sorrow and pain.
An explanation for the catastrophe is ultimately provided, although I’m not sure that all readers will find the answers convincing or satisfying enough. Still, the “why” isn’t necessarily what matters. It’s what happens next — to Yorick, to his friends, and to the rest of the world — that drives this story forward. Y: The Last Man is excellent entertainment and an incredibly compelling tale. As far as end-of-the-world scenarios go, this one is fresh, provocative, and full of endless possibilities. Final verdict? Check it out. I’m definitely glad that I did.