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Y: THE LAST MAN - 2006
Book One - Unmanned
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan;
Artists: Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan Jr.
128-page Trade Paperback
The sub-genre of post-apocalyptic horror isn't what it used to be. With the
end of the Cold War and the decreased threat of all-out nuclear conflict,
it seems people just aren't thinking as much about the end of the world.
The nice thing is, when they do, they're a lot more imaginative than the
old clichés of radiation poisoning and giant cockroaches. Writer
Brian K. Vaughan (THE HOOD) has brought
back the post-apocalypse story with an attention-getting kick in the nuts
in his new Vertigo series Y: THE LAST MAN.
Y stands for Yorick, the main character. It also stands for the Y chromosome, which
is what makes men male; and, in this book, condemns them to death. Every
male creature in the world suddenly drops dead one day, except for Yorick
and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Why are they alive? No one knows. A more
pressing question for Yorick is, can they stay that way.
Vaughan scores major points for finding the horror in what has always been a classic
male fantasy: being the only guy in a world of women. He realizes that
it would hardly be a Penthouse Forum fantasy come to life; more likely,
an episode of OZ. You'd end up a jailhouse bitch: enslaved, sold, exploited,
and abused; and not by some supermodel, boy, you'd be the personal love
slave of the biggest, toughest, butchest broad around. Best case scenario,
you'd end up in a sterilized room jerking off into a cup to repopulate
the world - no actual sex, pal, God forbid you catch something.
Vaughan postulates a planet teetering on the brink of anarchy; there is still a kind of government,
people still attempt to behave in a civilized manner, but there are unpleasant
realities to deal with. Like the rotting corpses still stinking up the
cities, or the Amazons, a group of bad-ass women who believe the men were
killed by Mother Earth because they were unworthy, and see Yorick as a
loose end to be tied up: or cut off (ouch).
Vaughan has caught some flack from people who think he's implying there's
something wrong with women if he thinks this is what would happen in a
world run by them. His response was that, if the situation were reversed
and all the women died, he figures it would take about ten minutes for
the remaining men to nuke each other into little glowing smithereens,
so this is really the better scenario (and makes
for a slightly more readable story).
This initial volume, which collects the first five issues of the comic series, sets
up the situation and assembles our cast of characters: Yorick; his Mom,
a U.S. congresswoman; Alter, an Israeli soldier (Israel being one of the few armies that has allowed women in combat roles for
many years) whose motives are still uncertain; #355, a U.S. government
agent who is charged by the new Madame President with protecting Yorick's
life, against her wishes; and Dr. Allison Mann (heh),
a scientist whose work with cloning and artificial insemination make her
the best chance of continuing the species: but might just be responsible
for killing off the men in the first place.
The art by Pia Guerra is good; it didn't blow me away, but it's better than average
and improving every step of the way, with some truly horrifying images
in the last chapter, where it's revealed that Yorick's sister, Hero, has
joined the Amazons (did I mention they cut off their
left breast? Double ouch!) and, without realizing it, been given
the job of finding and killing her brother.
The writing is also quite good, but not perfect. Vaughan does a great job with imagining
the dark, dystopian, yet logical world (the toughest part of a book like this), and he's certainly got years worth of
story possibilities here, including hints that a space station crew might
still be alive: and one would imagine there are a couple men on it. The
supporting characters are intriguing; my biggest problem is with the characterization
of Yorick himself. He's just entirely too noble. All he wants is to get
to Australia, where is fiancee is, so he can marry her and repopulate
the world the old fashioned way. While not portrayed as an innocent per
se, he's naive and headstrong, like when he exposes his identity to a
group of Amazons defacing a memorial to the deceased men, thereby letting
himself in for an ass-kicking and a half and making some nasty enemies.
The fact that he's a magician and escape artist by trade leads to some
interesting MacGyver-type moments, but his personality itself is a bit
too simplistic. I suspect that might be the reason some feminists have
reacted negatively to the book; Yorick's the one who's always trying to
stop fights and saying "Can't we all just get along?" He's definitely
portrayed as the noblest character in the story, but I see that as a problem
with the character himself, not an implication that men as a whole are
better than women.
Personally, I'd have found it more interesting if Yorick was more complex, a bit more
like Vaughan's character in THE HOOD (which I think
is his best work yet, though it's gotten less attention than it deserves).
I mean, if I was in Yorick's shoes, yeah, I'd want to be reunited with
my wife, but I'd be at least a little protective of my own ass, and the
idea of serving as stud for the world would certainly cross my mind (just
for a second, though, honey). I should point out that several issues
of the regular series have come out since the end of this collection,
and may have addressed some of these issues, but I haven't read them.
More and more I find myself waiting for trade paperback collections: I
prefer reading a bigger chunk of story in one sitting (MANGA STYLE! -feo), and hell, a lot
of times they're cheaper than buying the individual issues!
Anyway, I don't mean to seem overly critical. Y: THE LAST MAN is a very intriguing series, certainly like nothing else on the comics
racks, and well worth taking a look at. Hell, it almost makes me nostalgic
for THE DAY AFTER - well, maybe DAMNATION ALLEY (gotta
love those killer cockroaches). I give Y: THE LAST MAN four Rabid Fanboys.
copyright 2006 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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