Good literature will always make us think about our own lives. Any good novel will connect with our emotional tendencies and give us a good session of time to think about whatever it is that you just read. From the classics like Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby to more modern tales like House of Leaves or Twilight. Clearly, the last one is a bit of a joke. Easy one to take, I know, but still. Needed to be done.
Now through the efforts of hundreds of authors and countless essays published on the subject, we can analyze each one of these works and find out that, occasionally for truly, the author’s have captured real humanity within these books. They were able to take us, as readers, and place them in events and will have us think about what’s transpiring on a brand new level of immersion.
The story we are breaking down today is one that is universally upheld within the comic’s community, and follows the guidelines of “good literature” that I detailed in my opening arguments. “Y: The Last Man” was a 60 issue series published by DC Comics under their Vertigo Imprint. Vertigo, much like Marvel’s Icon Imprint, allows creators to do their own work outside the realms of superheroes. Vertigo deals primarily in the science fiction, adventure, horror and mystic stories that would never work within the realms of a superhero-like universe.
This series began its acclaimed run in the year 2002, receiving numerous awards and accolades from all corners of the comic community. In 2008, the year that the story finally ended, “Y: The Last Man” won the Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series, standing it above all others.
Our tale begins with a single page, the first page that sets the stage for the rest of the series. A mother, crying in the streets. Her boys are sick and coughing up blood. Dying. She tries rushing to a female police officer to try and get her help. The officer is distraught. She, too, covered in blood. Speaking that it’s not just the mother’s boys, but her partner and her husband, maybe the world. They’re all sick. All of the men are sick. Finally in one panel, the author, Brian K. Vaughan, creates the premise that flings the story forward as one of the most original and brilliant stories of the last decade.
In the last panel, the paramedic, traumatized by whatever she sees, lets us know the horrible truth: All of the men are dead.
As the issue continues past the traumatic first page, we’re introduced to the star of our book, the performance escape artist Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yorick is speaking with his girlfriend, Beth, who is travelling in Australia. As the two converse, we’re shown scenes featuring (future) important characters in the tale of why soon, every single creature with a y-chromosome on Earth seemingly drops dead. All except one man…and one monkey.
From here, it becomes (again) near impossible to try to describe this story. The most that I can give is that from here on out, Yorick is the last man alive and he soon must deal with the real world ramifications of what it’s like to be the literal last man on Earth, something hinted at in popular culture but never actually explored in such grand detail. Yorick is placed on a round the world tour, hoping to survive and attempting to reach the one love he still has left on Earth. Because so much of the story relies on the way it’s told, I have to be vague from here on out.
Brian K Vaughan can be partially blamed for this. Vaughan is no stranger to creating engrossing stories with a fundamental mystery that adds layer upon layer to create a complex narrative that, once an end is reached, creates an overall structure of amazing storytelling.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of what I’ll call “Mainstream Sci-Fi”, or science fiction stories not just meant for the small, dedicated group of followers that love reading old Kurt Vonnegut books and thinking they can be the next visionary creator. Unfortunately, many times, science fiction stories can become septic, turning inward on themselves and keeping away the greater populace of readers that could help the genre reach new heights of popularity and acclaim. “Mainstream Sci-Fi”, however, has been spearheaded by a select few creators in the last couple of years. Much like George Lucas brought us “Star Wars” decades ago, these creators are bringing Science Fiction tales to the un-sci-fi-familiar-audience.
Some of these creators include J.J. Abrams of “Cloverfield” and “Super 8” and Damon Lindelof of “Lost” fame. Ironically, Abrams and Lindelof worked with Vaughan on the television show “Lost”, which demonstrates the similarities between these creators. Vaughan brings this new, modern “Mainstream Sci-Fi” sensibility to his storytelling. Since I can’t exactly spoil for you all the reasons behind the decimation of the male gene, I can only describe what Vaughan does with these possibilities.
Vaughan gives his story some serious deep thought, because if you are going to write a story about what it would be like if every single male suddenly died, you had best be able to back up the biological backlash that would follow. Vaughan goes deep within the minds of humanity, posing the tough questions for us that we would never be able to answer. Would the infrastructures set in place of mankind collapse? What about the world powers leadership? Does the death of every male mean that all male embryos, sperm, etc. died too? Would the women possess extreme survivor’s guilt and what would that do to their psyche? And, is this truly the end of the human race?
His writing is elegant and well-formed, without ever losing its true sense of humanity. Each one of these characters possesses their own unique voice, which is hard to do in stories like this, where there is a large, overarching mystery that could potentially hog the spotlight.
The artist for the majority of the series, including the first volume, is Pia Guerra, a Canadian female artist. Known primarily for this series, it’s not hard to imagine why she selectively chose to stay with Vaughan for the entire length of the story. With a story so grand as this, why would you not want to hitch your car to the best locomotive?
Guerra’s art style is characterized by her clean and attractive lines. There’s no grittiness to her people or buildings, but that’s not to say she cannot convey the mood correctly. A story with a premise as grim as “every creature with a Y-chromosome dies and the world is thrust into chaos”, you have to be able to convey a sense of dread and hopelessness.
One distinguishing trait I always recognized in her work is Guerra can create individual, distinct characters. Every person looks different. It sounds simple enough, but when you compare it to the world of superhero comic books where the only difference a character has to possess is a different colored costume, then you understand the difficulty in truly creating new people on the pages.
Through the first volume of the series, Vaughan creates for us a possible world where anything can literally happen. Once all male creatures die, everything is truly up for grabs as far as story possibilities. Vaughan takes advantage of that and shows us one potential example of a world sans men.
Throughout all ten volumes of the series, we follow poor Yorick across the country as he tries to reunite with the one woman he wants to meet: his girlfriend Beth, stranded in Australia. What could have turned into one bad, clichéd road trip comic actually comes out as one the most relevant looks at our culture and society than any comic of this time. Since Yorick is the only man left alive, and since he too has no idea what has caused this, everything new to him is new to us. From Amazonian tribes to female-prisoner homesteads, Yorick and Ampersand are treated to a realistic account of a world without men.
What’s more is that we feel for Yorick, every step of the way. This can be attributed to Vaughan’s expert handling in the creation and advancement of his character. Throughout the entirety of its run, you find yourselves wondering and questioning in the same way that Yorick does. If you were the last man on Earth, even if you are female while reading this, you constantly place yourself in the shoes of Yorick as he makes his way across the world, getting mixed up with government agents and scientific theorists and rapture fanatics.
Talking about the character of Yorick and the decisions he makes through all sixty issues could probably be used for a college thesis of some kind, in the handling of this fragile eco-system, does Yorick always make the best choices? It’s not really for anyone to decide except him, but as a reader, you definitely relate. Yorick draws you in with him to this desolate world, where the nature of humanity is truly revealed and brought about. It humanizes him in a way many writers can never achieve. Vaughan and Guerra, together, create this man. The last man.
It’s a horrible world where the roles of gender no longer have any meaning. Where women feel God’s rapture already happened, where civilizations are reduced to rubble and science itself is reset.
It’s a world without men.
Yorick is just trying to make his way.
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Rob Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains and explorer of the importance of comics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org