It’s been way too long since I wrote about comics here on the site, so let’s jump back in. Between library borrows, my existing To-Read boxes (roughly two long boxes at current count) and the recent discovery of a store that sells super cheap trades, I’ve got a lot to read. Let’s get into it!
Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra & Goran Sudzuka
Collects Y: The Last Man #49-60
I felt particularly motivated over the weekend and decided to bang out the last two volumes of the Y: The Last Man Deluxe editions and am finally ready to talk about it. I read the first, second and third volumes relatively quickly, but these two went by the quickest for sure. As I said in those other posts, the further I got into the story, the less I remembered which was nice because there were still some surprises even though I’ve read this complete story all the way through already.
The fourth book really breaks the world open in more ways than one. In addition to going international, word also gets out through a less-than-reliable source that there is actually a living male still on the planet. The proof? A naked photo on the front page. Meanwhile, the gang gets a new member thanks to Rose who we know is spying on the group, but also hope she can flip and maybe find redemption. This volume also sees a lot of older characters returning to the forefront including Alter who winds up killing another main character and Hero who finds Beth Number 2 (the woman Yorick had sex with) who just so happens to be pregnant! This leads to some drama with the Catholic Church and the reveal that her baby is a girl which of course changes a lot and continues the big mystery of whether a male can actually be born into this world in a natural way. Heck, there’s even a pair of origin issues, one that focuses on Agent 355 and another on Ampersand, even Alter and Dr. Mann get in on the action. The big push at the end of the story, though, was Toyota returning and making off with Dr. Mann’s mom which will take them to Japan in the fifth volume.
And, of course, the fifth volume wraps up the entire epic story. This is SPOILER TERRITORY if you haven’t read the book so stay away for the next three paragraphs. Even though it seemed like the silliest plot point in the book, Yorick finally reunites with the one, true Beth only to discover the most obvious thing in the world: Beth was about to break up with him over the phone when every man on the planet but him died. This does not end well for them.
But that’s not the only story to come to a head. Elder finally catches up to Yorick for real and we discover that she, much like Yorick, really wanted to die. She was a warrior who wanted to be killed in battle by someone worthy and since Yorick was the only man around he was the most worthy in her warped mind. I liked how this ended with Yorick not shooting her but turning her over to her people. This all comes after the SUPER DUPER SPOILER quick bang murder of Agent 355 after she and Yorick realize they love each other. I know this death might have bummed a lot of people out or seemed cheap, but isn’t this really the only way a character like her can go down? She’s like Batman, she has to be taken completely by surprise otherwise, she’ll figure out a way to take you down.
And then you have the final issue. Man, I’ve got to say, Y: The Last Man #60 might be one of the most elegant final issues of a comic book series I’ve ever read. Instead of doing your basic info dump explaining how everyone ended up, we jump 60 years into the future and are more casually told the information as Beth Jr., now President of France or something, explains some of the details to one of Yorick’s many clones. When that part’s done, new Yorick gets to meet young Yorick and we learn even more by way of flashbacks. What I love most about this ending is that it’s not what you’d expect. Yorick didn’t stick around with Beth 1, instead he went over to Beth 2 and Beth Jr. and became an actual dad while his DNA went on to help respawn the human race. There’s also a really nice balance to the issue where you hear something that bums you out and then something that raises your spirits a little. I had to hold back tears when I finally got my hands on this issue while working at Wizard because of that one scene with Ampersand. Man, that was sad.
Or at least it was the first time around. I was surprised to discover that I had very little emotional connections to the deaths this time around. I remembered most of them, but when I hit them in the reading, I didn’t feel sad at all. I’m not sure if I was just less emotionally invested on this reading, if those moments were simply less surprising or if they felt more necessary as far as the story goes. When I was in college I read Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice and while we were talking about the story in class, the professor — Dr. Biehl one of the best around — talked about the inevitability of the main character’s death and not just because it was in the title. I think there was something of that going on in this book. It’s not just that Vaughan wanted to give some characters sad endings while others got happy ones, but also that some of the deaths had to happen in a literary sense. Sometimes, if you’re a character and you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, it’s time to go. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in that idea in the real world, but it makes sense in fiction.
After finishing the book, I still think it’s a great piece of comic literature. Yorick has a real arc that turns him into the kind of character you wouldn’t mind hanging out with as do the other characters. They’re all very satisfying. I still think the characters got a little too fact-spouty in the second and third volumes and — this is going to make me sound like an old man — but I think there could have been less profanity, especially the near constant use of “bitch” and it’s various synonyms through the story. I don’t have a problem with profanity, but it kind of became white noise thanks to the over-use.
So, no, it’s not a perfect book, but what is? It’s still one of the better books around and benefits from being a well told, complete and satisfying story that you can give to someone all at once for whatever speed the consume their entertainment at. The fact that I read all five of these books — all 60 issues — in just about a month. And that’s with taking breaks to clear my palet with some less intense superhero stuff.
Re-reading Y: The Last Man has been an interesting experience (peep my reviews of the first and second volumes of the deluxe hardcovers for more background information and my thoughts on those books). One of the most interesting aspects of this read-through is that I’m starting to see some of the book’s problems. Y is one of those books that is so revered that you forget that it has its flaws, some of which I also saw in Ex Machina. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed this time around is that way too many of the characters in this book spout off trivial bits of information in an effort to make the events of the issue contextual or more emotional. About halfway through this book, that became really evident to me. Writer Brian K. Vaughan even pokes fun at it a few times with characters interrupting each other saying things like, “We don’t have time for that.” Unlike star Yorick’s annoying immaturity in the first volume, though, which is more an aspect of his character than a misfire by the author, this particular bit seems like a problem on the creative end.
Even though that got on my nerves while reading through this large volume, I still enjoyed this portion of the story, much of which I had forgotten after my first reading binge leading up to the book’s final issue. In the continued adventures of Yorick, Dr. Mann and Agent 355, we definitely hit some milestones and then kind of blow past them which is fun. This one volume includes Yorick finally giving into his primal urges, the beginning of Hero’s redemption, the reveal that Yorick’s girlfriend Beth is definitely alive, the crew getting to San Francisco, 355 facing off against some Culper Ring fanatics, Yorick almost dying, the explanation of why Yorick and Ampersand survived, a ninja, Ampersand getting monkeynapped, a transatlantic journey with lady pirates, an unexpected hook-up, a submarine, drugs and a few dream-based sci-fi and superhero vignettes that were a lot of fun.
It’s a lot and I liked the flow of the book. I like how, roughly at the halfway point, Vaughan decided to really open the story up and move around in this new world. It would have been easy to just stay in the U.S. and keep examining all of the crazy tiny groups that have popped up. I also like how casually the story transitioned to San Fran where Dr. Mann’s back-up samples were. One issues opens and, boom, they’re there and the city is actually pretty nice with the lights on and even pro basketball games in a stadium. It’s a pretty nice little set-up and you think, “Hey, good for them, they can finally relax,” and then BLAMMO Ampersand gets kidnapped by a ninja and the adventure continues. This also rekindles Yorick’s original goal which is to find his girlfriend Beth who just so happens to be going through a ton of crazy stuff on her own in Australia. There’s even a moment in the book where Yorick says he’s given up on that idea, but now that he’s sailing the seven seas, he’s back on that idea and it doesn’t seem as crazy as it did in the first book.
As an interesting aside, my wife and I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Brad Meltzer’s The Inner Circle which also features the Culper Ring. It’s interesting how these two writers used a historical idea and both went different ways with it. We don’t actually know much about the Ring in the world of Y, but we do know that they go by numbers — hence “Agent 355” — and seem to work in secret around the President and possibly above him or her. Meanwhile, Meltzer took the idea and continued it on, though instead of necessarily protecting the President, they protect the Presidency though sometimes a prez will create his own ring for various reasons. I can’t remember if there’s more about the Ring explained in Y, but I’m curious to see what else Vaughan does with it in the remaining two books.
My original intent when diving back into the wild world of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man was to focus on all five deluxe collections without jumping around. But, after reading the first volume, and reliving both the intensity of the series and some of Yorick Brown’s more annoying character ticks, I needed to take a break. So, I burned through a few trades that I’ll get around to reviewing soon enough, both to cleanse my palet a bit and also to get some of the books out of my “to read” long box (I’ve set up a lot of Sequential Swaps lately and had a good deal of books coming in).
Even after feeling pretty accomplished knocking a few books off the list, I was drawn right back to Y. This volume was split about 50/50 between stuff I remembered from my first reading of the book and stuff I didn’t remember at all. I remembered all the astronaut stuff pretty much down to the letter, though there were some surprises in who dies and who doesn’t. I also mostly remembered the mostly Yorick-less theater storyline which was a nice little treat. But then you’ve got the stuff with Agent 711 as well as the Sons of Arizona stuff which had completely slipped my mind. Even remembering some of the details, though, it’s all in how BKV tells the story that makes this such a great book to read.
My main complaint about the first volume was that Yorick can be an incredibly annoying character. He’s basically a smartass kid who’s done nothing with his life that loves making cultural references to make himself feel more worldly. When I was younger, I could relate to that a lot more, but now I just want this wiseacre to clam up. Just to clarify, that’s not a complaint about the writing. I think all of that is very purposeful on BKV’s part. Yorick’s whole journey about this series is to become a better, well-rounded human being (plus that whole saving the world thing). The beauty of this volume is that BKV shifts the focus from Yorick a bit before subjecting him to 711’s unique brand of therapy (man, what an intense string of issues!) which then leads into a story that starts showing how Yorick has changed. I’m not sure how these issues are broken up in the normal trades, but I thought it was a really interesting structure for this collection.
While reading through this volume I realized another element that makes this book so accessible to new readers and non-comic book fans and that is that the art is both realistic and cartoony. By realistic I mean that it’s not ultra-stylized and by cartoonish I mean that you could see this kind of art in something like a newspaper comic strip or a greeting card (I’m having trouble thinking of other places where non-comic fans see static art). This idea came to me while looking at a page and thinking something along the lines of, “This isn’t too far off from the kind of art you’d see in an Archie comic.” It’s an interesting thought because on one hand it almost lulls you into lowered expectations of what you’re going to see in the book and then you get some pretty insane stuff shown in that same style which makes it a bit more shocking and a bit more surprising.
Once again, I found myself needing a bit of a break after reading through these 13 issues so I’m probably going to throw up another Trade Post for Friday, but I’m already back into the series with about half of the third volume read just last night. There’s a lot going on and I think I’m about done with all the parts I actually remember from the series so this should be interesting.
A few months before Y: The Last Man ended in 2008, I’d never read a single issue. I was working at Wizard at the time and had heard rave reviews about the Vertigo series from just about everyone, but just hadn’t picked up an issue. Then I heard that the series was coming to an end and not long after one of my co-workers handed me a stack of issues the encompassed the entire run up to that point. I think this might have been two or three months, so I was able to read through 50-some issues and get caught up heading into the final issue. I remember reading the issue in the Research office and having to choke back a tear.
But that’s about all I remember from that first reading. Of course, the basics are still clear: a mysterious plague kills every male animal on the planet except for 20-something Yorick Brown and his pet monkey. He gets hooked up with a secret agent known only as 355 and a Dr. Mann, their goal being to figure out what happened to all the men and why Yorick survived. Yorick’s kind of interested in all that, but mostly wants to fly to Australia to see his girlfriend/almost fiance Beth.
To get into a few more specifics about this first book, Yorick meets up with his mom who is a member of the House of Representatives and now one of the few surviving politicians in the country. His mom’s the one who sets him off with 355, first to find Dr. Mann and then to move on to her back-up lab in California get samples that were destroyed in a lab fire. Along the way, the gang runs into a gang of man-haters called Amazons who are lead by your basic charismatic psychopath, one who utilizes the Amazons need of supplies and emotional support to get them to do whatever she wants. Yorick’s sister Hero fell in with this crowd as well and the two eventually meet up in Marrisville, Ohio which is currently populated by a group of former prisoners. Yorick has a brush with romance in town that’s brought to an end by his sister’s presence.
The fun and worrisome thing about going back and reading a series that you really like is seeing how you might react differently to the material than you did the first time you read it. In the time between Y’s last issue and my current re-reading of the series I feel like my ideas on social relationships has really come into focus. I also think I’m a little bit more mature and have found myself reacting differently to some of the characters than I might have the first time around.
The biggest difference I can note is that I find Yorick to be pretty annoying. Not John Connor-in-Terminator 2-annoying, but not too far away either. This 20-something kid thinks he knows everything and wants to throw as many references as possible in just about every sentence to let you know he knows stuff. But, it’s like Hero says towards the end of this book, he’s just regurgitating facts and information he memorized from books. There’s no real life or experience behind this character and that was front and center for me upon this reading. I don’t remember exactly how I reacted to Yorick when I first read Y, but I imagine I found him to be pretty clever and dynamic. Now I see him as a boy who’s on a journey that will either make him a man or dead.
I find myself sympathizing with Hero a lot more this time around. It’s nearly impossible to really put yourself in the right head-space where you can imagine not only losing your loved ones, but also an entire half of the population. That’s just such a huge, terrible thing to happen it’s hard to rationalize. These days, though, I think I can get inside her character a little bit more and understand how that loss and the subsequent hell of life she lived in Boston would lead her down the road of brainwashing at the hands of Victoria. While Yorick’s journey in Y is about experience and accomplishment, I think Hero’s is about redemption and making amends (if memory serves).
I also reacted even more negatively to Victoria’s manipulations. Here’s a woman who could have gathered women together with her charisma and obvious leadership abilities and done her best to help heal the community, but instead she took every negative aspect of society and used them to enrage and motivate her people. This just leads to more negativity and awfulness, which we see when anyone happens to disagree with her or the Amazons. I think what really got under my skin while seeing her actions in 2013 is how much she reminds me of groups like the Tea Party that so clearly feast and thrive upon the fears of people for their own gain.
From an art and design perspective, I’m still in love with Pia Guerra’s artwork. It’s not hyper detailed and yet you’re never wondering what you’re supposed to look at in a scene. This book could have been done in a million styles, but this one just fits so perfectly it’s hard to imagine anyone else drawing these stories (I know there’s fill-in artists down the line, but don’t remember how much of the action they get in on). It’s also interesting reading these books after hearing Brian K. Vaughan talk at NYCC a few times and interviewing him myself in the meantime. He said something at a writer’s panel in NYCC that really stuck with me and that’s that he usually sticks to writing five panels per page. It’s something I adopted while writing my own comic script. Reading through Y, I noted that most of his pages use this method. It’s something I never would have noticed otherwise, but it’s kind of like he gave me one piece of information to help me see the Matrix.
Vaughan and this book of his in particular are known as the kind of comic you can give to someone who doesn’t read comics and get them interested in the medium. That’s partially because it doesn’t have superheroes or an existing mythology you have to understand, partially because it ends at issue #60 and partially (mostly, really) because Vaughan is a great damn writer. I got the impression while listening to him talk at NYCC that one of his tenants when conveying information both to audiences and his artists is to keep it simple. I don’t meant that the plots are simple, but that there’s an ease of entry and conveyance to what’s going on that anyone can understand.
One last thing I want to say before finishing up this review is that I really don’t remember much of the following 70 issues or so which is pretty excited. Like when burning through a show on DVD or Netflix, I absorbed so much material and information in such a short period of time that it didn’t quite all stick. For instance, I remember the astronaut stuff coming up (which was also seeded throughout this book, of course) and the moment in the last issue that made me cry and something about Yorick’s potential reunion with Beth, but just about everything else — including the actual reason for the plague — remains a mystery. This actually makes me all the more excited to read through again. Considering I knocked this first book out in a few days, hopefully it won’t take me long to get through the whole series.