My Favorite New-To-Me Instrumental Albums Of 2013

Let the end-of-year lists begin! I usually listen to podcasts while working, but I started digging more into the world of instrumental records and scores this year than any other for a little wordless aural pleasure. Here are my six new go-to records when I’m in an instrumental mood.

The Enter The Dragon Score by Lalo Schifrin (1973)

I don’t think there’s much in the way of dissension when it comes to the idea that Enter The Dragon is a brilliant film. But, when watching this year, I also realized it’s got an awesome score by Lalo Schifrin. While making a purchase on Amazon earlier this year, I needed something to get up to free shipping and came across this score for a few bucks. Since then, I’ve been listening to this mellow, action-y, Asian themed music that allows my mind to wander and focus on either work or writing projects. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more of Schifrin’s work because he was so damn good.

The Budos Band by The Budos Band (2005)

Around the time that I got Enter The Dragon, I tweeted out something along the lines of “Are there any bands that sound like they recorded the background music in Dirty Harry (also by Schifrin) or 70s cop shows?” My pal Justin Aclin responded with The Budos Band and a love affair was born. There’s a certain quality I don’t have the musical vocabulary to nail down that makes this 2005 record sound like it was made back in the 70s by a bunch of guys in huge sunglasses smoking unfiltered cigarettes. It’s basically like Justin jumped in my brain, figured out exactly what I was looking for and then gave it to me. I love this record.

Enter The 37th Chamber by El Michels Affair (2009)

At some point in the year, I came across Truth & Soul records and one of their bands El Michels Affair. They’ve got this record called Enter The 37th Chamber which is actually a series of instrumental Wu-Tang Clan covers. It’s like a more bass and drum heavy, hip hop-infused version of Schifrin’s Dragon soundtrack, which is something I very much enjoy.

Vertigo Score by Bernard Hermann (1958)

The Vertigo score was one of the many cheapo Amazon MP3 records I picked up this year. I haven’t listened to it a ton of times because it really does get under my skin with it’s beautiful, epic-ness but it really did the trick the few times I was looking for that exact feeling. I had a similar, but more intense experience with Hans Zimmer’s Inception score and really haven’t listened to it since that first time. Vertigo is by for the most orchestral record in my collection.

Cannonball’s Bossa Nova by Cannonball Adderley (1962) 

Cannonball Adderley is one my favorite jazzmen around. His track “Autumn Leaves” off of Somethin’ Else is one of my all time favorite songs. So, when I saw Cannonball’s Bossa Nova pop up on Amazon MP3 I just had to add it to my collection. Bossa Nova moves a lot more than some of the cooler jazz stuff of his I have, but it’s got great swing and makes for some nice, uptempo tunes to get through the day. This record makes me want to go on vacation REAL bad.

Downtown Rockers by Tom Tom Club (2012) 

After reading Please Kill Me, I was curious about any and all bands with connections to that punk/New Wave NYC scene. So, when I saw a Tom Tom Club record for a few bucks and read that the band consisted of Talking Head members, I was in. Turns out, though, that Downtown Rockers is a newer EP with five vocal-and-music tracks, one remix and then those first five tracks without vocals. I like the versions with words, but the instrumentals are just solid, guitar/drum/bass/electronic tracks with a few organs and other layers thrown on top that make for quality voiceless offerings. So, just imagine the above video but without all that singing and you have an idea of what I mean.

Vertigo Trade Post: Global Frequency & Joe The Barbarian

global frequency Global Frequency (Wildstorm/Vertigo/DC)
Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Garry Leach, Glenn Fabry, Liam Sharp, Roy Allan Martinez, Jon J. Muth, David Lloyd, Simon Bisley, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Lee Bermejo, Tomm Coker, Jason Pearson & Gene Ha
Collects Global Frequency #1-12

I don’t often read Warren Ellis comics. Aside from Planetary and his Stormwatch-intoAuthority stuff, I just haven’t been able to plug into his work and enjoyed myself on a regular basis. In my mind he’s similar to a writer like Garth Ennis where he really likes to work within a certain type of story with a group of familiar characters. With Ennis, the broad idea seems to be crazy people overcoming their craziness to defeat far more evil people, most often with copious amounts of violence. Meanwhile, Ellis seems to feature people who might be evil doing good things for reasons we don’t quite know or understand, often (in my experience) because they think they know better than other people. There’s a cynicism and negativity to a lot of his characters that I can’t always get into.

Even so, I’m always interested in proving my pre-conceived notions wrong (well, almost always, there’s a writer or two and a small group of artists who I don’t spend my time on anymore) and decided to give Global Frequency a read. Though the cover of the collection claims this as a Vertigo series, it was originally published by WildStorm. Each of the dozen issues features a story written by Ellis with a different artist focuses on a case handled by Global Frequency, a citizen-run organization that consists of a network of experts who can help out in various kinds of crises. When you’re in the club, you get a special phone (basically a smart phone by today’s standards) and can get called up and expected to serve either in the field or by supplying information at the ring of a cell.

While I like the one-off nature of the series, I was left wanting by most of these stories. Sure, it’s cool to see people who are really good at their jobs solving mysteries and saving people, but it didn’t feel like there was much else to grab onto. Though it was more well-constructed, it had kind of a procedural feeling which is a kind of story I’m growing less and less in like with.

That’s not to say these are bad stories. In fact, there’s some incredibly creative stuff going on in here. I still don’t fully understand the one about the town that seemed to experience the same hallucination all at the same time, but I dug it. There’s definitely enough interesting details, impressive action scenes and varying degrees of artistic genius in here which I enjoyed, but I like a little more personal stuff in there. To be fair, Ellis was working with 22 pages per issue with new characters in each issue. It’s not like the characters are flat, you’re just left with more of what they can do than who they are or why they do what they do.

While reading, I remember thinking that this would make a really great television series. A few days later I was looking up a particular actress for something over on Spinoff only to discover that it had a pilot a few years back. Sounds kinda like it could have been a precursor for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had it gone to series.

joe the barbarian Joe The Barbarian (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Sean Murphy
Collects Joe The Barbarian #1-6

On the other hand, I was completely able to latch onto Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe The Barbarian. As you might expect from a Morrison comic, the concept isn’t super simple to explain. A kid named Joe who has low blood sugar is in his three story house alone when he starts experiencing both this world and another more fantastical one populated with his pet rat, talking versions of his action figures, all kinds of interesting characters and even a few analogs for people in his real life. Joe walks in both worlds, trying to reach his goals simultaneously (getting some soda in the real world and helping defeat King Death in the other). As he goes we learn more about Joe as he learns more about himself as he interacts with the fantasy characters around him and grows as a hero.

Story-wise, this one hits a lot of the same buttons for me as something like The Goonies or The Return Of King Doug. It’s about a young man finding his heroic side when faced with mountains of adversity. I think that’s the type of tale I’ll always be able to get behind, especially when there are so many extra elements wrapped around the basic package.

Speaking of which, a huge aspect of my enjoyment of this book comes thanks to Murphy’s artwork. He’s got a style that seems loose and yet doesn’t lose definition. Everything from the normal house setting to the flying manta rays feel cut from the same cloth even when two different realities are shown within panels or pages of each other. Plus, he and Morrison filled this world with so many familiar faces and characters who show up in the other world looking like action figures, something I absolutely love. You’ve got actual Superman, Batman, Robin and Lobo hanging out with characters that look an awful lot like Transformers, G.I. Joes, U.S.S. Enterprise personnel and plenty of other guys who might remember from your childhood toybox. Mind you, those aren’t the main characters of the book, those are just background folks who show up in huge action scenes, each one of which is wallpaper and poster-worthy in my opinion.

Even though I clearly enjoyed one of these books more than the other and will be keeping one in my collection while passing the other on to someone else, I love that both of these kinds of comics exist. Neither are what you’d expect form corporate superhero comics even though both Ellis and Morrison do plenty of that as well. These are stories these creators had a burning desire to tell and made happen. I give them both a lot of credit for that. Sure, it’s easier when you’re both pretty huge names in the industry, but it would be just as easy to forget about creator owned stuff and keep working within the corporate superhero system. Kudos, gents.

Trade Post: Superman Vs. Shazam, Fables Volume 2 & Legion Lost

superman vs shazam Superman Vs. Shazam (DC)
Written by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Julius Schwartz, Gil Kane & Joey Cavalieri; drawn by Rich Buckler & Gil Kane
Collects All-New Collector’s Edition #C-58, DC Comics Presents #33, 34, 49 & DC Comics Presents Annual #3

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m always a little leery going into these Silver Age, pre-Crisis DC collections. These are the kinds of comics I mostly snickered at as a kid. I came up in the 90s when comics were dangerous and intense, what do I need with silly stories that were probably written for children a few decades ago? I’ve since learned that that’s a pretty poor way to approach art, but, let’s be honest, comics from this era can be very hit-or-miss, especially when you consider the fact that they’re leaning pretty heavily on the hero-fighting-hero gimmick.

So, with all that in mind, I went into Superman Vs. Shazam cautiously. I love Superman, but this isn’t my Supes, so this was more of a curious read. And, honestly, it didn’t do a lot for me. The first story is a whopping 72 pages featuring a villain using other villains (Black Adam and Sand Superman from the incredibly good Kryptonite No More) to pit Superman and Captain Marvel against each other in an effort to destroy both worlds (Earths 1 and S). All of that spreads out over dozens of pages and certainly drags at times. The most interesting part of this book for me is that, while the two guys are smashing the crap out of each other across two Earths, their female counterparts — Supergirl and Mary Marvel — figure out what’s really going on. The guys wind up officially saving the day and we end with double smooches, but I still thought that was a cool way to go.

The other issues have a lot of the same, following the villain-tricking-heroes-into-fighting formula that doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. If I was a kid or new to comics, though, and this was the first time I saw these things, it’d probably be pretty mind blowing. However, I don’t think this would be a great book to hand to someone blind. Since these stories are set in a pre-Crisis world, there’s a lot going on that might be confusing. All the Earth-1/Earth-S stuff gets fairly well explained, but then you’ve got the DCP #49 in which Billy Batson and Captain Marvel appear side by side. I think it’s because we’re seeing Earth-1 Billy Batson, maybe, but wasn’t sure and by that point I’d lost a lot of interest. This book would have greatly benefited with an introduction of some sort to give less-informed readers like myself a little context for the adventures. It’s another unfortunate example of comics not always being accessible to the non-fan market.

fables vol 2 animal farmFables Vol. 2: Animal Farm (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Bill Willingham, drawn by Mark Buckingham
Collects Fables #6-10

As I said when I reviwed the first volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables, the book didn’t strike much of a chord with me for two reasons: one, I called the mystery reveal too early and lost a lot of intrest in the proceedings and, two, I couldn’t help but compare it to Once Upon A Time. Since one of those complaints is more my fault than anything, I decided to continue on and give the second volume a shot. The fact that I got the first three volumes in a Swap also came into play, of course.

This second volume finds Snow White taking her not-dead sister Rose Read up to The Farm, a place where non-human Fables (talking animals, giants, dragons, etc.) live away from the prying eyes of the world located in upstate New York. But, once the sisters get there it becomes pretty clear that something fishy’s going on. A faction has done away with the one human left in charge while also moving forward with plans to take their homeland back from The Adversary.

From there you get a story that finds Goldilocks playing revolutionary with the non-human Fables, Snow on the run from Shere Khan, Rose siding with ‘Locks, weapons that animals can fire and a few more fantastical character appearances. While I enjoyed this volume a lot more than the first, it still didn’t grab me. Once again, I figured the thing out with Rose pretty early on, so that was a lot less of a mystery. But, since that’s not the main thrust of the book, it doesn’t take as much away. Meanwhile, I thought it was an interesting bit of worldbuilding when we learn at the end of the arc that a Fable’s strength is directly related to how many people in the real world know about them. I’ve seen this done with gods in fiction before, but not storybook characters. It’s an interesting tie that I’m sure comes into play later on down the line. While I’m not fully sold on this book that a lot of people seem to love, I’m interested enough to hold onto these collections for now and see what’s up in the third.

legion lostLegion Lost (DC)
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Olivier Coipel & Pascal Alixe
Collects Legion Lost #1-12

Back in 2000 and 2001 when Legion Lost was coming out, I remember there being a lot of buzz surrounding the book. When I say that, I mean that Wizard was covering the book pretty heavily and seemed to really dig it. That idea never really left my head, so when the hardcover collection came out, I was pretty excited to finally give it a read. I even got my hands on the 100-Page Spectacular that sort-of leads into this story and enjoyed that experience quite a bit.

I started reading Lost right after that, which would have put my first attempt at a little over a year ago. What stopped me? Well, this is definitely a big collection, an entire year’s worth of stories. Plus, Abnett and Lanning, writers I very much enjoy, put a lot of content into each issue. While the “Legion of the Damned” story featured in the Spectacular was mostly dialog and action, this one actually gives each character the first-person thought-box treatment in every issue which results in a lot of expressed thoughts. I’m not saying that’s bad because these guys have an excellent grasp on who these characters are, what makes them tick and how that differs from their outward actions, but it can make for a slower reading experience than I was expecting.

This time, I knew that going in and was more prepared for the experience which finds a team of Legionnaires — Live Wire, Saturn Girl, Monstress, Ultra Boy, Kid Quantum, Chameleon, Brainiac 5, Monstress, Umbra and a few others — lost in space. Now, the two issues that ended Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires (the ones that take place between the 100 Pages Spectacular issues and this book) are not included so you have no idea what this rift thing they were fighting was (or if it was even shown on-page). But, they seem to be at an end of the cosmos that even Brainiac 5 can’t find on a map and are trying to find their way home.

Along the way they make a few friends but even more enemies only discover what’s really going on at the very end of the story when it turns out that one of their own has caused all this heartache. That’s an important part of the tale, of course, but what really struck me was how well Abnett and Lanning captured the growing feeling of helplessness as the story continues. Certain characters have decided to put on shows for what they assume is the benefit of their teammates which wind up backfiring. Meanwhile, others who started off positive eventually start losing their cool as the twelve issues progress. Mistakes are made and we see what those actions do to that person as well as their teammates.

We also get to learn a lot about these characters which is great. I’ve said it before, but the Legion and X-Men are the two most confusing franchises in comics as far as I’m concerned, but I didn’t feel that going into this book. Sure, I could have used some of those boxes reminding me of what each character’s powers are (like Geoff Johns and company did when they reintroduced the team in Action Comics), but other than that I was right on board and that’s mostly because DnA included a new character who offers folks like me a window into this wild world.

If you’re curious about Legion Lost, I’d say give it a shot, but go in knowing a few things. One, it’s a fairly wordy book. Those are good, well thought out words, but there’s still a lot of them. Two, you won’t need to know anything about the Legion going in, what you need to know is on the page eventually. Three, you get to see some awesome Olivier Coipel and Pascal Alixe art that captures the dark mood of the story.

Trade Post: Bloody Mary & Tom Strong Volume 1

bloody mary gart ennis tpb Bloody Mary (Helix/Vertigo/DC)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra
Collects Bloody Mary #1-4, Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty #1-4

Garth Ennis is one of those comic creators who has earned a life-time pass as far as I’m concerned. His work on Preacher (my reviews of which you can read here, here and here) resulted in one of my favorite works of fiction ever. I’ve read plenty of his other stuff from the myriad of World War II-inspired tales to things like Punisher: Welcome Back Frank and The Authority: Kev. While most of those other books don’t match Preacher (probably because that book now stands on such a pedestal in my mind) they’re all enjoyable.

When I saw a copy of his Bloody Mary trade on a fellow Sequential Swapper’s page, I was quick to try and get my hands on it. We were able to work something out and I eventually got to reading it fairly recently. Packed with the usual Ennis dark humor and bloody violence, the two miniseries’ featured in the collection follow the adventures of a super soldier by the name of Bloody Mary who fights on the side of the US and Britain in their longrunning war with Europe in the year 2012. As you might expect from a Garth Ennis comic, neither side is particularly angelic and just about everyone has severe emotional and psychological problems, but that doesn’t stop them from having a sense of humor about all the terrible things going on around them.

Both stories — which were published in the mid-90s by DC’s short-lived sci-fi tinged imprint Helix — work really well in their allotted four issue stories which can be a nice change if you’re used to huge, overarching comic stories. It’s nice to see a writer and artist get in there, do their thing and walk away with four rad issues of art and story. Speaking of which, Carlos Ezquerra is pretty much the perfect artist for this book. He’d done plenty of dystopian war torn futures from his days working on 2000 AD. In fact, I’d say that, even though Mary herself is American and Ennis is Irish, the look and feel of Bloody Mary reminds me of what few British comics I’ve read and seen from the lates 70s/early 80s, but in a way that doesn’t feel old or tired. I’m not sure if this was their first pairing, but Ennis and Ezquerra would go on to work together plenty of times and now I kind of want to back and read some of those WWII stories.

tom strong volume 1 Tom Strong Volume 1 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Chris Sprouse with Art Adams, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons & Jerry Ordway
Collects Tom Strong #1-7

By the time Alan Moore launched America’s Best Comics through WildStorm  back in 1999 I’d probably read Watchmen, but it was still a little over my head. So, I wasn’t as crazy excited about ABC as I should have been. I’ve written extensively about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen here and here as well as Top 10, but the two glaring omissions in my ABC reading have been Tom Strong and Promethea. I’ve attempted to read both of these books at different times in my comic reading career and even have the very first issue of Tom Strong signed by Chris Sprouse (as well as a sketch of Tom that Sprouse very nicely did for me around the time of the book’s launch). And yet, neither clicked for whatever reasons.

Well, recently, again while perusing Sequential Swap, I saw the first volume of Tom Strong up for trade and decided to give it a read. Man am I glad I did. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Tom Strong is a kind of Doc Savage type character whose scientist dad decided to move to an island in 1899 when Strong’s mom was still pregnant with him. Tom was born into a pressurized containment unit where he was taught by his parents and their robot Pneuman but never had skin to skin interaction with them until the day an earthquake hit, his parents were killed and Tom emerged to be raised by the island’s natives, a group who had mastered their own sciences. Tom strong eventually married their princess Dhalua, became a renowned adventurer and had a daughter named Tesla.

Much like Bloody Mary, I enjoyed how these issues mostly did their own thing while also adding to the growing mythology of Tom Strong. And that’s really the beauty of this particular Alan Moore comic book, you get the feeling that this entire world exists in his head and he’s giving you exactly what details you require when you need them to not only keep you invested in the story, but also to show you how deep that well goes. Each issue is basically a self-contained story that also includes a back-up story, usually informing the formerl. I loved the storytelling on display which could be enjoyed both for the adventure itself, but also as a way of watching a writer convey story and worldbuilding to the reader without ever getting heavy-handed or boring.

Speaking of never boring, the art in this book is masterful. Sprouse’s style is absolutely perfect for the big, bold heroics that go along with the core of Tom Strong as a character and a comic book. His lines are so clean and clear that you always know exactly what’s going on which is even more impressive when you think about how dense Moore’s scripts can be. Adding to the visual fun is a host of beloved artists who offered their talents to the back ups. Art Adams and Gary Frank are two of my absolute favorites so seeing them do some stories was great. You also get to see Jerry Ordway and Dave Gibbons do their thing.

tom strong sketch chris sprouseThe crazy thing about this book is that it kind of felt like Alan Moore was using some of his crazy snake god magic on me through its pages as a way of inspiring creativity. There was something about the time and place and experience of reading this book that I’ve never experience before. As I read each issue, I was further driven to sit down and write my own stuff. I was literally reading the issue while also thinking about my own story which seemed to be growing at a much more rapid pace than usual and then putting the book down, flipping my laptop open and typing ideas like a madman. I don’t know if I was just inspired by the creativity on the page or what, but it was a really great experience.

KEEP OR DUMP: As you might already be able to tell by the reviews, I’ll be keeping both of these books in my collection because I enjoyed the reading experiences so much. When it comes to Bloody Mary, I’m sure I’ll want to return to this book both to experience this story again and also to  get a quick dose of Ennis that doesn’t involve reading a much larger run on a series like Preacher, Hitman or Punisher. Regarding Tom Strong, I’m keeping it and also doing my best to track down the other trades even though I know Moore doesn’t write the last two or three. I look forward to acquiring them and eventually reading the whole run altogether.

Casting Internets

Got some pretty old and dusty links as usual. Think there’s still some interesting stuff in here so enjoy!

My buddy Kiel Phegley interviewed the wonderful Jim Rugg about his upcoming magazine/comic mash-up Supermag which sounds pretty amazing. (via CBR)

I’ve talked about my pal Alex Kropinak’s blog before, but it’s worth mentioning it again to bring up an animated TTT from our ToyFare days that I had completely forgotten about. Muppets!

I’m really enjoying the DC Showcase Tumblr which, as you might expect, just shows all kinds of DC covers, pin-ups and interior pages.

A game designer invented a game called A Game for Someone and buried it in the desert so future people could play it 2000 years from now. Fascinating. (via Polygon)

Tom Junod’s Esquire piece about how the anti gay marriage talk has negatively tinted adoption is pretty fascinating.

On a lighter note, Esquire also posted a story about The Asylum, the company that puts out all those bullshit mockbusters like Transmorphers.

Horror Movie A Day has come to an end. Thanks for all the years of great reviews BC! Glad to hear he’s going to still review flicks when he as the time and desire, that’s the way to go in my opinion.

My lovely wife sent me this Jezebel piece about how lots of people will be freelancing in the future. Writer Lauren Beck’s assessment of the positive and negative sides of the freelance lifestyle are dead-on in my opinion. I wonder if Jezebel’s looking for another writer…

Once again, Jim Zub is dropping all kinds of creator owned comics knowledge. A must read for anyone interested in taking this route creatively.

I fully support Patrick Duffy’s idea of doing a Step By Step reunion special. Make it so! (via THR)

I always wondered why there wasn’t a Wayne’s World 3, according to this THR piece, it was because there were a few feuds going on between Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and also Myers and director of the first film Penelope Spheeris. It’s been so long since I started acquiring links that this has now already happened and been covered by Deadline.

Hero Complex talked about the evolution of superhero entertainment by way of the old Shazam! show and the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman TV movie.

Scott Snyder has a new horror comic called The Wake in the works with Sean Murphy. This is very good news. The only negative? It’s not through Vertigo which means I didn’t get to interview them about it for CBR. Don’t worry, Josie Campbell is more than capable and did a bang up job on the piece.

No joke, I was just thinking to myself, “I wonder if there’s anywhere I can download those Mickey Castle/World of Illusion games. And now they’re getting rebooted DuckTales style. This is all very good news. (via Topless Robot)

Buffy’s Anthony Head being on Warehouse 13 makes perfect sense. I have no idea if I’m caught up on that show or not. (via TVLine)

I love a good martial arts tournament movie and Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi looks might it just be that. Cool. (via Collider)

In other movie news, I thought it was pretty interesting and not super surprising that the rights for the Daredevil movies reverted back to Marvel Studios. Not sure how that will fit in with the larger film universe — and I’m not sure it really has to — but here’s hoping for a solid flick. (via CBR)

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 & 5 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Goran Sudzuka with Pia Guerra
Collects Y: The Last Man #37-48

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.

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5And, 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.

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 3 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 3Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 3 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra with Paul Chadwick & Goran Sudzuka
Collects Y: The Last Man #24-36

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.