Numbers, Letters, Names – Brian K Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man

Y: The Last Man was Brian K Vaughan’s first really successful comic.  About six months after the first issue of Y hit shelves, he followed it up with the excellent Marvel teen-superhero tale Runaways, and about another six months after that, Vaughan introduced us to the Mayor of New York, who could somehow communicate with machinery, in Ex Machina.

I’ve made no secret that Brian K Vaughan is one of my favorite comic creators.  His early Marvel stuff on titles like The Hood and Ultimate X-Men is good.  Vaughan’s DC work, on a couple of Batman titles and a small run on Wonder Woman is also good.  Even his 20-issue run on Swamp Thing is serviceable (though harmed by an early cancellation).  But Vaughan always (ALWAYS!) works better with his own characters.

Y: The Last Man wasn’t just his first success, it was also his first completely new, creator-owned series and it. Is. AWESOME.  Why?  Well, let’s discuss!

And as always: this post may contain SPOILERS.  I’ll try to steer clear of them, but this book is particularly difficult to talk about without delving at least somewhat into the deep end of the spoiler pool.

Be warned of that if you haven’t read (or finished) the series.

Y: The Last Man
Co-created by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Pia Guerra (art)
Scripts by Brian K Vaughan
Pencils by Pia Guerra (various), Goran Sudzuka (various), and Paul Chadwick (various)
Inks by Jose Maran Jr.
Colors by Pamela Lambo (various) and Zylonol (various)
Letters by Clem Robbins
Covers by JG Jones and Massimo Carnevale
Editor: Will Dennis
Published In Single Magazine Form by Vertigo Comics\DC Comics From Sept 2002 Through March 2008
A Whole Lot Of Pages

I’d like to just take a moment in case I missed anyone in the credits up there… A whole mess of people worked to make what it is and… it shows.  Great art teams, great lettering… and the writing ain’t bad either!

The story focuses on the travels of one Yorick Brown, as he crosses a post-apocalyptic America… the last man on earth.  A global plague has wiped out any mammal with a Y chromosome (including any sperm, or fertilized ovum) and Yorick is crossing the country with a special agent code-named 355, and an expert geneticist named Allison Mann.  Oh and Yorick’s helper monkey named Ampersand, the only other male mammal to survive the death of the Y chromosome.

The characters have many motivations.  Yorick’s main goal is to find his girlfriend (slash maybe-fiance), Beth, in Australia, but has been tasked by the surviving remnants of the US government to go with Dr Mann to her lab in San Francisco so she can figure out why he has survived.  Agent 355 is their bodyguard and escort… and is a complete bad-ass, and my second-favorite comic book character (after, naturally, Morpheus from Sandman).

Brian K Vaughan does a really good job with dialogue.  While I don’t believe people of the world are as clever, verbose, and intelligent as he portrays them to be… he still writes his characters realistically, and even if one were presented with a speech-balloon without any other context… it wouldn’t be hard to identify the speaker.

Plotting and pacing is also a strong suit of Vaughan’s.  Foreshadowing is rampant throughout the series, and Vaughan really works at showing Yorick’s development from a selfish, Beth-obsessed slacker into a contemplative, intelligent young man.

Of particular interest is the cause to the plague: no single, definitive answer is ever provided in the comic.  It could be the genetic cloning that Dr Mann’s father was involved in.  It could have been a mysterious amulet that was removed from Jordan by Agent 355.  Maybe it was a disease set-off in China by American agents, in an attempt to cripple the Chinese economy.  But none is presented in a way that gives any more credence to one over the other.

And this is endlessly frustrating.  The book has a distinctive sci-fi bent (especially given the plague at the crux of the plot), but everything else about it is much more grounded (unlike some of Vaughan’s other series, such as Ex Machina and Saga), so none of the answers are particularly satisfying.

Still, Vaughan has stated in an interview that the answer is given within the story, but that it isn’t explicitly stated (and apparently won’t be by anyone involved on the creative team).  He also hinted that it could be a background image, or something from Issue 3, no doubt sending large groups of mad readers, such as myself, scrambling to scan every panel in exquisite detail.

If you’ve never read a comic book… you would be hard pressed to find a better starting point that Y: The Last Man.  Relentless action, emotionally evolving characters, mystery, suspense, and great art to boot… This series is what got me into the Vertigo line of comics (followed closely by Sandman and Swamp Thing).

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One thought on “Numbers, Letters, Names – Brian K Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man

  1. Pingback: In Appreciation – Brian K Vaughan | Books And Bits

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