Jul 10, 2012

[Comics] Y: the Last Man

I briefly considered splitting this review into separate reviews for the 10 volumes of the series, but that seemed like too much work. Besides, I can't quite separate the story of this graphic novel series into the volumes in my head. So best to talk about this as a single collective work, which ultimately it is.

My partner Tobie, who introduced me to the world of Vertigo comics. I can't quite explain why I never got around to reading titles from this comic book line before that point - it's just something that happens, I suppose. But that's all in the past and now I've been able to enjoy quite a number of interesting titles thanks to him.

Now this is a book that I can't quite picture myself picking up on my own. Without someone to introduce me to what this comic is all about, it's not exactly something that would blip on my radar. So in the same way that I was able to experience the joys of this title, I figured it would be nice to introduce you geeky readers to this comic in turn. Pay it forward and all that, right?

This assumes you folks trust me of course.

Synopsis: Y: the Last Man is a 60-issue comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughn. It was released under DC's Vertigo imprint for 2002-2008. The series won the Eisner Award for Best Continuing series in 2008 and the last volume was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.

Y, The Last Man #16
Y, The Last Man #16 (Photo credit: Gellar)
The story of this comic begins with a startling global catastrophe - the death of every single male on the planet. What is roughly called a plague despite it's near simultaneous effect, something mysteriously kills anything with a Y chromosome including sperm and fertilized eggs. But naturally there's a surprise exception to this wave of destruction - a New York man named Yorick Brown and his Capuchin monkey Ampersand. Why Yorick survived when countless other males did not is one of the central mysteries of the entire series.

With society in near collapse, the remaining women are faced with many challenges beyond mere survival. Another key issue at stake is how the human race will continue on given the loss of all males and a viable means of reproduction. With the cause of the plague also unknown, it is uncertain whether or not reintroducing other males into the world will only lead to their immediate deaths. And as various factions begin to form in an effort to gather resources and find new ways of moving forward, we also meet the mysterious Agent 355 of an organization known as the Culper Ring. And her future is inevitably tied to that of Yorick Brown in this strange new world.

Now the initial pretty is a pretty shocking one. And like all good science fiction, it forces us to think about how we would respond to a situation of that nature. If one half of the planet died off due to mysterious circumstances leaving only a single biological sex behind., how would the world adapt? It's a pretty startling thought and one that the creative team did a great job of bringing to life.

I really loved how the various story arcs also touched on the roles that each biological gender tends to play in the operation of our day-to-day lives. There are certain jobs that we defer to men because of the requirements of strength or things of that nature. And on the flip side other roles are "limited" to women based on similar gender bias driven thinking. And in terms of the comic, this includes a wide variety of aspects of life including naval forces, agricultural supply lines and other fun stuff. In this regard one cannot help but appreciate how smart the comic series is on the whole.

On a side note, I feel silly for not realizing sooner that the fact that the last surviving male on Earth is named Yorick, which starts with the letter Y. This is quirky given the title of the series and I don't know why I didn't think about it before. I guess I just dove into the story so quickly that I ignored the small stuff. Silly me.

Back on topic, it's rather daunting to consider that the entire series spans several years and not just a matter of weeks or months. But given the general collapse of society as we know it and the loss of more efficient means of transportation, I suppose this shouldn't have been too much of a surprise. But it really gives you a better appreciation of the scale of things I suppose and just how easy we have things compared to how things went before a lot of our more modern conveniences came along.

Another fun note that carries you through the series is the never ending speculations about what caused the global extinction event. And the comic spares no expense in creating a wide variety of crazy explanations for why things are the way they are including explanations that are scientific or even magical in nature. But no matter how savvy you think you are, you'll never quite guess how things really happened in the end.

On the whole, Y: the Last Man is a compelling, intelligent and rather brilliant comic book series that is certainly worth the time spent reading it. There's news that a movie may be developed based on the comic book series but I can't even begin to imagine how it all might come together. Still, the series alone more than deserves a full 5 ninjas, soldiers and other surprise characters after Yorick out of a possible 5.

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