Having only recently heard about, and been intrigued by, the Vertigo comic series Y: The Last Man, I found the complete hardcover copies available on Amazon and picked them up. After blowing through all of them and enjoying them thoroughly, I thought this would be a good place to list my thoughts on the series in general. It'll probably go without saying, but there will be spoilers ahead, so consider this your one warning. Get it, got it, good. Here we go.
I've never been a huge fan of comics that stray out of the extraordinary. This is why Batman remains my favorite comic book character of all time. Aside from the slightly more advanced to ridiculously more advanced technology he sports, everything else in at least Batman's mythos (if not the mythos of some of his rouges) is generally within the realm of possibility. Nothing more or less then a man in peak physical condition with a mind ready to assault the criminals of the world, Batman remains a somewhat more grounded superhero than, say, Green Lantern or Wolverine.
I think it's this desire for a level of reality that drew me into Y: The Last Man, a sci-fi story only in the sense of the event that makes it a sci-fi story. Aside from this one conceit, it's as grounded in reality as a graphic novel can be. Okay, maybe a ninja shows up and one of the main characters is a secret agent who rivals Jason Bourne, but there are no spaceships, aliens, ray guns or other sci-fi tropes, just a plague that kills all the mammals on Earth that have a Y chromosome; ie, all males. The only exceptions (at least at the outset of the story) are Yorick Brown, a 22 year old escape artist/magician and his pet capuchin monkey, Ampersand. Yorick's single minded desire, after finding his surviving family members in his congresswoman mother and slightly deranged sister, Hero, is to get to Australia to see if his girlfriend/fiancee Beth is still alive. What follows is essentially a road novel, as different aspects of a post male world are shown, examined and explored.
Along the way, Yorick picks up a geneticist, ironically named Dr. Alison Mann, and Agent 355, a member of an elite ring of government agents who acts as his protector. Over the course of the series of 60 issues, you see Yorick grow up, grow closer to all the members of his little traveling band and slowly begin to come to realize that being the last man on Earth isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's a truly astounding read, bringing up the obvious issues of gender and the strength of women, but also manages to convey a sense of how the world would cope with losing an entire gender overnight. Social, political and sexist themes are all tackeld and you walk away from each issue feeling as though the world of the story will be okay, eventually, even if there are a lot of gun toting crazy people at the moment.
I should be clear and say this is way not a book for people who were bothered by the ending of Lost or feel the need to have everything spelled out for them. For instance, no clear answer is ever given about the plague, though many theories are posited throughout the series, from the plausible to the totally ludicrous. Ultimately, as with Lost, if that's why you're reading the book, it's the wrong reason. You should care more about what happens to Yorick, Amp, Mann and 355; You know, the characters involved, not every single event that gets them from A to B to C. There are even whole adventures that are only mentioned in passing or referred back to during moments of calm on the journey.
I've often maintained that a story is fairly easy to tell, while what's difficult is a satisfying ending. In this regard, the end of Y: The Last Man is one of the best endings I've ever read, as well as one of the most affecting. If you've read it, you know what I mean when I say it's Joss Whedon-esque in the extreme, and those of you who haven't read it will be able to guess from there. The epilogue shows a world that is, while not back to normal, at least stabilizing for now, and a tired surviving character who has seen too much and just wants their last few years to be peaceful and quiet.
Y: The Last Man is one of my favorite pieces of, not only comic bookery, but media in general. It's 5 hardback books that will have a place of honor on my comic book shelf, but really deserves to be among some of the best literature I've ever read, movies I've seen or albums I've heard. Those who cry foul about comics or graphic novels are often directed to Watchmen as an example of truly great story telling in the medium. While I agree with that sentiment in the broad sense, I feel that Y is the kind of book that Watchmen paved the way for, showing people that you can tell stories about human beings with pictures and words at the same time. I dearly hope that the movie deal that is in the works for it falls through and that it gets an HBO or Showtime series instead. I'd rather have a 12+ episode arc for the story than 2 hours in a theater. It just wouldn't be enough time to get to know everyone you need to know so the ending can hit you squarely in the emotion center. Very rarely does a piece of written word make me break down and cry for characters that are not real, but Y: The Last Man pulled it off. I can think of no higher compliment to the series then to say it has effected me so deeply. Thanks for reading this.