It’s been five years since the strange trip that is Y: The Last Man began. Originally published as a comic-book series, the story has been collected into 10 trade paperback graphic novels, an easier way to read the epic in sizable chunks (without having to wait for the next issue to be published). With the release of Volume 10, WHYS AND WHEREFORES, we finally reach the conclusion, and yes, we get answers, whether we want them or not. Some of them are painful, some charmingly lovely, some poetic and some just mundane --- fitting for the kind of series this was.
Y: The Last Man began as a remarkably well-envisioned story, and it remained so until the end. I won’t discuss the ending (no spoilers here), but I will say that it is the first graphic novel that ever made me cry. I give all credit to writer Brian K. Vaughan for remaining true to his story, rather than taking the easy route, throughout all 10 volumes of this series. There were easier ways to resolve this story. He didn’t take them. Instead, he kept his series true to its original spirit all along. I admire the integrity.
If you’re new to this series, start with volume 1, UNMANNED, which begins with the bizarre and unexplainable deaths of every single male on the planet. From human beings to beetles, birds to whales, every single Y chromosome has, in an instant, been wiped off the face of the earth, except for a 22-year-old man named Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand, which he has just acquired. How they survived “the plague” --- as it comes to be called --- is anyone’s guess. More accurately, it’s everyone’s guess; all the women left in the world struggle to come up with some theory, some explanation for losing their sons, husbands, brothers, fathers and friends in one fell swoop.
In the aftermath of it all, with society left in shambles --- no phones working, governments around the world scrambling to cope, roads and bridges left cluttered with remains --- alternative conspiratorial and political factions arise. (One of the most interesting, the Amazon cult, views the plague as nature’s plan, the wiping out of an unnecessary organism.)
Yorick’s mother, a politician, is enlisted to help the new president, the former Secretary of Agriculture. When she learns that her son is still alive, she puts him under the protection of Agent 355, a fierce fighter and member of the elite and secretive Culper Ring. The two set out to find a woman named Dr. Mann, who may be humanity’s last hope for survival, if she is able to perfect the science of cloning. Yorick, meanwhile, is only interested in finding his girlfriend, Beth, to whom he was in the middle of proposing (over the phone) when the plague struck. Beth is in the Australian Outback, cut off from all communication.
And there we have the beginnings of the classic pilgrimage story: A young man who will do anything to find the woman he loves, even while the world is falling apart around him. Their quest takes place over years, in the same amount of time that the series was being published, and we readers make the journey with them every step of the way, no matter how violent, sad, terrible, unexpected, funny or shocking it is.
The truth is, why the men were wiped out was never all that essential to the series, as Vaughan wisely makes clear almost from the beginning. That’s not to say that his story isn’t focused on solving this mystery; it is and it does indeed get solved. But not far into Y: The Last Man, we realize we’re far more interested in following Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr. Mann on their journey than anything else.
Vaughan’s witty dialogue, in the face of his interesting take on a man-less society, lets us get to know these characters, as well as a broad supporting cast, little by little, like friends we are growing to like more and more. Saying goodbye to these friends after all the time you’ve spent with them will be difficult. But Vaughan ensures it will have the ring of truth to it.
Reviewed by John Hogan on January 24, 2011
Y: The Last Man, Volume 10