Vaughan & Guerra’s Y: The Last Man Books 3–5 and my November Verse 13

Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man Book 3 (2004, 2005, this edition 2010)
—, Y: The Last Man Book 4 (2005, 2006, this edition 2010)
—, Y: The Last Man Book 5 (2006–2008, this edition 2011)

Previously in Y: Yorick, a 23 year old New Yorker escape artist, and Ampersand, a trainee-companion monkey, are the only two male mammals on earth to have survived a mysterious plague. They have teamed up with the woman known only as 355, who is a member of the Culper Ring, a mysterious organisation, and Dr Alison Mann, who has ben experimenting with clone technology and so has a good chance of ensuring a future for humankind. Dr Mann’s New York lab is blown up by Israeli operatives, and the three of them travel across the US to her West Coast lab where her back-up data is safe, encountering an assortment of female post-apocalyptic enemies and allies: the Israelis, a Russian operative, survivalists, escaped convicts making a new life, an astronaut, paranoid cowgirls. Yorick’s sister, Hero, has meanwhile joined a group of neo-Amazons who are fanatically and violently determined to erase all vestiges of the patriarchy. And Yorick has a personal mission, to meet up with his girlfriend Beth, who was in Australian when the plague hit and has since been out of contact.

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The adventure continues in Book 3 with plenty of violence, and a modicum of sex. It turns out that the Australian navy had women active in submarines where the US did not. As a result a fully armed and dangerous Collins Class sub intercepts the ship taking our little band across the Pacific. Australia also comes to the fore as we get some of Beth’s story. There’s some deeply worrisome representations of Warlpiri culture (though you have to give Brian Vaughan credit for actually naming a people rather than giving us generic mystical ‘Aborigines’ like the ones in Werner Herzog’s Green Ant Dreaming).

Goran Sudžuka joins Pia Guerra in the pencilling, and to my untrained eye the seams are invisible.

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In Book 4, Yorick, Dr Mann and agent 335 reach Australia, which isn’t a happy place, though there’s plenty of amusing US attempts at Australian slang, and some cheerful sex and one bit of comic full frontal male nudity (poor Yorick is drawn looking all heroic on the covers, but doesn’t fare so well in the actual stories).

We also get the back stories of a number of characters, and lectures on the status of women that in any other context might be tediously didactic, but here have a certain charm. For example, there’s a key plot point when two capuchin monkeys escape from their cages in an airport. This is how we see it:

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And the reader responds by secretly cheering for the ‘gendercide’ that is to come. Similar moments, such as a short debate about whether the mistreatment of women in the Catholic Church was perpetrated solely by men, or whether women might have been pretty bad as well, turn out to be important to the plot.

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Then in Book 5 it all comes together – or apart, depending on your point of view. Yorick finds Beth and their reunion turns out pretty much as the discerning reader might have expected. There’s another romance that also turns out pretty much as expected, though in a way that surprised and, yes, shocked me. In fact, the working out of all the plot strands is almost at the level of Shakespearean comedy. Of the many hypotheses that have been floated about the cause of the catastrophe, the one that is finally given may not be realistic but it fits the world of the story better than any other: at least grounds have been laid for it.

It all ends happily for the human race, though almost literally up in the air for Yorick himself.

One more note: It seems to me that a successful comic series has to have a certain amount of sex and violence. Y does that. It also manages to be witty, literate and occasionally instructive. Yorick and his sister Hero were named after Shakespearean characters by their nerdy parents. When it seems one woman is going to have to spend time in hospital, Yorick draws up a reading list for her – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is at the top of the list. It’s similarly refreshing that one of the characters becomes President in the final pages but not, it turns out, of the USA: in this US comic, other countries exist.

And let me burst into verse, for the second last time this November. Extra points for readers who spot the Bill Haley reference.

November Verse 13: On Reading Y: The Last Man
Alas poor Yorick, last man standing!
Two male mammals left alive
on earth, just him and Ampersand, an
ape, his kind-of pet. These five
thick comic books by Vaughan and Guerra,
amuse and tease, prompt pity, terror.
A single man left on the ground,
three billion women all around.
But here’s no superhero fiction,
no Bacchanal or things more blue,
no Warhol shooter’s dream come true,
no earnest SF clone prediction,
just good fun: the men are dead,
that’s sad, but what a watershed!

What do you think?

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