Y: The Last Man
by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Pia Guerra & Josť Marzan, Jr
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted September 21, 2021
The image to the right is the most recent publication, an omnibus of all sixty issues of Y: The Last Man, with probably a lot of extras. I do not have it, and even though I will provide purchase links for it, I don't recommend anyone buy it unless they have read at least some of the issues along the way and know they like the story. It's not cheap, and probably very cumbersome since it's only in hardcover, and over 1400 pages. Besides, the five paperback collections are cheaper, at least at Amazon, although they probably don't have some of the extras. The first issue was published September 4, 2002, then the first trade (Volume 1) came out in January 2003, but that was just the first five issues. There have been many various collections since then, in both hardcover and paperback, and they are also available digitally. I'll provide more information about the different books at the end of the article. I have only read the trade paperback of Book One (pictured below) so far, which collects the first ten issues. Another source of information, although I can't vouch for its total accuracy yet, is a Wikipedia article, particularly the section titled "See Also," which has a long list of possible influences, including the Bible, the Gilgamesh epic, Mary Shelley's The Last Man, plus many others.
I can't remember how long I've had this book, nor even where I bought it, but it wasn't Amazon. My copy is still in very good condition, so likely new when I bought it. Maybe my local comics shop, or another online source, possibly SFBC, but it's been a long time since I've been a member there. It may have been when a film adaptation was announced, or when Zachary Levi was seen reading it during a Season 3 episode of Chuck, which would place it sometime in 2010 or shortly after. The first mention of a film version goes back to 2007, but it never materialized, although there was a short student film made in Portugal in 2011. The show that premiered on FX on Hulu last week was conceived six years ago, but the wheels of the film industry turn very slowly, and there were several changes in production personnel and cast during that time. I thought it best to read this book before watching the series, the first four episodes of which are now available. With ten episodes for the season, it is possible the storyline will go beyond this volume.
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The "Y" in the title refers to the Y chromosome. A mysterious, rapidly-developing plague kills all men, boys, male fetuses, and apparently all male mammals as well. Well, not all. Yorick Brown, whose mother is a US Congresswoman (although she prefers the term Representative), survives, along with his male Capuchin monkey named Ampersand. Yorick has a theory as to why he was spared, but we'll have to wait and see about that. Another character thinks her actions are to blame, but again, no resolution to those questions through ten issues. The first time we see Yorick he is in his Brooklyn apartment, talking on the phone to his girlfriend who is in Australia. He's on speaker phone because at the same time he is hanging upside down in a doorway from inversion boots, attempting to escape a straight-jacket. He fancies himself an escape artist, and several subsequent scenes show he has some talent at that. I'm not sure how he got into the straight-jacket, since I don't think Ampersand could have done it. He does extricate himself, continuing his call to Beth, but that is interrupted by an incoming call from his mother, who reminds him of the fact it is his father's birthday. She is interrupted by a White House aide saying she is needed for a meeting with the President. Because of the gap between when this was written and now, especially the political landscape, I expect several changes in the TV adaptation.
The rest of the first issue has flashes of activity at various points around the globe, all noting how many minutes those scenes are from the "incident." Actually, the first scene in the book is right outside Yorick's apartment, with the time-stamp "Now," then it switches inside his apartment, but "Twenty-Nine Minutes Ago." The other scenes include the previously mentioned one with Representative Brown in DC; another in Nablus, on the West Bank, which introduces the Israeli soldier, Colonel Alter Tse'elon; then Al Karak, Jordan, where Agent 355 attempts rescue of an American diplomat, although she fails to protect her, but does retrieve an amulet believed to have special properties; and Boston, where we see Dr. Allison Mann enter a hospital in heavy labor, while at the same time Yorick's sister Hero is outside the hospital hooking up with her fireman boyfriend in an ambulance. Then the "Now" events in quick succession, showing those places and people, along with many more around the world, as men and boys start dying. There are also millions of collateral deaths from auto and plane crashes and other incidents of that nature.
I don't want to go into too much more of the plot, but that will be inevitable as I comment on a few problematic elements. My first thought was that a story about a world populated by women, without the constraints of men who have traditionally controlled everything, should have been written by a woman. Several of the women, particularly those known as the Daughters of the Amazon, a group that Hero joins, are extreme examples of men-hating women. They even take the drastic measure of mutilating themselves by removing their left breast. It's not enough that women now rule everything, but they want to be the ones at the top, and rail against other women who hold even a bit of remorse for the men in their lives that are no longer with them. Another thing: the artwork is generally very good, but as in a lot of comics the physical attributes of some of the women are stressed. For instance, in the scenes of Beth in the outback of Australia, in a desert under a blazing sun, she is dressed in brief shorts and a halter top. Granted that is not as egregious as it is in most women superhero comics, but still puzzling. It's still too soon to say if Yorick is the type of man who should have survived. He's not a bad man by any measure, but he's such a dilettante, going through life without much of a care about anything except his magic. Those skills do help him out of a few tight spots, but other than that he is hardly the survivor type. He's definitely not macho, more sensitive than most heroic men, and I guess some women would find him attractive, or at least he brings out their nurturing instincts.
I probably should do more research on genetics before commenting on the Y chromosome story element. A lot has been learned since this series began concerning intersex people, some being women in all physical attributes, yet their DNA contains the Y chromosome. There are a couple of references to transgender people, using the derogatory term "tranny," which I think would invoke a much more negative reaction than probably occurred when these issues were first published. I made the mistake of delving too deep into that wikipedia page, but at least I didn't spoil myself too much, if that is even possible concerning the origin of the plague and why it targeted just men. One bit has Vaughan quoted as saying they promised to reveal that, but not necessarily when the reveal would come. There are multiple theories proposed throughout the series, supposedly one of them the correct one, but he would leave it up to the reader to decide which. Since I only have Book One, with no idea when I might get the second, and the TV series probably won't venture too far past this book's storylines this season, it may be a long time before I have enough clues to venture a guess. It's also hard to say now whether I can give a recommendation for reading this. Aside from some of those problematic elements, it's an intriguing story, but not so great that I'm anxious to continue it at this time.
Now to the publication history. The first collections ranged from five to eight issues each. Volume 10, which collected the last six issues, was among the finalists for the first ever Hugo Awards for Graphic Story back in 2009, so both the first and last times it was eligible. A search for that showed just used copies available through third-party sellers on Amazon, and no listing at Bookshop. I did not search for the preceding nine volumes, nor for the first hardcover editions, which wikipedia says were oversized, and with different cover art, and described as "Deluxe." Those were followed by the trade paperbacks, Books One-Five, which varied in page and issue count, from ten to thirteen issues, which I'm sure was determined by cliffhanger scenes. Before the Omnibus there was the "Absolute" Editions, three volumes of twenty issues each, hardcovers in special slipcovers, but also the Compendiums One and Two. Whichever version you'd prefer, I'm sure you can search for them, but I'm linking to just the trade paperback books and the omnibus. Not all of the trades are listed at Bookshop for some reason; maybe some are technically out of print but Amazon has enough warehoused to still offer them as new. As always, a purchase through our links may earn us a commission, but other options are to search eBay or bookfinder.com.
Book One (issues 1-10) - Bookshop / Amazon
Book Two (11-23) - Amazon
Book Three (24-36) - Bookshop / Amazon
Book Four (37-48) - Amazon
Book Five (49-60) - Amazon
Omnibus Hardcover (1-60) - Bookshop / Amazon
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