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Y: The Last Man – The Deluxe Edition, Book IV (Review)

In an effort to prove that comic books aren’t just about men in spandex hitting each other really hard, this month I’m reviewing all of Brian K. Vaughan’s superb Y: The Last Man. In April, I took a look at all the writer’s Ex Machina.

It’s very clear that we’re now entering “end game” when it comes to Brian K. Vaughan’s spectacular Y: The Last Man. Even if I didn’t know that the next deluxe edition will be the last, there’s a clear sense that the writer is moving everything into position for the final few issues. Characters die, our heroes are closer than ever to their goals, explanations are teased… It seems that the stage is being well-and-truly set for the last chapter in this magnificent saga.

No time for no monkey business...

All the threads seem to be tying together, from Yorick’s one-night stand with Beth (II) in the graveyard, to the Israeli Defense Forces subplot, to Hero’s journey, to Doctor Mann’s parents, and even the reunion between Yorick and Beth (I) (with the Culper Ring element that I believe has yet to really be positioned for the big finale). It’s sad that this is ending, but I’m glad that it looks like Vaughan is tying everything up in an efficient manner.

I remarked in my review of the final volume of James Robinson’s Starman that the awkward thing about superhero comics is that they don’t really do endings – the myth generally continues on and on and on. I think that denying a story (or saga) an ending weakens or undermines it, and part of the reason I love creator-owned stuff like Y: The Last Man or The Sandman or Ex Machina is because the creators all have a chance to give their story an ending, to tie up all the loose ends and draw a line under what came before.

Can't believe they got all the way over here on a full tank...

Of course, I know that we won’t get an explanation for the plague (or the “manslaughter” as the Japanese call it in this chapter of the saga). It’s Vaughan’s central plot device, but it’s not what the story’s about. The story is about what the world would be like without men (and what the path of the last man might like look), not how all the men dies. So, much like the season finale of Lost, my expectations are measured and controlled. I don’t expect to see all the cards that the writer holds in his hand.

It’s funny that I should mention Lost, as Vaughan joined the writing staff near the end of the show. It’s also funny, because the issues collected here include several flashback chapters, told in the context of a given character’s predicament – a standard storytelling tool favoured by Lost. Vaughan has, of course, given us these sorts of stories before (with Beth and with Hero, for example), but never so heavily concentrated. In this stretch of issues, we are treated to background stories concerning Alison Mann, Alter, 355 and even the “helper monkey” Ampersand. The last story is especially sweet, because it shows us that the little monkey dreams of Yorick, trying to protect him.

Time for reflection...

None of these issues give us too much by way of facts – indeed, some are vague to the point of being irritating – but they do establish and define the characters quite well. I remarked before on the irony of a show based around the extinction of mankind, which insisted on featuring a male as its lead, and also that Vaughan was aware of the irony. Still, that doesn’t mean the writer hasn’t developed an outstanding and complex female supporting cast. More than that, though, it seems that the writer has carefully and meticulously planned everything, so that it all builds. The initial encounter with Beth (II) might have seemed like a quiet little meditation on faith, but Vaughan clearly had bigger plans – it’s nice to see them approach fruition.

It’s cool to see how Vaughan explores the reaction to the gendercide. He’s set the comic in something close enough to real time that three years have passed by the first issue in this collection, and the world is slowly lurching forward. In fact, the environmental effects are beginning to be felt. “With so many factories closing up shop and so few trees getting cut down,” one character explains, “the sky is clearer than it’s been in a century, probably.” It’s amazing how quickly mankind’s impact on the environment can be erased.

Alas, poor Yorick...

However, far more fascinating is the social impact of the death of every male on the planet. Vaughan cleverly suggests that, even years on, a large number of women have yet to realise that things have changed. Indeed, there’s a very black sense of humour in the attempts of the Catholic Church (operating out of “a goddamn magician’s theme restaurant”) to find a male to make Pope, so he can declare equality. “So you need to find a male pope to talk to God… so God will tell him that popes don’t need to be male anymore?” Hero asks, just to be clear. It seems close enough to the facts. This attitude is so deeply engrained in the Catholic Church, that – even now – women feel unable to empower themselves, they still need a male authority to validate them (which is tougher than ever).

In Japan, we see young women following a witless Canadian pop sensation following the breakdown of social order, because it seems easier than trying to control their own lives. This state of affairs is quite depressing – even with all the oppressive male institutions demolished overnight, some women are still incapable of taking control of their own lives. As Hero, of all people, explains to Beth (II), “It’s our world now, mamacita. We can be whatever the fuck we want.” If only more people realised it.

Taking a stab at it...

Of course, as Vaughan likes to play our expectations, the writer very cleverly observes that just because not all women are empowered in a world without men, not all women are powerless in the world with men, either. When 355 is recruited into the Culper Ring, she asks who they work for. “Well, I used to say Ron,” her predecessor jokes, “but between you and me, it’s really more Nancy these days.” Indeed, the origins of the Culper Ring date back to Revolutionary Times, reminding the reader that women have always played a vital role in world affairs, even when denied the vote or not allowed to run for office.

As an aside, it’s fun to hear the Culper Ring described as an organisation intended “to get people where they need to be.” In short, it’s pretty much a plot device – it’s a way of getting Yorick where the plot needs him to be and to allow Vaughan to tell the story that he wants to tell. Indeed, the line is used more than once over the course of the issues collected me, implying that Toyota is a member of the Ring (or, perhaps, that the ninja is just another storytelling device we shouldn’t expect too much of an explanation for).

Time to "pop" her?

As ever, the artwork continues to impress. I like the old school style of Pia Guerra, which calls to mind classic comic books, with characters and settings frequently rigidly confined to the panels (rather than bursting or bleeding or overflowing, as seems to be common these days). I remember Alan Moore remarking that Gibbons tried to keep such a rigid approach as possible when writing Watchmen, so as not to distract from the underlying material – it was the ideas that were revolutionary, not the form. Perhaps a similar idea is at play here, or perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I do love Guerra’s artwork. It’s also worth noting that her version of Tokyo is stunning to look at.

Y: The Last Man continues to be a spectacular read as we enter end game. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s really, really, really worth your time.

Check out our complete reviews of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man:

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