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Y: The Last Man – The Deluxe Edition, Book V (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.

You know, I think I’m not entirely sure what to make of the conclusion to Brian K. Vaughan’s superb Y: The Last Man, which wraps up here after sixty issues. It’s strange, as if the saga wraps up almost more than I expected, while still remaining the wonderfully intimate adventure that roped me in from the start.

Colour me sad that it's coming to an end...

Note: As we’re reaching the end, expect spoilers. Lots of them. And big ones too. If you want a recommendation… well, go read one of the earlier reviews, or just pick up the first collection and give it a shot.

Indeed, I have to admit to being quite surprised at how quickly and efficiently Vaughan deals with his story’s central driving plot point: the extinction of mankind (in fact, it’s only in a gendercide that you sort of realise how phalocentric that term actually is). It’s dealt with – at least to the extent that Vaughan is going to deal with it – in the first arc collected here, Motherland, before the series can get back to the things it’s really concerned about for the final run of issues as we race towards the end.

Y does it have to end?

And, in fairness, I respect Vaughan a lot for offering a potential cause (or, at least, favouring one potential cause over the countless others). It’s quite possible that I’m reading a red herring, or just following a surface analysis of the cause that Vaughan outlines, but I do like his explanation for the death of every male on the planet. It’s not necessarily an exclusively scientific or spiritual cause for all that death and destruction, but rather it feels like a strange unity of the two, which is oddly something I really liked about the series – the way that it succeeds in blending so many diametrically opposed concepts into one holistic approach.

“There is no denying,” Dr. Mann proposes, “that evolution is a process in which we are all actively involved. It’s survival of the fittest, and something out there decided that males were no longer fit to survive.” It strays into the realm of pseudo-science with “electro-magnetic fields” and “morpho-genetics”, but Vaughan disguises it with his traditional careful research and tempered consideration. Citing the scientific example of monkeys miles apart developing the use of the same tools at the same moment, he dares to suggest that the Y chromosome has been simply synchronistically “rationally self-destructing.” This time, it just happened to “travel at the speed of light”the moment that the male of the species became redundant. (Interestingly, like the monkeys, Mann and his daughter reach the same milestone at almost the same instant.)

The writing is as sharp as ever...

It reminds me a lot of Alan Moore’s use of pseudo-science to justify the character of Swamp Thing, referring to a defunct and out-dated experiment as the basis for his own take on the monster. Vaughan is doing something similar, using a scientific theory as a springboard into something all together more philosophical. It’s telling that Mann cites “both science and the Buddha” as his influences. However, Vaughan is also smart enough to know that the story isn’t really about the plague, the plague is really just a plot device used to allow the author to tell his stories. As such, it’s a meta-physical construct that happened purely because the author needed to happen, no matter what terms the story may phrase it in. It’s just nice of Vaughan to suggest a possible reason in-story.

So the bulk of the collection takes place after this revelation, which feels almost like it had been inserted for completeness’ sake. That’s because the story isn’t necessarily about the potential extinction of mankind, or even traditional gender roles (though we’ve had some fun). It’s primarily the story of Yorick Brown. In fact, the crux of Motherland rests not in Mann’s revelations, but in Yorick’s decision to rebuke the fatalist’s harsh and cold logic, and his grim suicide pact. That is what the story is about. Yorick tries to rationalise his way out by explaining how he stared into the same abyss that Mann faces. “I made all sorts of excuses about how offing myself and leaving this world to the ladies would be noble and selfless and –“

Hair today, gone tomorrow...

This is the story about Yorick choosing to live. That’s what it has always been about. It’s about the young man leaving his New York apartment and seeing the world. A cloned Yorick, at the same age he was when the plague hit, remarks, “My life has been a total waste so far, and I’m already an adult.” Yorick’s life ultimately ended up anything but “a total waste.” Meeting new people. Embracing new ideas. It took the end of the world, but Yorick became a man, even if he became the last man. I think science-fiction has always worked best as a collection of allegories, and Y: The Last Man is something of a humanist text, with Vaughan allowing Yorick to grow, and to realise that it’s not about men and women or any other artificial division. “The two sides are only gonna get through this together…”

Yorick really doesn’t save the world here – and I think that’s important. In the end, research in cloning means that both males and females can be cloned. Even though Yorick is one of those who survives and is preserved as a “model”, there’s ultimately no reason for him. Throughout the series, everyone has placed a huge burden on Yorick, suggesting that – as the last man left – it was his role to save the world, and I appreciate that Vaughan avoided that particular landmine. As I read the final chapter, I found it easy enough to believe that – even if Yorick had died, the world would still be alive.

Monkey business...

I like the distant epilogue that the final issue provides, offering us a bright future for the world. It’s reassuring to know that humankind can endure and evolve and adapt and survive. Hell, the global politics discussions suggest that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s actually something depressingly touching in hearing nationals engage in political discourse, because that’s something that can be understood and put in context, unlike the horror of the loss of three billion men in an instant.

So it’s nice that the final chapters, Whys and Wherefores, are devoted almost entirely to resolving Yorick’s personal situation and the strange cast dynamics that have evolved. Vaughan has done great character work over the course of his run, and it all pays off here. It’s a finale that feels like it was earned, and one that feels like it is “right”, for lack of a better word. There are some ridiculously cruel moments here from the author, but that’s the way the world is. Filled with beauty and sadness in some sort of bittersweet mixture. I do love the idea that, in fitting with the themes of the series, 355’s real name is “Peace.”

It's been a gas run...

The finale itself is a nice little chapter, which allows Yorick to essentially converse with his younger self (at the age he was “a few weeks before the plague hit”). I wonder what an older version of myself might have to tell me, and – I imagine – when I’m older, I’ll wonder what’d I’d tell a younger me is I could. Using the series’ science-fiction trappings as a nifty way to allow an older and a younger Yorick to interact (again, that image of “two sides” and all that), it focuses mainly on the characters. It lets us know what happened to all the key players in Yorick’s life, save Beth II. She’s notably absent. Some of these goodbyes are a little too trite for their own good (Hero, for example), while some are positively heart-wretching (Ampersand).

There’s even time for some of the wacky meta-fictional stuff that we took in towards the end of Vaughan’s superb Ex Machina. Vaughan doesn’t write himself into this story (that might be a bit much), but one will note that Yorick in the final issue has a remarkable resemblance to the writer. However, we do get a story about a comic book written with its own take on this fictional world. It’s charmingly self-deprecating, but somewhat lacks the punch of the story he did for Ex Machinabased around the same concept. Ah well.

Alas, poor Yorick...

In the end, it’s a powerful conclusion to what has been a powerful series, one of the great model works in comic books, and something that Vertigo can really be proud of. Anybody looking for a modern comic book worth a read, I can wholeheartedly recommend Brian K. Vaughan’s fantastic run. I do sorta wish that the extras in these collections were anything that could be described as “deluxe”, but I won’t complain too loudly, as this final hardcover has perhaps the richest treasure trove yet. Well, “trove” might be an exaggeration: “single piece of treasure” might fit better. The script to the final issue. It’s really something to read.

So, if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favour and pick this bad boy up. You won’t regret it.

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

2 Responses

  1. I just burned through your entire Y: The Last Man review.

    You are an awesome reviewer and I thank you for reminding me of one of my most cherished readings. If only more female characters were as well-written and diverse as the ones in Y. =]

    We’ll get there.

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