Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Alas, Poor Yorick . . ."

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

If you've never read a graphic novel, please start with Brian Vaughan's Y: The Last Man. The first in a series, Y: Unmanned is at heart a social critique, one which is told with compassion rather than derision. It also happens to contain some of the most humorous dialogue I have ever had the pleasure to read.

Y opens with Yorick Brown--young, broke, recent college graduate--pining for his girlfriend, Beth. While Beth is in Australia on an anthropological dig, Yorick spends his time perfecting his amateur escape artistry and attempting to train his pet monkey, Ampersand. Needless to say, Yorick is an unlikely hero. He seems especially unlikely to survive a mysterious plague which kills every mammal with a Y chromosome--except for Yorick himself and Ampersand. The world is plunged into chaos, and as the last males alive, Yorick and Ampersand are valuable commodities.

While at first this seems like an adolescent fantasy--the only man in a world full of women?--Vaughan respects his audience too much to allow Y to fall into a tawdry cliche. Personally, the idea of a world populated only by women (or men) sounds pretty horrifying to me, and it's not a pretty picture according to Vaughan, either. But don't get me wrong; this book is in no way misogynistic. In fact, it's populated by some of the strongest female characters I've encountered. Specifically, Agent 355 and Dr. Allison Mann, the government agent and geneticist who locate and protect Yorick in an effort to determine what, exactly, has caused the "gendercide."

By the end of the series, Vaughan and the excellent artist Pia Guerra have explored love, hate, sexuality, the bonds of family and friendship, and the pressures of unexpected responsibility. I fell a little bit in love with Yorick, Agent 355, and Dr. Mann--and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried at the (very affecting) end of the series. Please read Y: The Last Man. You will thoroughly enjoy it and hopefully, for those graphic-novel-doubters out there, become addicted to the genre.

***I would suggest borrowing the series from the library; it's composed of ten books at $15.00 each, which can get a bit pricey. The movie version is due to be released soon (about which I'm definitely reserving judgment) so I'd check these out before cinema hype makes library queues long.

If you like Y: The Last Man, try another of Vaughan's graphic novel series, Runaways. The first in the series, Pride and Joy, introduces a group of teenagers thrown together throughout the years when their parents meet. . .for what the teens discover isn't bridge, gossiping, and discussing their children's college plans. Their parents are the Pride, a group of super villains and criminal masterminds who plan on their children following in their dubious footsteps. Needless to say, the majority of the teens aren't too excited about this idea, thus the title of the series. While Runaways doesn't have the depth of Y: The Last Man, it's surprisingly introspective for a teen graphic novel series. The only downfall? The binding of the books is awful--they quickly fall apart. Another library visit is definitely recommended.


  1. Eliz, thanks for reminding me about this! I was going to read it, wrote it on a scrap of paper, forgot about it, and thus never read it. Beth loves "Runaways," so she'll probably beat me to "Y," but her reading it before me will serve as another reminder. Which I need, seeing as I'm addled and forgetful.

    So congrats on reminding me. You should be proud of yourself.

  2. Elizabeth this post makes me want to deal with my library fines, so I can check these books out!

  3. Evan--I am super proud of myself for reminding you to remind yourself to read "Y: The Last Man." Which I hope you are doing right this very moment.

    Did Beth like "Runaways" after Joss Whedon took over? I thought the series lost some of its appeal...and I love Whedon.