||[Aug. 31st, 2008|02:49 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#72 Y: THE LAST MAN – Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra
“All of the men are dead.”
Imagine that everything with a Y chromosome dropped dead simultaneously, right down to the last sperm, leaving a world bereft of males bar two – an escape artist obsessed with pop culture named Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. As setups for a story go, it doesn’t seem promising at first. Actually, it sounds extremely corny, but Vaughan and Guerra manage to create a convincing and fascinating world out of this sci-fi cliché.
As is traditional in post-apocalyptic stories, marauding bikers roam the roads, but otherwise it’s a grounded setting that follows through on its promise. Half the people behind the wheels of cars die simultaneously, so the highways become clogged with car wrecks and corpses. A higher percentage of the world’s soldiers, politicians and priests are gone as well, all with consequences. The world’s space programs and nuclear power plants, primarily run by men, begin falling apart. Israel’s female soldiers suddenly become the middle east’s primary military force while Australia’s rare submarine-trained female officers find themselves in charge of a dominant Naval power. Presumably the audience for comic books falls drastically.
Y: The Last Man doesn’t romanticise its world run by women, which isn’t magically free of violence overnight, but nor is it a dystopia. As Yorick and his monkey travel in the company of a bodyguard and a bioengineer searching for an explanation, a cure and his lost girlfriend, they find plenty of places where the women who are potentially the world’s final generation just get on with their lives competently and fearlessly. It’s funny too; Vaughan has a gift for witty dialogue that never turns into one of those standup comedy routines, “Hey everybody, have you ever noticed men and women are different? Ha ha!”
Guerra draws the mainly female cast simply and with clear lines, while Vaughan adds depth by dedicating chapters to most of the characters, even seemingly inconsequential ones. Filled with flashbacks, these focus issues break up the cliffhanger-filled multi-part storylines while enriching the world by showing that it has plenty going in it that only tangentially involves its surviving males. Most of the questions readers will inevitably have (What about cloning? Sperm banks? Astronauts?) are foreseen and dealt with, showing that more research and care has gone into its creation than might be expected from the goofy initial premise of an apocalypse that stops halfway.
Y: The Last Man is only half an apocalypse, not just because only half the population kicks the bucket, but because it’s as much about imagining how we might create a new world as destroying the old one.