Spinning out of a Twilight Zone-esque premise, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man is one of the most satisfying comic book reads in quite some time. The initial hook is what the world would look like if suddenly all the men on Earth, save one, died suddenly. The lone survivor is Yorrick Brown, a twenty-two year old goof-off who is struggling through a long distance relationship with his far more successful girlfriend and a seemingly directionless life. However, a plague of Biblical proportions arrives and consequently places Yorrick on the path of humanity’s savior. He also happens to walk this path with his pet Capuchin monkey and an ensemble of hard hitting, no-nonsense ladies.
The premise is intriguing and the mystery behind the whys and wherefores instantly engage the reader. Part of this engagement stems from the incredible level of realism Vaughan and Guerra impart on the title. Each story arc of the series’ sixty issues tackles a relevant societal problem, most often with a gender centric approach. This is no after school special though. Vaughan and Guerra are exceptional storytellers. Engaging with topical issues in a very organic and meaningful way, making these encounters part of a larger story rather than the primary focus, the duo never comes off as preachy, self-indulgent or patronizing. The result is a refreshing look at gender issues and societal ills. Incorporating sociological musings into the on-going plot, Vaughan and Guerra make these examinations interesting rather than needless filler the reader is forced to sit through. They engage the audience rather than lecture.
Yet, while the plot is riveting, character work truly carries the series. Yorrick and his companions are some of the most fully realized characters in comic books. Each lead has a readily identifiable back story and motivations. Yorrick, especially, seems a perfectly believable unlikely hero to male comic readers. Never the less, while comics are often the purview of boys women, not surprisingly, factor heavily in Y: The Last Man. Many mainstream comics treat females less than favorably. While this trend has slowly changed over the past decade or so, the stigma still exists that comic books objectify women. Y: The Last Man is a title that appeals to both male and female readers. Women aren’t portrayed as half nude sexpots and the tilt of this book is far from some hyper-feminist diatribe.
To close, what really makes Y: The Last Man one of comic’s most satisfying reads is that it possesses something most comic books lacks, an ending. Most comics and their characters continue on ad infinitum. Independent projects, such as this series, are fortunate to have a beginning, middle and end. Having a satisfying conclusion nits together Vaughan’s story and allows Guerra to illustrate an inspiring final page. The journey of Yorrick is really a story about coming to age and the responsibilities young adults must assume. The trials he faces, beyond life and death perils and saving humanity, are the trials young adults face upon leaving college, maturation, accepting responsibility and finding one’s place in the world. Truly a relevant read.