I’ve had this collection for a while, now, having bought it on a random whim right after my son was born. I have a bit of a soft spot for post-apocalyptic settings, especially disease outbreak scenarios. Maybe it’s my latent hypochondriac tendencies. Further, there seemed to be a lot of places to go with the idea of “the last man on Earth.” Having finished the first ten installments via this deluxe volume, I think I’m still unsure of what I think about it. I definitely enjoyed reading it, but I can’t decide whether it’s clever or smug.
The titular last man, a twenty-something named Yorick Brown, is about as a normal as you’d expect a young person named Yorick to be. He is an accomplished escape artist that has trouble finding and keeping a real job. He has accepted responsibility for training a helper monkey named Ampersand, for some reason, and is preparing to propose to his girlfriend Beth (who is currently on walkabout in Australia). One day, every mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly drops dead of a violent and bloody plague… except, apparently, Yorick and Ampersand. Suddenly thrust into a world where he is a curiosity, commodity, and marked man all at once, Yorick crosses a dramatically altered landscape in search of his family, and hopefully, a way to get to Australia and find Beth.
After the virulent misogyny that seems to keep ramping up in the Walking Dead books, I actually found the freely-displayed and open-for-dissection sexism in Y: The Last Man to be somewhat refreshing. Vaughan knows exactly what kind of powder keg he is playing with, so he doesn’t attempt to be subtle. The post-plague world is unfettered by the biological and sociological strictures of gender identity, and so every character archetype is loaded with contextually interesting baggage. Nurturing mother-types, strong female leaders, hysterical housewives, femme fatales, lipstick lesbians, butch lesbians, women who really want a man, badass woman soldiers, calm and rational mentors, and violent, avenging man-haters... they are all here, and they are all concerned with or have a stake in Yorick’s existence. It takes the unfortunately common trope of female characters in a story always being secondary to male characters, and makes it quite literal, which makes for an interesting exercise. It also provides a tense and suspenseful backdrop to the story, as Yorick must dodge the various attentions of those around him as best he can in order to simply get from one place to another.
There are a couple of problems with this book, though. First and foremost, Yorick happens to be an irritating douche. Now, I realize that this injects a bit of irony into the “last man” scenario, and removing that element would make this either a harem manga or a letter to Penthouse. Still, it was consistently hard for me to get behind Yorick, and every stupid thing he said or stupid decision he made pulled me out of the story just a bit. Moreover, I understand the purpose for playing with sexist stereotypes, but, uh, they’re still sexist stereotypes. The Daughters of the Amazon wanting to kill Yorick because DOWN WITH MEN seems like kind of a waste of thematic possibility (and I can't decide if there's any meaning to the fact that they've all burned the wrong breast off, or if it's just a pointless inaccuracy meant to drive people like me crazy). And being vastly outnumbered by women doesn’t really make Yorick throwing around feminine-specific slurs all that much more palatable, even if it’s setting-appropriate.
I don’t know, maybe I’m white-knighting too much. I just think that there is the potential for some exciting, intelligent stories, here, and it is being ignored in favor doing something easier. Oh well. The story is still quite readable, regardless, and is packed with exciting moments. Guerra’s art is vibrant and effective, if sometimes a little loose. The panel layout is conventional, and aids the story just fine. All told, this is a solid comic with an intriguing mystery at its heart: what exactly happened, and how did Yorick and Ampersand survive it? It’s definitely worth reading for comic and graphic novel fans, as long as you can take the gender politics Vaughan plays around with in stride.