11 May 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: Y: The Last Man, Part I: Y: The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition, Book One

Y: The Last Man is one of those series that I actually had in mind when I decided to embark on Faster than a DC Bullet. It's not superhero, it's not even DC universe, but it's one of those comics that people who don't read comics feel okay reading, and I'd heard good things, so I decided to give it a try:

Comic hardcover, 246 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2002-03)

Borrowed from the library
Read April 2011
Y: The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition, Book One

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciller: Pia Guerra
Inker: José Marzán, Jr.

Colorist: Pamela Rambo
Letterer: Clem Robins

The first issue of Y: The Last Man is a nice piece of comics writing, and one of those things I think you could only do in comics-- or at the very least, it works really well in comics. We open with a women freaking out that something's wrong with her sons when she runs into a cop. But the cop isn't listening to her. "It's the men..." she says as she raises a gun to her head. "All of the men are dead." Such is the premise of Y: The Last Man. Some unknown factor has killed every mammal with a Y chromosome on the Earth, all at once.

As comics like to do (this was done really well in the first issue of Identity Crisis), the comics moves to "Twenty-Nine Minutes Ago." A guy named Yorick is hanging from his ceiling in a straitjacket in New York, talking to his girlfriend Beth in Australia. Beth is skinny, blond, and wears short-shorts and a bikini as she frolics in the Outback. She's maybe the one weak spot here-- she just doesn't have any depth as a character, and though this issue tries to explain to you how important she is to Yorick, it doesn't quit hit home. But anyway, this conversation is interrupted by a call from Yorick's mother, who wants to know if he got a job he interviewed for. (The caption tells us that it's still Brooklyn and it's still twenty-nine minutes ago. This is wrong.) They have a brief conversation, but when the conversation's over, we stay with Yorick's mom, who is a congresswoman. (From Ohio!) She's arguing with her party leader.

We go back to Yorick, who's explaining to his girlfriend that he's raising a monkey named Ampersand. Said monkey turns on the TV, which is showing a report about military action in the West Back. Suddenly we're in the West Bank, too ("Eighteen Minutes Ago"), following an Israeli woman soldier talking to the TV reporter.

Then, back to Yorick and Beth for a page. Then we're in Jordan (no nice transition this time, but it is "Thirteen Minutes Ago"), watching a black woman called "Agent 355" take an amulet from another woman just as she is shot.

Then back to Yorick and Beth again. Beth says, "Before you say anything, there's... there's something I should tell you." "I'm having a baby," picks up an Asian-American doctor in a hospital in Boston ("Seven Minutes Ago"). She's cloned herself... and is having her own baby.

"We can't do this here," says the physician helping her, and then we're in an ambulance, also in Boston, where Yorick's sister Hero is having sex with a man when she's interrupted by a phone call from their mother.

Back to Yorick and Beth again. "Five Seconds Ago." He proposes.

"Four Seconds Ago." His mother talks to her aide.

"Three Seconds Ago." The TV reporter begins to ask the female solider out.

"Two Seconds Ago." Agent 355 makes her escape in a helicopter.

"One Second Ago." The birth is going wrong.

"NOW." All of the men on the previous page drop dead, blood coming out of their eyes and mouth. We cut across the world: Tokyo, the Vatican, Idaho, Amsterdam, Sao Paulo, Johnson Space Center, Leningrad, Kenya. Every man is dead. Lots of quick transitions. Then, back to that cop.

"All of the men are dead." BANG.

Yorick hears the shot from her gun. "Hello?" he asks. End of issue.

Okay, that was a lot, but I really liked it. The structure, moving from the conversation of Yorick and Beth into each side story, usually semi-linked, worked. A large cast is introduced quickly, and we get to see a wide range of effects from the "gendercide" in a short time.

No other issue in this volume does anything like that again, but I suppose it's best to sparing with your clever structures in writing. (Steven Moffat never really learned this in Coupling.) The rest of the first story, "Unmanned" picks up two months later, as Yorick has learned that he and Ampersand are the only mammals (or near as much) left alive. They make their way to Washington, D.C. amidst a strange new world, and thence back to Boston in the company of Agent 355, where they hope to find Dr. Mann, the doctor working on cloning. There's not really an overarching plot, just a number of individual incidents: 355 gets the Secretary of Agriculture to be president, Yorick meets his mother and helps fight off crazy wives of Republican congresswomen, Yorick fights Amazons (no, really) next to the Washington Monument, and Yorick and 355 meet up with Dr. Mann just as the Israeli soldier woman burns down Mann's lab. Thus setting up the main plot for the series: Yorick, Agent 355, Dr. Mann, and Ampersand making their way across the country to Mann's other lab in San Francisco, to hopefully find out what protected Yorick-- and maybe even make them immune.

The second story, "Cycles," sees the group falling off a train in Ohio (yay!) and encountering an almost utopian community of women... but all, of course, is not as it seems. Also, the Amazons catch up to them.

Like I said, there's no super-clever structure stuff again, but it is pretty consistently enjoyable. Yorick is a wise-cracking protagonist who makes a lot of pop culture references-- he's right out of a Joss Whedon show-- but he works well enough. Agent 355 is a bit inscrutable, but good for a joke, and Dr. Mann is one of the most beautiful women in comics for reasons I can't quite explain. There's some good laughs, though a few too many moments where people are able to give long important speeches in tense situations. (Which is really only a thing you can pull off in comics, where everyone literally does stay still while someone talks.)

There are a couple problematic bits. For a super-spy, Agent 355 sure does let schmucky old Yorick get the drop on her one too many times. How did she fight America's enemies abroad with reactions like this? And though I understand that things are tight, would you really send only one agent with the last man alive? You'd guard that guy ridiculously! Also I can't decide if I like the angry feminist characters or not.

On the other hand, there are some nice little moments that make the whole thing work. My favorite one here is when Yorick runs into an ex-supermodel. What does she do now? For canned goods, she rounds up men's corpses in a dump truck.

Speaking of which, there's a great text page after the first issue: "Welcome to the UNMANNED World." It lays out just exactly how devastating such a gendercide would be: not just 48% of the world population, but 495 of Fortune 500 CEOs, 99% of landowners, 95% of pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains. Almost no military officers are left. This is the real success of Y: The Last Man, I think. Getting us to reflect on how male-dominated our world still is, despite whatever pretensions we might have to the contrary.

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