|Comic hardcover, 304 pages|
Published 2010 (contents: 2004-05)
Borrowed from the library
Read April 2011
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencillers: Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka
Inker: José Marzán, Jr.
Letterer: Clem Robins
Most of the time when people ask about good comic books for people who don't like comic books, they don't get recommended comic books at all, but graphic novels: things like V for Vendetta, Maus, Persepolis, and other things either by Alan Moore or about ethnic people. Despite my occasional insistence that "graphic novel" is just what snobby people call comics, they really do mean different things. Which someone should tell Stephen King, since his quote "The best graphic novel I've ever read" graces the cover of every volume of this series.
The thing I like about comic books is their serialized nature. The way they come out monthly, it's one of those things that really only comics can do: have stories that range over a month or a few months, but also have threads that run through, characters that drop in and out of the narrative. I just eat that stuff up. It's the whole reason I decided to do this review thing where I'm not just reading comics, but reading comics series. (Does Scott McCloud even talk about this aspect of comics in Understanding Comics? Hmmm...) Praise the pretentious literary allusions in The Sandman all you want, but the reason that series works to well is the masterful way Neil Gaiman draws everything together at the end, building on everything that came before. Those last few stories wouldn't work half so well in isolation.
Anyway, I'm going on this rant (again, I think, because I'm pretty sure I went on it when I reviewed The Absolute Sandman, Volume Three as well) is because Book Three is the volume of Y: The Last Man where things really begin coming together like this. We see Yorick dealing with the repercussions of his actions at the end of Book Two, we get a whole issue about the secret past of Hero, the "Ring of Truth" pays off a number of outstanding story elements but starts new ones, and we even get a little glimpse of what Beth's been up to in Australia.
I think my least favorite part of Y: The Last Man is all the Culper Ring malarkey. Okay, so secret super agents are totally appropriate in a story like this, but why all the secret society mumbo-jumbo? It just feels like it's come out of a completely different genre to the one I'm reading. The stuff about the magic token or whatever doesn't help either. Which is possibly why Vaughan ties it up (does he?) fairly flatly and suddenly here. "That's the single most asinine thing any human being has ever said," Agent 355 says, and I'm inclined to agree. The one thing I don't think Y ever fully succeeds in showing is how extremism can be a refuge for damaged people; both the depiction of the evil Culper people and the Amazons come across a bit too flat.
Most everything else is good. The central story to this volume, "Ring of Truth," hinges too much on those elements to work for me, but all of the other stories are strong. "Tongues of Flame" shows us what happens when a vulnerable Yorick meets another Beth-- as much as I bemoaned his actions here, they really worked. "Girl on Girl," a tale of sea adventure with some surprising character stuff, was the highlight of the volume, putting a new spin on many of the character relationships, and showing yet another of those post-male ideas the series does so well with: the Australian Navy is one of only three nations to let women serve on submarines, so of course it now reigns supreme over the Earth's oceans. There's some good twists here, and it (narrowly) avoids the series's cliché plot, thankfully. This volume sets up some neat new stuff: I'm looking forward to seeing how Vaughan draws together the threads in the second half.