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Y: The Last Man

The high concept of Y: The Last Man is this: a virus, a plague, a mystical occurrence, something unknown but deadly, has killed all the men on the planet but Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand.

What follows is, I'm afraid to say, a bit of a misfire on the high concept. For sixty issues, the last man, accompanied by his monkey, and the two women who join him--one to protect, one to figure out why he was the last--go on a quest to, uh, track down his girlfriend. She was in Australia at the time of the event--in a bikini, because all visitors to Australia wear bikini tops--and now that the world is in ruins, and women are rebuilding everything that has been destroyed, the most important thing for the reader to experience is Yorick's sixty issue quest to find his girlfriend, who you're fairly sure planned to break up with him. As far as marriages of narrative drive and high concept go, this isn't the best combination, and I was originally wary of it because of this, but the first issue of the series was so strong, and Brian K. Vaughan's gift for dialogue so sharp, and Pia Guerra's art so clean, that I was willing to go along, and find where the series ended.

I have, some six or so years later, finished reading the series, with the final volume, Whys and Wherefores.

The mismatch of the quest to find the missing girlfriend and the high concept and its explanation never do gel, I'm afraid. To a degree, Vaughan attempts to side step the latter by saying that no explanation will do, and offering us numerous theories on how it happened, which is actually a fairly effective way of getting around the issue; but what he doesn't manage to do, while putting his characters through the quest that they're on, is engage in the intellectual debate about gender that he sets himself up for at the beginning. Yorick's desire to find his girlfriend is kind of pathetic, and it cause the series to sag, somewhere round the middle, because it's simply not got enough meat to it. Vaughan and Guerra do a good job of exploring their characters, be it Dr. Mann (a poorly named character, unfortunately), 355, or Yorick, and the attention given to them allows the series to keep moving, even when the ninja and eye patches appear. Actually, the ninja isn't too bad, though there is one panel when she sneaks into a house in her ninja outfit that caused me to laugh. At any rate, the pair, along with everyone else involved in the comic, do a fine job keeping everything moving, and it never drops beneath being an acceptable read.

But.

But its attention to these characters, to these narratives, to these details that never fully connect with the high concept, that also stop it from rising above the acceptable.

There are a few moments when the comic does attempt to do this. The Israeli commander, Alter, spends the entire series tracking down Yorick, only to try and kill him, or to die by him, because he's the final man. Her mental instability is shown in previous chapters, but there is an attempt, I think, that the series makes to connect to the power that is given to male figures within the military. The only problem is, however, that Vaughan never truly lays down a proper thematic construction for Alter, and in the end, she becomes the cardboard comic villain, who may indeed decide to wear and cape and tights and tell everyone she wants to destroy the world. When she finally meets Yorick, then, the encounter is one in which I was left unengaged, and uninterested, especially given what had happened previously. Likewise, there are other elements of this thrown in, from Yorick's sister, Hero, being an Amazon, and Dr Mann's plan to grow a clone within herself, none of which ever connect with a strong theme (I would argue, in fact, that as the series develops, it becomes less and less about the gender theme suggested by the high concept, and more about an episodic quest).

That said, I don't want anyone reading this to think that the comic is bad. It's not. I suspect my disappointment from it comes from what I perceive to be a misstep with the high concept, and the sheer opportunities it offered, none of which are taken. Other readers may react differently. But, the comic itself is well done: Vaughan's characterisation is strong, his dialogue always engaging, and Guerra's simple, yet elegant art, serves the series well, and when other artists step in to over, there is always the sense of the series defined look being absent. It's just really a shame that it wasn't more of what I would have liked it to be, being more intelligent, more feminist, more pointed, and with a character motivation that I didn't think so little off.

But that, as they say, is mileage, and it'll vary.

(crossposted)

Comments

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artbroken
Feb. 12th, 2009 07:15 am (UTC)
I'd agree with most of that.
frogworth
Feb. 12th, 2009 07:34 am (UTC)
Yeah, I have to say that's what I always expected it to be, hence I never read it. Oh well.
porphyre
Feb. 12th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
It is, very seriously, because Vaughan got very full of himself, and cut Pia's story input down to pretty much nothing, right where it starts to sag.

(I'm actually going to dinner with her next week, I'll say hi, if you like).
benpeek
Feb. 12th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
i reckon unless they jettisoned the girlfriend storyline, the sag was inevitable... but after the astronauts, there's never anything to equal it.

anyhow, sure, say hi. i don't know her, but random hellos from strangers are dinner are always exciting :)
darkerblogistan
Feb. 12th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
I petered out on Y: The Last Man after reading a few of the graphic novels. It's too much of an uneasy mixture of realism and comic book titless-Amazon ridonkulousness. I think other Vertigo series are better: Preacher, The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, DMZ...
benpeek
Feb. 12th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
yeah, that stuff is okay. i never got into DMZ, since brian wood's socio-poitical stuff for me has never really worked. i did dig DEMO, though.
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