Pop culture blind spots. We’ve all got them, but some are more glaring than others, and thus more embarrassing to admit. Which is why I know I should just be quietly reading Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s seminal 2002/3 comic series, Y: The Last Man, and not publishing my profession of such a glaring oversight. Alas, I finally just deep dove into the epic yarn, and it’s just too damn good not to share with you, my friends.
“In 2002, a mysterious plague wiped out the more brutish half of the mammalian population, leaving the females facing the prospects of being the last generation of life on Earth. And leaving Yorick, who had been previously oblivious to the world’s pressing needs, hugely responsible for helping to keep it populated post apocalypse.”
Y: The Last Man tells the story of Yorick Brown, the owner of the last human Y chromosome on Earth. He also owns Ampersand, a pet Capuchin monkey (the organ grinding kind) who is the only other male mammal left on the planet. In 2002, a mysterious plague wiped out the more brutish half of the mammalian population, leaving the females facing the prospects of being the last generation of life on Earth. And leaving Yorick, who had been previously oblivious to the world’s pressing needs, hugely responsible for helping to keep it populated post apocalypse.
But not everyone wants Yorkic to succeed in restoring that old misogynistic way of life, particularly the Daughters of the Amazon, who are militantly against it. Actually, Yorick, one of the most likeable characters you’ll ever meet in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, isn’t exactly up to the task of repopulating the planet either, at least not by mass doinking (which is likely the way most men would handle the situation). No, Yorick’s fiancé-to-be Beth is still presumably alive studying Aboriginals in the Outback Down Under, and the last man on Earth is remaining true to her. And in this world of survivors, all of them women, Yorick is seemingly the least tough of the lot. Those are the types of ironies that Eisner and Hugo Award winning Vaughn (Ex Machina, Runaways, Saga) peppers throughout the always-moving narrative.
So Yorick is an unlikely hero at best, who’s plunged into service as much by his circumstances as by his mother, a U.S. Congresswoman who commissions badass covert Agent 355 to protect her boy. Or perhaps Mom has other, more nefarious reasons as well? Either way, Yorick and 355 eventually track down Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist who recently tried to clone herself, in order to recruit her to help cure the planet using Yorick and his monkey as genetic guinea pigs (since none of those exist any longer). Alas, her laboratory gets firebombed, possibly by the one-tittied Amazons (they cut one off to join the club) including Yorick’s own sister, Hero; or maybe the rogue commandos of the Israeli army did it; or the secret agents of the Culper Ring; or the fallen Culpers of the Sekauket Ring; or perhaps it was a ninja. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it is a major plot point, that forces Yorick, 355, and Doc Mann to traverse the crumbling country in hopes of reaching Mann’s backup lab in San Francisco. And oh what a bitch of a time they have.
So yeah, we’re talking genre here. But if you’re not a comic book fan, a post-apocalypse fan, or even a sci-fi fan, don’t worry about it. This is just great storytelling, from whatever angle you’re reading it. Is it literature? At times, though Yorick’s perfect pop culture references and random facts spattered throughout help to keep us well out of over-seriousness. And the alluring often titillating art serves the story in a way that a novel never could. Indeed, throughout the first 40 or so issues of the 60-issue run (which has since been volumized twice), I’ve been more easily immersed in the story than any novel has ever made me. (And I’m pretty well read, and endowed with more imagination than sense.)
With Y: The Last Man, I’m immediately there, in the revelatory splendor of Vaughn’s vivid mind, on every action and emotion Pia-packed panel. I still have one more volume to go, and I’m craving this story so badly right now, it’s all I can do to finish up this paragraph and get back to reading it…