Y: The Last Man is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi comic book series written by Brian K Vaughan with penciller Pia Guerra. True to its name, the comic is about Yorick (yes, referencing Hamlet), a 22-year-old male who is the last living being on the planet. Along with him is the most unlikely of survivors, his pet monkey named Ampersand. Yorick is an amateur magician, (though he prefers the term ‘escape artist’) and is eagerly waiting for his girlfriend Beth to get back from a study trip in Australia so that he can propose. But he can’t keep his excitement contained and decides to propose on the phone. Right then, things go apocalyptic. A mysterious illness instantly kills all other beings with a Y chromosome on the planet (an event referred to as gender-cide in the comic). These were the first few pages of the comic and more than enough to tickle my curiosity.
The story is fascinating and the narrative is such that each issue has an episodic feel to it. With every new issue, new characters emerge and things unravel just a tad bit more. The overall story arc is omnipresent because how do you ignore the fact that ‘All Men are Dead’. Nevertheless, the writing tries to give you a break from it every now and then, and hence, it indulges you by offering truly absorbing sub-plots. All of this is so powerful and will compel you to keep going. I was not able to stop myself once I started, and ended up finishing the entire set of 60 issues in 5 days. It is one of those, masterful pieces of storytelling that forces you to read non-stop, but when it finishes, you are angry with yourself because you finished it all so quickly. I guess that is a small price to pay since the reward is truly gratifying and unlike anything else.
The writing throughout the 60 issues is breezy, quirky, funny, and very smart. The story is set in the 21st century and it is appropriately reflected in every aspect of the comic. The characters and the environment go hand-in-hand with the setting and nothing ever seems out of place. I found it to be highly relatable both in terms of style of writing as well as the setting. At the same time, the series surprised me a great deal with its considerable depth. When you look closely, there is so much going on that a single article is not enough to talk about it.
For starters, as a comic book series about the last man on the planet, it is unabashedly feminist and I loved that. Yorick is accompanied by 2 women the entire time - Agent 355 is the secret agent who is protecting humanity’s last hope for revival, and Dr. Mann is the bio-scientist who has the brains to solve the mystery of gender-cide. The fact that the brain and the brawn both are women was just so wonderful to see. These 3 characters are well-etched and do most of the heavy lifting. Their character arcs are beautifully constructed so there is a good chance that you will give your heart away, especially to Yorick and Agent 355. Apart from these 3, there are other interesting characters. Yorick’s sister Hero and the Israeli colonel Alter would be right next to the top 3. Other than the recurring characters, there are some one-issue-wonders like agent 711. She blows the top off with her presence in just a single issue, that’s how badass she is. All this adds so much complexity that I honestly never felt I was reading a comic book. It was so much more than what people limit comics to - escapist, frivolous, and meant for kids. On the contrary, like the best comics and graphic novels, Y: The Last man is Intense, potent, emotional, and fairly profound.
One of my most favorite things about Y: The Last man is the relentless real-world references. There is Shakespeare right upfront as both Yorick and his sister Hero are named after characters from Hamlet and Much Ado about nothing respectively. Other literary references include a comic reference of Preacher by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre. Since Yorick’s character is a bit of a nerd, there are countless pop culture references as well. Elvis is mentioned with regard to his twin brother who died during birth. There are multiple references to Star Wars, with Luke and Leia being mentioned in the most hilarious of comparisons and the film being compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. We also get a host of mentions for women who have kicked some serious ass in films, like Ripley in Alien, Sarah Connor in Terminator, and Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Unfortunately, I can’t go on to mention all the references I caught because that would take ages. Like I said before, a lot is going on in the world of Y: The Last Man.
Y: The Last Man is indeed a lot of fun, but It is not just fun and games. There are strong themes at play which include, suicide, politics of war, racism, religion, childhood trauma, and the biggest of them all, gender inequality. The genderizing of occupations is a hard reality that slices you like a knife. With 50% of the population dying, almost 90% of the key jobs came crashing down because men were employed to do all the important jobs, from the stock market to the armed forces. The knife goes deeper with self-deprecating puns like ‘world is now in the hands of maids, secretaries, and teachers’. Though with men gone, the world has suddenly not become a utopia. This much is made clear by groups like the Daughters of Amazon who believe that earth has gone through cleansing by killing every man. So they destroy everything that symbolizes patriarchy, from sperm-banks and monuments to churches and even transgenders. We also have an Israeli war soldier, Alter Tse'elon, who is after Yorick for reasons which she keeps deflecting till the very end. But she means business, that much is clear, because she does not think twice before killing anyone who gets in her way. This comic tragically makes you realize that some things are far deeper than gender, they are, unfortunately, what makes us human.
In the end, all I will say is this: If you read just one comic book series in your life, it should be Y: The Last Man.
Y: The Last Man was originally published across 60 issues and has multiple collected editions. A 10 volume collection (first 2 issues are available on Kindle Unlimited), a 5 book deluxe edition, a 3 book absolute edition, and an Omnibus, collecting all issues in a single book. There has also been a lot going on about making this into a film and a tv series with multiple production houses showing interest.