Y: The Last Man Book Two


By Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & José Marzán with Goran Parlov, Paul Chadwick & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5439-1 (TPB)

Back in 2002, an old, venerable and cherished science fiction concept got a new and pithy updating in the Vertigo comic book Y: The Last Man. These days it’s more relevant than ever as the premise explores the aftermath and consequences of a virulent global plague.

When it killed every male on Earth, only amateur stage magician, escapologist and all-round slacker goof-ball Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand survived in a world suddenly and utterly all girl.

Since his politician mother is high in America’s new government, Yorick is condemned to travel with conflicted government secret agent 355 and maverick geneticist Dr. Allison Mann across the devastated American continent to a Californian bio-lab. Mann secretly believes she caused the patriarchal apocalypse by giving birth to the world’s first parthenogenetic human clone, but all the young man can think of is re-uniting with his girlfriend/fiancée Beth, trapped in Australia since the disaster hit.

The trek is slow, fraught with peril and revelation and one none of the voyagers realise has been dogged with covert intrigue from the start. Hard on their heels is a cult of crazed modern “Daughters of the Amazon” determined to eradicate the Y chromosome entirely from planet Earth as well as a team of Israeli commandos whose commander is determined that the Promised Land will have sons again, no matter what the cost. Tragically, they are not the only special interests hunting Yorick…

This second aggregated volume, collecting issues #11-23 from of the monthly comic book and spanning July 2003-August 2004, begins a progression of shorter tales with ‘One Small Step’ illustrated by co-creator Pia Guerra and colourist Pamela Rambo. As the wanderers gradually make their way across a devastated America to the Left Coast the tale picks up from the previous volume with the eagerly-anticipated arrival of three astronauts who have (probably) avoided plague contamination by the simple expedient of being in space when it struck. Moreover, two of them are hulking great healthy men…

With its re-entry capsule diverted to the plains of Kansas and a handily hidden secret government bio-containment facility, the trekkers ally with Russian agent Natalya Zamyatin who has been ordered to retrieve her nation’s last cosmonaut, but duplicity in the White House sets the Israelis on their trail and more bloodshed results in a pyrrhic victory at best…

Following is a 2-part story illustrated by Concrete creator Paul Chadwick with Rambo. ‘Comedy & Tragedy’ examines the roles of Art and Mass Entertainment on a media-deprived populace in the post-plague world. The drama unfolds as a band of strolling players arrive in prim and proper Northlake, Nebraska and upset the applecart with their radical drama about the last man on Earth. The playwright’s inspiration came after her troupe found an impossibly live male monkey lost in the wilds. In the chaos of first night, when three masked strangers burst in a to reclaim the primate, nobody noticed that a ninja was tracking the newcomers…

Having reached Colorado, the travellers pause in their everyday adventures so the increasingly gung-ho Yorick can get medical care for Ampersand. By his very existence, Yorick is a valuable commodity, so must spend most of his time in some form of drag. Rather than risk his discovery needlessly, 355 leaves him with a conveniently adjacent fellow undercover agent (their particular organisation/sect is called The Culper Ring) whilst she and Dr. Mann scavenge for antibiotics in ‘Safeword’ (with art by Guerra & Zylonol)…

It’s no surprise agent 711 has her own agenda. Yorick wakes up naked, tied to a ceiling and subject to a spooky Dominatrix’s specialist attentions. All is not as it seems, though, and an extended – and adults only! – “interview” provides some valuable, if obscure, glimpses of Yorick’s life before the plague.

By the time it’s all over we’ve been given crucial insight into what keeps Yorick going and been introduced to another enigmatic factor in this saga – the deadly agents of rival agency the Setauket Ring

America is devastated by the plague, but recovery is slower than might be expected. One reason for this is revealed in ‘Widow’s Pass’ (illustrated by Goran Parlov & Zylonol) as the pilgrims reach Queensbrook, Arizona. Following in the bootsteps of their paranoid, survivalist-militia menfolk, a band of traumatised women have blockaded Interstate 40 – the only motorway traversing the broken, isolated halves of the USA – and are starving the country. Believing the Federal Government created the Plague, the “Daughters of Arizona” are retaliating in the only way they know, and as usual Yorick and his companions are soon in the middle of all the trouble…

Ultimately, it’s only brutal, life and character-changing violence that solves the crisis. And once again, the true victims are the innocent bystanders who can’t help but try to help Yorick…

With a stunning cover gallery from J.G. Jones, Aron Wiesenfeld & Massimo Carnevale plus Vaughn’s full script for Y: The Last Man #18, the saga reaches far beyond its clichéd Sci Fi premise in this volume, becoming a smart, ironic and powerful tale to be read on its own terms.

Despite the horrific – and distressingly contemporary – narrative backdrop, Brian K. Vaughn’s tale unfolds at a relatively leisurely pace with plenty of black humour, socio-political commentary and proper lip service paid to the type of society the world would be if abruptly deprived of the majority of its pilots, entrepreneurs, mechanics, labourers, abusers and violent felons, but the action quotient is steadily ramping up. When you ultimately reach top gear, the wait will be worth it…
© 2003, 2004, 2015 Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra. All Rights Reserved.