Review by Karl Verhoven
Brian K. Vaughan’s concept here is ambitious. As detailed in the opening chapter, a mysterious plague eradicates every male on the planet, an occurrence that extends to the animal kingdom. The only exceptions are twenty something Yorick Brown and the Capuchin monkey he’s adopted, Ampersand.
The important aspect for maximum enjoyment of Y: The Last Man is to file the questions at the back of your mind, and go with the flow. There are answers, but they’re a long way off, and the plague is just a means to an end. That end is a character study within a world where only women remain. Any concerns about this being written by a man rapidly evaporate as Vaughan throws in idea after idea, from the extreme to the reasonable. An initial focus here is the Daughters of the Amazon. Their leader appears calm and pleasant, but the group’s agenda is the eradication of all male traces.
Vaughan pulls off a commendable stroke in managing to introduce all the women who’ll play ongoing prominent roles in the first chapter, as they go about their business in a world where men still exist. The narrative then jumps six months as Yorick conceals himself on a journey to Washington, the purpose of which is to make contact with his Congresswoman mother.
Yorick is prone to outbursts of outrage, but is generally sound, caring and loyal. A possibly too convenient piece of plotting also sets him up as an amateur escapologist, a hobby utilised throughout the series. Other characters float in and out, but Agent 355 is pretty well constant, and her background also remains concealed for much of the series. Prior to the plague she worked for a covert organisation called the Culper Ring (named after George Washington’s spy network), and apparently still does so. She’s lethal when required, but respects the chain of command. “I have no intention of letting the best hope for our future hitch-hike across the entire planet”, Yorick is told. Agent 355 is assigned to protect Yorick, wherever that may take them. The first stop is to Alison Mann in Boston, now the world’s pre-eminent geneticist, but in order to fully test Yorick they’ll have to head for a lab in California.
Given a script that’s very dependent on talking heads, Pia Guerra imbues it with life by well designed layouts varying the viewpoints. She has initial problems creating a distinct visual identity for the cast, some of whom can only really be identified by hair colour, but this is rapidly rectified. The best aspect of her art is the naturalism. There’s very little exaggeration here, and the cast are immediately credible.
Vertigo wasted little time repackaging the series in hardback volumes. This appeared less than year after the final individual collection, and combines the two graphic novels introducing Y: The Last Man, Unmanned and Cycles. There are some extras, primarily design sketches. Vertigo have more recently been producing paperback versions of the hardbacks, just referred to as Book One onwards.