Y: The Last Man, by Brian Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr.

156534Y: The Last Man is a ten volume series and one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. Created by Brian Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, this series begins with a plague that inexplicably kills everything with a Y chromosome except for Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey, Ampersand. As the series progresses, Yorick and his unwilling allies–a mysterious government agent and a geneticist, both with very small reserves of patience–try to find out what caused the gendercide, find a cure, and track down Yorick’s lost fiancé.

Meanwhile, they have to contend with dwindling food reserves, whacked out Amazons (who think the plague was a good thing), and AWOL Israeli soldiers who were tipped off to the existence of the last males. Throughout the series, Vaughan, et. al. keep the the pressure on. Every time it seems like Yorick’s team finds a safe haven, something happens to keep them on the road. Y: The Last Man is a great apocalyptic road movie, but without (most of) the Mad Max stuff.

Over the course of the first volumes, Yorick and his team travel across the United States, then travel abroad to Australia, Japan, China, Russia, and France. Each volume is built around a smaller adventure, including rescuing stranded astronauts or dealing with the widows of a state militia, that builds into the bigger story. And, along the way, we get to see what might happen in a world without men. Turns out, women aren’t much better without men than we are with men. There’s war and violence and theft. It’s far from a utopia. If nothing else, men and women have in common the fact that we’re both human.

Graphic novels have been gaining mainstream acceptance for a while now, ever since books like Maus and Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. I think Y is part of that. Even though there are more pictures that words, Y is a nuanced story. It’s not filled with fist fights and inexplicable origin stories. Rather, the characters are strong and well developed and utterly believable. It’s engagingly told, too. I was hooked from the first page. Because it’s a graphic novel, it’s almost cinematic, complete with flashbacks for the principle characters and the odd explosion. It’s also a fast read. One of the great things about the format is that the scene setting stuff–which can really bog down a book if not done well–is taken care of by the images. The plot is handled by the dialogue and the action and it’s up to the reader to interpret everything, since there’s no text to explain the implications of what’s said and done. I love that.

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