The Last Man is the best hope for the continuation of our species.
I was fresh on the comic scene when I held that first volume. I mean, I’m still fresh by almost all modes of comparison but I was green, garden herbs green. So, I didn’t quite understand how significant an item I was holding. I had done the same thing I assume everyone does these days when they discover a new passion. I had opened up to the public forum that is social media and asked that most ill conceived of questions: “What’s good?”
Of course, the reply was an incongruous torrent of fan-boy rant, drool and vitriol, which left me more confused than before I had asked. There were a few consistent sparks of hope. One name that kept popping up was ‘Y’. “You must read Y.” “Y is the truth.” It continued like this for a while, filling my feed, but by this point I had moved on to an Archer-esque rampage through the work of Bendis and thus it came to pass that it was filed back there with Preacher and Transmetropolitan as holy ground yet untilled.
The story was that of Yorick Brown, the last remaining man on earth after a catastrophe wipes out all the male mammals. Well, all the males with the exception of his pet monkey. Excellent premise, right? I mean, what could be more compelling than the potential extinction of the human race?
Within a month and a half I had all ten volumes, I had also started tracking down other works by Brian K. Vaughan. Saga and Ex Machina started filling up my shelves. Time passed and each new work I’d find I would fall in love with. So recently, when my girlfriend implied that she might be interested in an introduction to comics, I handed her volume 1 of Y. I told her, “You will love this.” And love it she did.
See, to my mind, the problem with accessibility is often a sense of the writer pandering to an audience too inexperienced to know is being spoken down to. Y is accessible in the way that perhaps only an indie, original or creator-owned work can be. It assumes no prior knowledge of a vast unfolding mythology, and asks nothing of its reader but to read and think. The level of enjoyment yielded is equal regardless of prior knowledge of other Vertigo titles or the other excellent work of Brian K. Vaughan. It’s the great icebreaker, and this is so important when diving headfirst into a format so heavily entrenched in folklore. I can completely understand the trepidation that new readers feel upon embarking on this journey.
The language it speaks is also profoundly appropriate. While a work like Transmetropolitan uses a verbose acid to convey not only the protagonist/narrator’s mindset but also as a reflection of the frenetic world that he inhabits. This book asks a question and then keeps it as simple as the answer demands. ‘What if all the men were killed?’ ‘How would the world be changed?’ And importantly, and most impressively, Vaughan doesn’t fall into the Americentric trap of assuming that the response would be the same universally. The exercise becomes a study on the ways in which the countries of the world are different and how each would respond to a post-patriarchal Earth. And finally, instead of the Last Action Hero, muscles glistening in the post-apocalyptic sun, machine-gunning his way across America, a trail of sexually satisfied supermodels left in his wake, Vaughan gives us a funny self-deprecating look at his gender. Yorick is flawed, weak and sensitive, not the hero we asked for, but the one we deserve.
This is why I hold Y up as such an amazing story. When I say The Last Man is the best hope for the continuation of our species, I’m not talking about Yorick Brown and the human race. I’m talking about a beacon for new readers, lost in the fog of the continuously shifting Marvel/DC universes or disillusioned with the old superhero paradigm. In the age of digital media the graphic novel’s survival will come down to continuing to engage a new readership.
So, next time someone you know says ‘I never really understood the appeal of comic books’, hand them Y: The Last Man and tell them “You will love this.” And love it they will.