This article was originally published to The Edge on 12th February 2016
There’s a lot of dystopian fiction in the world. Some of it focuses on the youth replacing, or being used by, the old. Then there are the post-apocalyptic scenarios where everything resets, especially societal norms. There’s even unease and heady dystopian elements in the modern world. Everywhere you look, especially on the internet, there are political, racial, and gender-based conflicts and inequalities.
What if we could make it all go away? Or if we could make half of the problem-causers go away? Would humanity be left with a better half? Or are some things just too deeply set into our species to be easily removed?
In Y: The Last Man, writer Brian K.Vaughan, along with artists Pia Guerra and Jose Marzán Jr., tackle these questions in a blindingly fresh and intelligent comic-series. The story follows Yorick and his pet capuchin Ampersand, survivors of a plague that has wiped out half of the planet’s human and animal population. In the very early issues of the series, Yorick makes his way from his home in New York to Washington D.C. There, he joins the ultra-badass Agent 355 of the Culper Ring – a secret organisation originally formed by George Washington, dedicated to protecting America’s interests – in search of an explanation for the plague. Along the way, they meet Dr. Alison Mann, a pioneering and very cold bioengineer that believes she helped cause the plague. Together, they set out across the U.S. in search of answers, encountering marauders, republicans, and many groups of people with secrets to hide. Oh and by the way, every one of them is a woman. Remember that plague? It killed every man on the planet, except for Yorick.
And to put it bluntly, he’s pretty useless. Yorick’s an escape artist, with a minor in stage magic and a college diploma in Literature. His heart’s in the right place, but he all too often isn’t. As he often bemoans, out of all the men to have survived, why did it have to be him?
Vaughan’s series is astonishing for the sheer pacing and creativity alone. If you pick up the (admittedly pricey) first volume, you’ll likely be hooked within a page. The opening issue is a horribly tense countdown over the last half an hour prior to the sudden worldwide “gendercide“. It sets up loads of characters, who become key players over the first few arcs of the series, and make frequent appearances later on. The rest of that first volume is able to match it for its pacing and goes one better with plenty of meaty moralising. Debates about the best way to reform government, and the very question of “who killed the world?” play key parts early on, before the series settles into it’s road movie-esque tale. When it does, the stories and surprises keep coming. This is a beautiful and challenging series, with some of the most likeable and diverse characters around.
Y: The Last Man (2002), by Brian K.Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Jose Marzán Jr. is published by Vertigo.