60 Last Men: #1

Y: The Last Man is the best comic-book series ever written. Here’s why.

Issue #1: Unmanned
“Y: The Last Man was a 60-issue series written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Pia Guerra for Vertigo comics, starting in 2002 and ending in 2008. The series is one of a number of recent works within the comic-book medium to attempt to redefine the approach that comics take towards the representation of women. Vaughan has several times referred to himself as a “feminist” author, and alongside other contemporary works like Empowered or Vaughan’s other series, Runaways; Y: The Last Man focuses on gender and sexual representation in society. The storyline details a global event which kills off every creature with a Y chromosome, and the struggles that women have in recreating their society in the absence of men. The ‘Last Man’ of the title, however, proves to be Vaughan’s central protagonist, Yorick Brown. It is revealed at the end of the first issue that one man has survived this event, and the story proves to centre around him rather than upon the new female-only society.”

Issue #1 of the series introduces us to most of the important characters, flashing backwards and forwards through time as we see where everybody is positioned before the “event” kicks off and results in the death of every male creature on Earth. Yorick appears for the first time on the second page, trapped by a strait jacket he quickly escapes from whilst talking to his girlfriend – he is an amateur magician, and has just bought it for his new trick. As he escapes, his body gradually forms a ‘Y’ shape, which will prove to be a recurring motif for Vaughan as the series continues. Every cover (typically drawn by either Massimo Carnivale or J.G. Jones) features the shape in some form, to represent the longevity and lasting shadow that the Y Chromosome casts over modern society, even as after being wiped out. Yorick is a quick-talking, impulsive, romantic type of protagonist, often playing to his own worst demons as he tries to resist his future and ignore the reality of the broken society which surrounds him.

In Israel, an unnamed woman leads a group of reporters through a war-torn area, attempting to qualm an uprising. Her parents had three children, but only she survived – so by tradition, her name has never been spoken aloud. She calls herself Alter, in lieu of her true name. Alter believes that war is the only way to unite people. Through sharing a common cause, people can stop fighting everybody individually and instead group up to fight a rival side. It may not cause unity, but it creates more unity than having everybody fight for themselves. Another woman without a name, a secret agent who has the codename of “355”, enters a house in Jordan, looking for a diplomat. Or rather, a relic of some kind which the diplomat has hanging round her neck. Before we are told what the relevance of the relic is, the diplomat is shot and 355 has to shoot her way to safety.

A woman admits herself into a hospital in Boston, with her baby coming prematurely. She takes the attending to one side and advises him that she’ll need a private room and a lot of medical attention, because this baby doesn’t have a father – she’s going to give birth to the first cloned child in existence. She is Doctor Mann, and she’s about to break the established idea about male/female procreation. Which, outside in the parking lot, is going on even as she speaks, as Yorick’s sister Hero and her boyfriend have some fun in an ambulance. He’s a fireman, she’s an EMT. He is by no means the fire member of the fire department to spend some time in her ambulance.

While we see brief snippets from all these different women, Yorick talks to his girlfriend over the phone. She’s on placement in Australia, while he’s in his New York apartment. They seem pretty content with each other, if a little disappointed in the nature of their long-distance relationship. But, Yorick has a plan. He’s going to push himself into adulthood by becoming responsible and typical. He’s volunteered to look after a monkey, with the intention of training it up so it can assist in a hospice or care home. On top of that, he has an engagement ring.

The issue cuts everything off as Dr Mann gives birth, 355 flies the relic out of Jordan, and Yorick proposes. At that very moment, every male on Earth starts to cough up blood before collapsing, dead. Not just humans, but animals too. Planes crash as the pilots die, the stock exchange becomes a mass grave, and a nun stands over the dead body of a Priest. All the men are dead. Apart from Yorick. His phone cuts out just as he hears the sound of a woman outside committing suicide, unable to cope with the idea of losing her husband, father, sons.

And that’s where issue #1 ends. Over the next 60 weeks, I’m going to look into the series in hopefully as much depth as has ever been done. I’ll be looking at the context and subtext or the story, the impulses and desires of the characters, and the questions that Vaughan raises about society in general. Not just that, but I’ll also be investigating the way the story is structured, from the time-jumping narrative to the way artist Pia Guerra organises each page. What are the motifs and ideas behind the series? Is it a feminist work, which progresses the discussion about gender within comics? Or does it fail to live up to its premise? One issue a week, I’ll try to get into the heart of Y: The Last Man, and make sense of it all. Wish me luck!

59 more weeks to go.

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