In the graphic novel Y, at one given moment on a random day - something happens to all males of all species on the planet. They start haemorrhaging blood. Then they drop dead.
On the opening page, a blood splattered woman runs out on the street desperate to help her sick boys. She runs into a female cop on the street. "Its too late" the cop announces. She puts a gun to her head and looks straight at the reader. "All of the men are dead."
Brian K. Vaughn (writer) and Pia Guerra's graphic novel "Y: The Last Man" opened to widespread acclaim in 2003. A few things have happened since then that prompted this post. First, I've read a lot of Vaughn's work and fell in love with most of it. (He's done Ex Machina, Runaways and Pride of Baghdad - reviewed here on the Drift). Second, Y is now available as a hardbound set of collected issues.
Not all males in Y die. Inexplicably a man named Yorick survives along with his male monkey (called Ampersand). But no one knows why the males have dropped dead or why Yorick survived the mandemic.
Being the last man on earth is immediately a bit of a lurid male fantasy. Vaughn does well to address it early and shakes it by the scruff of its neck. But he doesn't entirely abandon the salaciousness of it all. He goes on to address a bunch of practical issues while he's mapping out the story - how does the disappearance of men affect the areas in which they dominate: who runs government, what is the impact on conflicts around the world, how is religion transformed.
Whether you are enamored or not with the story arcs he uses to address these issues - the fact that he grounds his story in these realities keeps you tied to this work. Vaughn uses some other tricks to propel his story - he starts and ends each chapter with a cliffhanger (the intro to this post is a bit of an homage to Vaughn's writing). He keeps the narrative swift by introducing characters rapidly and isn't afraid of leaving them behind just as quickly.
A couple of notes on Pia Guerra's artwork. Pia has to draw lots of characters in this novel - mostly women. She does a stellar job here - differentiating them by facial characteristics (which gives you limited mileage in comics) and hair (much more useful when differentiating characters). But she steps past these well worn techniques to draw women with different body types. Often she gives them a distinct body language.
If anything Pia's sense of drama is muted - often her splash page artwork doesn't quite pop the impact Vaughn might be trying to communicate. In other areas this works well though - avoiding overly dramatic angles and body language makes the novel feel more grounded in reality rather than fantasy.
So what is the fate of Y in this story? A number of engrossing things. Some women are out to save him. Others are out to kill him. In a swell counter take on feminist theory - Yorick get's treated like everyone's property.
In the meantime a space station 220 miles above earth senses something is wrong with home base and decides to return. It carries two men.
Y: The Last Man is published by DC Comics older-audience skewing comics imprint Vertigo and has a total of 60 issues.
D.J. Caruso is developing a movie based on the graphic novel