Welcome to the second East of Gotham. Even though I’m beginning late, I’ve got an in depth review of a very good trades for you this week. We have Y the Last Man: Unmanned, a Vertigo title by Brian K. Vaughan. Hope you enjoy the review; let’s see how you’d enjoy the trade.
Y the Last Man: Unmanned– The very first Y collection is one of the strongest. The high concept here is that Yorick Brown, our lovable protagonist, is the last man left alive after all the rest have died for unspecified reasons. The very first issue of the trade (and the series) is a countdown to the unspecified event that killed the male portion of the populace, be they human or animal. This countdown works well for two main reasons.
1. The countdown focuses on Yorick’s family and future supporting cast, not an unrelated series of events. This allows the new reader a quick glimpse into the characters of these people before their lives are touched by tragedy. This is the starting point for these characters so as a reader we can determine if we care enough to stick it out with them. Stephen King’s The Stand allows similar glimpses into characters lives before tragedy, taking far longer to get to the point. I much prefer this way. The background isn’t the story and doesn’t need to do more than make its point and move on.
2. The ending isn’t a surprise and is shown at the beginning. Hell, anyone picking up the book surely heard the premise. The countdown doesn’t rely on that surprise to work and is the better for it. The countdown instead concentrates on interesting snapshots, while building a sense of inevitable dread. The money isn’t in the guy behind the door with the axe. The money is in setting it up as a terrible moment. This book gets the suspense right, so the payoff, while not a surprise, works as a result.
The next issue is Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand (another male who miraculously survived) attempting to reach Yorick’s mother, a congresswoman. While attempting to advance the plot, the main purpose of this issue is Yorick’s travels and interactions with various women. The world has changed greatly and Yorick’s attempt to reach his mother causes him to be forced to interact with the new world, allowing the reader a glimpse into what has changed, leaving the reader just as taken aback as our Point-of-View character, Yorick. It’s effective, in a vague distorted mirror-image kind of way, relatable. The meeting with Yorick and his mother seems almost lacking gravity in this insane world, until Yorick finds out for certain that his father died. Letting no time waste, we get some gunfire to keep the pace from slowing too much and cut to a secret agent bringing the first woman in line to succession for the U.S. Presidency to Washington D.C.
The third issue in the trade kind of falls short of the first two. The first does everything right and the second, while quality, is just a small step down due to keeping the pedal to the floor, so to speak, instead of allowing the characters the emotional hook they needed. Well, the third issue goes a bit off the rails spending half the issue dealing with gun toting Republican women who want their dead husband’s seat in the government. Personal politics aside, this is just heavy handed and really could have been done without. The issue, however isn’t a total loss. It introduces Agent 355, a major supporting character tasked with protecting Yorick because he’s the last man. This issue also gives Yorick his first mission and a bit more characterization. Yorick is to find Dr. Mann, a geneticist who might help explain everything (were the series not to be an ongoing anyway) and while he will do this, his heart is with finding his lover Beth who is in Australia and he planned to propose to. Both these developments are major and intriguing enough to press on after a rather weak issue. I mean, really, Australia? However will Yorick manage that?
The next issue is back on track perfectly. Yorick and Agent 355 establish themselves immediately as far stronger personalities when playing off each other and their banter is a joy to read. Yorick is also around someone who doesn’t know his past and we get expository dialogue that is both interesting and unforced, a true rarity. Also of interest is Yorick and a random woman realizing all the important musicians who have passed. This small touch really impresses upon the reader and the characters in a personal way what was lost. All men die is a high concept, but it’s almost too big to feel. The personal touch of dead musicians, people who touch us all in unique ways, is brilliant. Never one for talk without payoff, this book also makes the Amazons, women who cut off one breast and hate and blame men for the tragedy, into important characters. After Yorick survives a confrontation with them, we get the revelation that unbeknownst to our main cast, Yorick’s sister, Hero has become an Amazon.
The next issue we see Yorick and 355 searching for Dr. Mann and Hero, who was conveniently in the same area as Dr. Mann at the time of the plague. This segues into us seeing Hero lose herself as an Amazon, killing an innocent woman. This is a powerful scene and Hero’s brainwashing seems to work as more than a simple plot device. The logic used by Hero’s superior is convincing, especially given the state of the world, and with the weakened people looking for a leader, the Amazon’s provide a promising strength. We meet Dr. Mann mid-issue. She has given up cloning and because she attempted to make a clone of herself, blames herself for the loss of men. Yorick’s arrival and the arrival of Ampersand confuse Dr. Mann into making her willing to do tests on cloning since two males as an anomaly that must be explained. Before any tests can be done, Ampersand runs away. By the time the monkey is found, the lab has been bombed and our trio and their monkey must go to an alternate site in California, which will be the next stage of our journey, in book two.
Ultimately Y the Last Man takes a high concept and runs with it. The concept is supported by a strong cast with well developed personalities who react appropriately to the tragedies surrounding them and each other. The involvement of Yorick’s family in such perfect positions to aid the plot is a bit annoying, but if that can be accepted, the strong concept and character work make this book a must read.
Final Score: B