While comics are growing increasingly accepted in the mainstream as a form of entertainment, there is still a bit of a stigma surrounding the medium. It’s a hard thing to escape for the industry, but every once in a while a book doesn’t just escape it, it becomes something of a pop culture phenomenon. Watchmen is the best example of a comic that transcended the perceived limitations of the medium, and another great example of that is Y the Last Man.
Y the Last Man was co-created by writer Brian K. Vaughan (Lost, Ex-Machina, Runaways) and artist Pia Guerra, and it has recently exploded in popularity, being featured in television shows like Lost and Chuck and bringing in A-list fans like Shia LaBeouf. Why exactly is this comic getting such crazy support and making its way to heights that few comic properties have managed to reach? Quite simply, it’s freaking awesome. In fact, I would say that in my mind that this and Preacher are the two greatest series ever created in the medium.
Amongst the many, many reasons why, the first thing you have to target is the premise, which is something that gave the series limitless potential from the beginning. It is very simple really: what would happen if all of the men on Earth died, and what would you do if you were him? It opens the series up to incredibly interesting studies on many subject matters, including gender roles, the ethics of cloning, sexuality, and many others, all of which add a level of depth to the comic that other similar series simply cannot match. Ultimately though, with all that depth and with the search for the cause of the virtual extinction of men being the apparent driving force, in my mind the story is about the main character Yorick Brown becoming the man he was supposed to be and the journey he takes to become that person.
Brian K. Vaughan does an incredible job constantly juggling the different aspects of the story. Whether he’s pushing the story forward, developing the large cast of characters, building a believable romance between two greatly disaparate characters, adding in social commentary, or simply entertaining us with one of the patented Yorick one-liners, Vaughan shows a deft touch at balancing all aspects of this sprawling 60 issue story. He creates three of the most memorable characters in comic history, with the aforementioned protagonist Yorick Brown, his spectacularly loyal pet capuchin monkey Ampersand, and Yorick’s mysterious and badass protector 355, all of whom you develop intense emotional attachment to in this series (issue 42, titled “1,000 Typewriters,” explores the relationship between Yorick and Ampersand, but through the eyes of Amp and is quite possibly the best issue of the series).
Of course, the story, the characters, and the writing only make up one aspect of the story, and for a comic to really become something special you need great art to go with it. Thank god for Pia Guerra, who was really doing her first major work with this series and was an absolute revelation. While a couple of other artists worked on this series (most notably Goran Sudzuka), Guerra’s work as co-creator, character designer, and primary artist was what gave the series a lot of its flair. Within her incredibly clean lines and tight and realistic designs, you would find little bits of character that was not overtly revealed by Vaughan within his words.
Vaughan’s faith in Guerra is obvious, as in many issues (most notably at the end of the series) you would have pages loaded with panels where it would just be Guerra selling scenes with nothing more than an arm movement here, a facial tic there. To say her work is sublime is underselling it. I would say you should check out this series if only to see her work.
In the 60 issues of this series, I cannot think of a single issue that I would change. I don’t even think I can say that about Preacher, but for this series it is absolutely true. Top to bottom, this is the most consistently enjoyable comic series I’ve ever read. It is infused with pop culture references, hilarious one liners, tragedy, comedy, and basically everything you could possibly want from a comic. This isn’t just a must read for comic fans, this is a must read for everyone. It’s the only comic I would say that about.