It began, quite literally, with a bang. In a mere 32 pages, the first issue of Y: The Last Man introduced us to a world that's exactly like ours, except for one thing: All the men are dead.
It isn't pretty: With neither warning nor explanation, every mammalian male on Earth starts choking and wheezing, with blood spurting from their eyes and mouths before they collapse. Instantly, the floor of the Tokyo Stock Exchange is littered with bodies. Alarms sound at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant. Planes hurtle from skies, freeways screech to a standstill, and the West Bank falls silent. Suddenly, women everywhere find themselves alone. "All of the men are dead," one woman notes, in calm contrast to the gun she's holding to her temple.
They're all dead, that is, except for one dude. Twentysomething Yorick Brown is the kind of guy who has a useless English degree, action figures littering his apartment, and a rebellious pet monkey named Ampersand. Yorick's hobby is magic, his diet largely consists of ramen, and, bewilderingly, he and Ampersand are the world's only surviving mammals with Y chromosomes.
More than five years later, the story of Yorick, his testosterone-deprived world, and the women who have inherited it is coming to an end. On Wednesday, January 30, the 60th and final issue of Y: The Last Man will go on sale in comic book shops everywhere, bringing a poignant, bittersweet conclusion to one of the most important and enjoyable comics in recent history.
"There have definitely been moments where it's been really sad. I like these characters so much, and it's been such a privilege to get to enter their world. But there've also been times where I've thought, 'Holy shit, I cannot wait to get rid of these people,'" Y's award-winning writer, Brian K. Vaughan, says when I ask him what it's like to have finished Y. Vaughan is affable, open, and self-deprecating—talking to him, you'd never guess he's one of the biggest names in comics, or that he moonlights as a writer on Lost. "It's just been so hard. I mean, it's not hard like working in a coalmine—it's an easy job to write comics—but every month, no matter what, having to [put out the book] can be frustrating sometimes. So right now, it's still a tie between relief and deep melancholy."
Fair enough. With Y, Vaughan has balanced an ambitious story, a diverse cast of characters, and solid doses of pop adventure and smarty-pants philosophy. It's hard to imagine anyone not welcoming a chance to catch their breath after Yorick's journey.
Luckily, Yorick's had a few companions to keep him company—most notably Agent 355, a badass government agent, and Allison Mann, a doctor determined to learn why the naïve Yorick and his shit-flinging monkey are—talk about insult to injury—Earth's only males. In 60 issues, Vaughan's characters have found their way around the world, discovering the expected and unexpected: The Washington Monument is turned into an ad hoc mass tombstone; fanatical feminists destroy sperm banks to ensure the gendercide is total; a remorseless ninja monkey-naps Ampersand. Also: astronauts, S&M, crazed Israeli soldiers, survivor guilt, romance (of both the homo and hetero varieties), heroin-smugglin' pirates, and sure, why not, a robotic gigolo. Somehow, all of it has worked—and not only for comic book fanboys.
IT'S LIKE IF HERPES WAS A BOOK!
"We really wanted it to be a book that you could give to your significant other," Vaughn says, remembering what he and Y's co-creator, artist Pia Guerra, set out to create. "I knew it was working at the first convention, when guys would drag their girlfriends along and say, 'Thank you. This is the first book I've been able to give my girlfriend.' But then we knew it really worked a couple years after that, when women would come up with their boyfriends and say, 'This is the first comic I've been able to give him!' I always quote Neil Gaiman, who said that Sandman traveled like a venereal disease through relationships: that guys would give it to their girlfriends, they would break up, the girlfriend would give it to the next guy... we wanted to do something similar."
Which is, frankly, exactly what happens with the book: I got Y via my ex, and I've since passed it on to pretty much everyone I know, sometimes subtly ("Sure, you can borrow it, if you want..."), sometimes less so ("I don't give a shit if you 'don't read comics.' Here."). Despite its far-reaching appeal, Y has its share of hot-button issues, from major religions' misogyny to discordant American politics to the ethics of cloning.
"It's always worth doing stuff that most people will hate, if even a couple people love it," Vaughan says when I ask about fans' varying reactions to the subjects of Y. "I have only ever tried to do the book that Pia and I have wanted to do. I think people want to see our visions. Your job is not to give the audience what they want—it's to give them what they never knew they wanted." Vaughan's voice gets a bit quieter, here, but he doesn't back down: "Which just sounds presumptuous and stupid. But I guess I believe it."
OF NINJAS AND PIRATES
Chances are Y's audience never knew they wanted a genre-defying book that'd somehow blend Star Trek references with socio-sexual politics. Y's disparate but graceful mix is echoed in another of Vaughan's books, Ex Machina, about a superhero mayor of New York. "Ex Machina was probably born out of watching the political debates and thinking, 'This would be so much better if someone just had a jetpack!'" Vaughan says. "I guess I have always [balanced] being intellectually curious and just a dumb kid who just wants to see ray guns and ninjas and pirates. It's never been like, 'Oh, I'll be able to sneak in something really smart if I hide it behind pirates and these other trappings!' That's just who I am. I like that balance of both the profound and the profoundly ridiculous."
Now that Y's over, Vaughan has plenty of other gigs lined up: He'll be finishing up Ex Machina, releasing a Wolverine story for Marvel Comics, and working on more graphic novels, following up on the success of Pride of Baghdad, his lauded graphic novel about three lions who escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the US invasion. Once the writers' strike ends, Vaughan plans to return to Lost and continue overseeing prospective film adaptations of Y and Ex Machina. In the meantime, he's not too picky when I ask him how he'd like people to remember Y in the years to come.
"I guess I don't care as long as they are thinking about it," he answers. "I have always loved the people who hated the book just as much, if not more, than the people who loved it. You would have very well-intentioned liberal males writing about how the book was deeply misogynistic, because the men died [and] the women are unable to even get the electricity up and going. And that same month, Ms. magazine would say that we're a feminist masterpiece. I like that. People's interpretations are so much more interesting than my intent. So yeah, I don't care what they think—as long as they are thinking about it, years from now. That would be shocking to me. And thrilling."