It is reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s late 1960s book, The Andromeda Strain (his finest work ever and written long before he decided that big lizards were a sure passport to fame and fortune), and Stephen King’s The Stand, but in terms of its scope and execution, Brian K. Vaughan’s graphic novel series Y: The Last Man (into Vol. 9 and still on, although Vaughan says on his official website www.bkv.tv that the series will end this year) is something else.
The premise of Y: The Last Man is just what the title implies: a mysterious force—hints abound that this has partly to do with genetics and partly with some ancient amulet that doesn’t bode well for men—destroys every creature with a Y chromosome in the world. That means there are no more males left, not among men, not among monkeys, and not in any other species where sex is determined by the Y chromosome (high school biology redux: The 23rd pair of chromosomes in humans, also called sex-determining chromosomes, has an X strand or chromosome and a Y strand in the case of men, and two X chromosomes in the case of women). The comics do not say what happens to earthworms who sort of decide whether they want to be male or female when they meet another of the species and are in the mood.
The Y chromosome explains why the series is called Y: The Last Man.
As it turns out, not all creatures with Y chromosomes are dead: there is a man-boy (or boy-man) whose name is Yorick Brown (again, the Y surfaces) and his pet capuchin monkey, Ampersand, who, it emerges, is the key to the whole affair. Vaughan’s series, ably illustrated by Pia Guerra (yes, it’s a she, one of the few female stars in the comic book firmament), follows the typical fantasy/sci-fi formula of a quest/journey filled with interesting meetings with interesting people. That’s not far removed from the picaresque novels of Henry Fielding that sort of set the rules for modern English fiction.
Anyway, Vaughan (who is a smart young man in his early 30s) peoples his books with a tribe of Amazons, some very angry Jews, Russian and American spies, ninjas, pirates and aborigines (and yes, to answer the original question, the series has its share of lesbians—would you expect anything else from something called The Last Man?).
The action also moves from the US to Australia to Japan to Europe. It’s all very fast, very furious and, sometimes, very funny.
Had The Last Man been a serious book written by, say, serious writers who often cohabit this page along with the freaks who appear in this column, it might have devoted a few dozen pages to describe a world without men. Vaughan and Guerra do it through pictures and without breaking either their or Yorick’s stride. The series doesn’t suffer for that. I’m waiting for Vol. 10 (issue 60) to finish the tale.
Write to Sukumar at email@example.com