I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
This is another one of those instances where I need to begin by noting a mild abuse of the word “youth.” I was into my thirties and honestly struggling with my lingering addiction to comic book fare when Y: The Last Man made its debut from Vertigo Comics, the darker, adult-oriented imprint of DC presided over by editor Karen Berger. As I’ve written before, I picked up a couple issues of the title at a holiday two-for-one sale, enticed in part by the “New Storyline” promise emblazoned on one of the covers. Luckily it was early enough in the run of the series that I was easy to backtrack, especially since the storyline was only new if the loosest sense of the term. Y: The Last Man had chapters rather than story arcs. Everything was clearly a continuation of a major, lengthy plot cooked up by writer Brian K. Vaughan. And once I managed to read the debut issue, it was thrilling in its execution, a beautiful, complex introduction to a clever sci fi tale.
The initial in the title partially refers to the central character, a young man named Yorick Brown. It also refers to the Y chromosome, which is present in every creature killed in a sudden, inexplicable worldwide phenomenon. At the start of the series, Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand, appear to be the only males on the planet who survived the incident, and there’s no apparent explanation as to why. Under the circumstances, it makes sense for Yorick to essentially go into hiding as society shakes free of the patriarchy to start developing a bunch of warring matriarchies. Of course, staying undercover isn’t all that easy.
Vaughan had a strong concept, several sharply conceived characters, a multi-layered story, and a way with a cliffhanger. Issues often ended with inspired hooks, meant to keep helplessly drawing the reader back for more. Vaughan’s tactics certainly worked on me. Though a part of me was toying with the prospect of being done with these colorful adventures altogether, I was committed to seeing through what Vaughan created. And I appreciated the sense of humor he brought to the title, especially when it happened to coincide with my own viewpoints.
That scene involves Yorick reuniting with his mother, a U.S. Congresswoman who is trying to hold together the American government in the face of chaos reigning outside. That encounter brings Yorick into contact with a character who was one of the key supporting players in the series. Arguably the most interesting character in the series, Agent 355 is a special agent who is assigned to protect Yorick on his journeys. He wants to seek out his girlfriend, Beth, who was in Australia when the strange attack happened and has been out of communication ever since.
The more pressing destination is Boston, where Yorick is meant to connect with Dr. Allison Mann, a geneticist with the expertise to potentially unlock why he alone survived. As this is happening, Vaughan is also laying out a multitude of other threads, involving, among others, Israeli agents and an insurgent group of modern-day warrior women who call themselves Daughters of the Amazon. This is all happening within the first few issues, a sort of rebuke to the growing trend of decompression in comics with storylines that inch along at an agonizingly slow pace. Y: The Last Man was packed. Despite the abundance of material, it never felt like clutter. There was a pronounced sense of vision and mission. At every step, Vaughan seemed to have a clear sense of where he wanted to go.
The clarity was further emphasized by the artwork of Pia Guerra, the predominant artist on the series, fill-ins from guest pencillers proving fairly rare. It was clean, vivid, and interesting without being abstracted or fussy. With a big, bustling cast, Guerra was able to make every last character distinctive, usually without relying on blatant signifiers. Like Vaughan, she had a gift for world-building. Presumably she was in high demand after this series, but she’s barely been connected to comics ever since Y: The Last Man ended, indicating in a blog post that her enthusiasm for the form had largely drained away. It’s too bad. The pieces that occasionally see the light of day indicate her talent hasn’t dimmed one bit (she would make a dandy contribution to writer Mark Waid’s exceptional Daredevil series, for instance). Maybe it’s as a simple as the dearth of projects that could serve as a worthy follow-up to Y: The Last Man. It’s rough to start with a pinnacle.
Y: The Last Man ran to a perfectly planned endpoint. It was sixty issues in all. It never lagged, and it never pandered to its own success, dragging out bits of story to lucratively insure more issues. It keep me making at least monthly trips to the comic shop. And it was always worth it.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne