Vincent S. Moore Presents:
Trying To Understand Y
When it originally came out 7 years ago, I passed on reading Y The Last Man. I don’t know if I was like many others of the time but I recall reading through the first issue and not being impressed by what I read and saw. I put it back on the shelf and walked away.
That shows what little I know about picking good comics.
Here it is years later, the whole serialized graphic novel has ended, the trade paperbacks are selling quite frequently at Comics Ink where I work part time, and I all too often find myself in the position of being asked whether I would recommend Y or not. My standard answer, up to now, has been to say that it sells well and is popular with an unspecified number of customers. That’s usually enough to either convince a potential reader/buyer or not.
Usually they end up buying the first trade and then the rest.
So here I am, in the position of having to sell a graphic novel series I am unfamiliar with.
I decided to fix that somewhat and sat down to read the first volume of Y The Last Man, entitled Unmanned.
Here’s what happened.
By the time I reached the end of the book, I found myself no more convinced that I should read the rest than I did when I simply read the first issue all those years ago.
This despite Brian K. Vaughan’s best efforts as a writer to get me to do so.
For those who want to know, Y The Last Man initially sets up the story of Yorick Brown who, along with the helper monkey he volunteered to train named Ampersand, find themselves to be the only male mammals left alive after a mysterious plague wipes out all the other males all on the same day. I say initially because the real stories are those of the various female characters introduced along the way and how they struggle to put the world back on its feet, some way, somehow. Yorick’s story is a much simpler tale, boiling down to a quest to reunite with his ladylove Beth. In spite of the circumstances in which he finds himself, Yorick is singularly focused on this journey and I will hazard a guess that it is the conflict between his personal quest and what duty he may or may not owe the world that filled out and drove the remainder of the series.
Again, even the vague awareness of this should be enough to keep me reading.
Yet, it simply wasn’t enough.
Yorick, like all too many characters created these days, best fits into the slacker/lovable loser mold. The hope would be that when faced with insurmountable odds and an incredible quest he would grow up into a man. That’s the hope. Since I cheated and jumped ahead to read the final chapter--mostly to spare myself from having to read the rest of the series--I don’t believe that hope was fulfilled. I could be wrong, but that’s what I came away with by the ending.
Even as I read through the first volume, I found myself slowly caring less about what I was reading and moving more into a mode where I looked at the writer’s tools being used to hook and keep readers. On that score, Vaughan did his job admirably.
By setting up Yorick’s quest for Beth, along with the many others--Dr. Mann’s search for a cure and possibly redemption for what she felt was her fault, Agent 355’s duty to protect Yorick as the last surviving male, the rise of the Amazons and their need to eradicate everything associated with men from the world, etc.--Vaughan provides a buffet of motivators that will keep readers guessing and reading all the way down the line. Even how volume 1 ends, with the conflict between Yorick’s quest, Dr. Mann’s research, and 355’s duty acts as a big hook to keep anyone moving forward to the second volume.
Anyone but myself, that is. Even if I didn’t completely buy into the story, I can sometimes continue reading a comic if I like the art. Good art can help an okay story and great art can really help an okay story.
For me, the art by Pia Guerra and José Marzan, Jr. is serviceable and simple. Clean and and free of clutter. Just what a good Vertigo title needs. But it is in many ways very plain and not terribly dynamic. Even the few action scenes feel forced and stiff. The most common expression on any character’s face is a kind of constipated earnestness that, even given the circumstances of the overall story, feels out of place.
Or rather, makes me feel out of place. Which explains why I’m not planning on reading the rest of Y The Last Man.
The only question I’m left with is, what are readers getting out of Y that I’m missing?
Obviously given the amount of acclaim and awards Y has received, it is touted to be one of the best graphic novels to come along in the last decade or so. Going back to my initial point, plenty of people end up buying it and reading it and enjoying it. I’m not foolish enough to believe that everybody should read everything or that everyone will get the same pleasure and points from reading the same works. I just am confused, given that I was mostly disappointed by my reading experience of Y The Last Man volume 1, am I the only one missing the boat?
Although, I don’t think I truly mind missing this boat.
In life, not all mysteries are solved. There can be as many questions left unanswered as are answered.
Y The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra stands as an important achievement, that’s for sure. It takes a lot of work and effort to create such a story.
And it sure does sell.
For me, that’s all I need it to do.
As long as I don’t have to read anymore.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved