The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Retcon Retrospective #1: Y: The Last Man

Written by: The CinCitizens

ImageCC2K comic geeks Joey Davidson and Erik Norris provide us with the very first entry into our Retcon Retrospective series with a point/counter-point discussion of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s phenomenal success, Y: The Last Man.

Y: The Last Man is undeniably one of the best graphic novels to come out in recent history. While everyone who gives it a decent chance to become one of their favorites will almost certainly fall in love, there are points throughout the series that become difficult to agree on. Erik and Joey took it upon themselves to set out on a little he (Joey) said; she (Erik) said adventure into the world of Y: The Last Man and the theories and plot points within it.

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t finished the series, but plan to, stop right now. Virtually everything talked about below will do nothing but ruin your entire experience. If you have partaken in the world of Y, read on…

Joey: Y: The Last Man, after 60 issues… how do you feel?

Erik: I feel entirely satisfied with the conclusion of the series. While I shed a tear turning to the last page due to the fact that I didn’t have anything more to look forward to, I felt all plot threads were tied up nicely in quite the slam-bang extra-sized finale.

Joey: We’ve talked about it before, and I’ll probably take this battle to the grave; no matter how large the final issue is, if it isn’t handled well it becomes pointless. Not to say that Y‘s final issue was anything short of glory, however some would argue (myself included) that a flash forward is nothing more than a cop-out. The series was incredible, probably one of the best I have ever/will ever read, but part of me feels a bit cheated when it comes to the fate of all of the characters. Perhaps it’s because every single detail of their lives (almost) was played out over 59 issues, when it came time for one single issue to close it all up, it feels as if some sort of foot note on the greatest epic of all time…

You know, like, “Oh… and here’s what happens later, in case you care.”

Of course I care!

The issue was nice, but the closure felt, well, like it lacked closure.

Erik: Well this is one point we are going to disagree on in classic Joe/Erik style; I love flash forwards. The way I see it, the journey for the cast of Y: The Last Man ended with issue #59. The entire narrative of the series is concluded there.Image Therefore, it’s only fitting to see issue #60 leap into the future, giving readers vignettes and letting the characters reflect on their experiences in hindsight. In a matter of pages, Vaughan was able to cut to the essence of what made each character tick in their larger world as well hit their core emotional beat within the issue, it was just fantastic.

If the final issue took place right after the events of issue #59, I don’t see as powerful of an emotional response being generated. It’s not until far into the future when Yorick is able to articulate his emotions to someone, showing that he has grown from an immature boy to a bitter man which gets the true motive of this series out in the open. To me, getting this point across was only possible through Yorick reflecting on his experiences, meaning that a flash forward was a must.

Joey: It would be ridiculous for me to sit here and say that the way Vaughan handled the flash forward was anything less than well done…. but flash forwards in general seem to be a weak narrative device. Sure, leaving the series at issue #59 would probably be the best way to receive a ludicrous amount of hate-mail…But in terms of being possibly the most devastating way to end an absolutely riveting series, cutting it off with Yorick absolutely shattered would leave all of the readers feeling the same way. My God, can you imagine how you’d feel if the final issue of such a huge, epic story ended with the central character in such a state as Yorick was in at the end of #59?

I’d be ruined.

I guess my point is with this whole flash forward deal, I don’t like it as a narrative device. Vaughan did fine with it, and it did tie the characters up nicely, but for a series that seemed to push the envelope in all directions, I can’t get over the flash forward as a cliché.

Erik: I whole heartily agree that ending at issue #59 would have shattered my world as much as it did Yorick’s but I guess with what needed to be tied up in a single issue, oversized or not, Vaughan used the vignettes over a backdrop of the future to really leave readers with a great lasting impression of the characters they followed for the last five years.

Moving on, let’s discuss the initial draw of this series. I know when I hand someone the first trade of Y to read I explain it as, “every creature with a Y chromosome drops dead except for one man and his pet monkey.” That’s the series hook, there is no doubt about it, however, this description gives the reader the impression that this series is solely about solving that mystery, which is something I find quite funny in hindsight. What are your thoughts on that, and the plague in general?

Joey: This may seem a bit against what you’ve just said, but for me (if I honestly fess up and admit it) this series is about sex. I know there are plenty of other draws to it, but I think the intrigue that comes with the series is brought on, mainly, not by how they are going to make it through the plague or what caused the plague, but how one man will live through the results. It’s brought up several times throughout the length of the story, but Yorick could possibly be having sex constantly. The draw, and this would never have worked if I didn’t like Yorick on a fundamental level, comes from wondering how Yorick is going to handle these situations.

Face it, the majority of comic readers are male… this isn’t news. But the appeal to the story comes from identification. As being the only human male in the story, we all have a bond with Yorick that we will never be able to get over in the universe of Y: The Last Man.

Assuming you agree, my question then becomes this: Why do females like Y: The Last Man? Image

Erik: Well I agree that Y: The Last Man isn’t a series about the mystery of this “gendercide” but instead how you deal with the rotten apples you are handed. This series is so fascinating because you are following a small group of individuals, mainly just one guy, dealing with the plague instead of a series going over the topic with large, vague brush strokes. Therefore, after about two trade’s worth of issues you aren’t really concerned with the plague anymore, that’s already happened, there isn’t going to be some magical reversal like you see in superhero comics, and thus you have to shift your investment to the characters.

Now to actually answer your question, I guess the main draw for women is that they can actually see what it would be like for them to run the world, because we all know that will never happen! (laughs)

But in all seriousness, I think the series, for following one man’s journey, develops some strong female characters. You have a world completely run by women, and you meet dozens over the course of this journey that are actual human beings, with human strengths and weaknesses, that love and hate, and it’s just great, fully realized characters that give female readers their identification piece, much like men get through Yorick. It also helps that none of them wear tights and capes showing off their asses in every angle. All of which is credited to the phenomenal talent of Pia Guerra who makes women interesting without resorting to just T&A. (laughs)

Joey: Back to the plague in general… I don’t really know exactly how I feel regarding what caused the plague. Every reason for it that is offered up, except for the final one, seems to be nothing more than a wash. I’m sure you’ll poke some holes in this one, but I really can’t see any of the first three theories as viable.

They are, if you need a refresher, as follows:

1) Dr. Mann incurs Wraith of God
2) The Curse on the Amulet
3) Morphic Resonance
4) Culper Ring Chemical Weapon

So we can at least agree, I’m assuming, that you don’t buy into the first two theories. The third may be slightly more viable, but I regard it as crap. The most humanistic theory on the list is the fourth. Nothing else there seems to fit the series. At least with the fourth theory womankind can sit around and say, “We did this…” ‘We’ being humans in general.

Erik: That is where I disagree, I think the third theory, as ridiculous as it might seem, fits the overall tone of the series perfectly. For anyone not aware of what Morphic Resonance is exactly, let me educate you. The theory stems from a British biologist named Rupert Sheldrake claiming that all species share an interlinked brain wave(s) that controls the growth/ evolution of said species. For example, something like 2001: A Space Odyssey has the famous opening sequence with the apes learning to use bones to smash things. Once one ape learns this skill, all of them, telepathically, learn the same trait to keep up with the species and not fall victim to natural selection. Not only is this sort of a cool metaphysical explanation for the series, which I kind of like, something that isn’t 100% explainable by science, but it links back to some sequences that happen during the course of the book. Remember all those dreams Yorick and Beth have? Well something, on a certain level spoke to them revealing the fact that the other was alive. I also enjoy the irony of men, for all their attempts to forward evolution, causing their own extinction.

ImageJoey: Well, if you’re going to believe that Morphic Resonance stuff, at least let me crap all over your parade. What about every other species that loses its Y chromosome? I get it, once mankind was cloned there was no need to have the ability to sexually reproduce, only to have an asexual carrier. Poof, Y chromosomes gone. Great. But monkeys as a species weren’t cloned, rats weren’t cloned, no other species was cloned… so why did they all lose their Y counterparts?

Erik: Rats found a way to live as a species, as evident in later issues… but when it comes to science…. . . . . .

Joey: I’m just going to say this about that… leave the science to the scientists… not the English majors.

Erik: I guess its time to wrap this up, as it’s gotten pretty long. But I think I can speak for both us when I say that Y: The Last Man is a true testament to the graphic novel medium. Whether you come away impressed with the reasoning behind the plague, wowed by the character development, or just like to look at the pretty pictures, there is something for everyone in this series. So thank you Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, for giving comic readers everywhere something to talk about and something to prove the worth of comics.

Agree? Disagree? Let Erik and Joey know!