Forget Rick Grimes. First came the story of Yorick, and he’s the last man on Earth. And, no, the reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is not lost on him. Lauded by Stephen King as “The greatest graphic novel [he’s] ever read,” Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man delivers a fascinating post-apocalyptic story about a mysterious plague that has wiped out every mammal with a Y chromosome—that is, except for Yorick and his Capuchin monkey, named Ampersand. An English major turned performance escape artist, Yorick barely possesses any survivalist skills, and yet he’s humanity’s only hope. Written with a serious tone yet balanced with unique characters you wish you knew, we at Geek Motivation consider Y: The Last Man a must-read for your summer reading. In short, it’s just great writing.
When the plague hits, Yorick is on the phone with his girlfriend, Beth, who is in the Australian Outback. He is in the midst of proposing to her, and the phone-line dies. Fast forward two months later, and Secretary of Agriculture Margaret Valentine becomes the President of the United States in a world of religious and secular groups led by zealots and militant ideologues. Remnants of military branches around the world find new leaders. Women of the Yakuza are led by a Canadian pop singer. When these groups learn of Yorick, some of them believe it’s their job to safeguard him, both for religious and secular reasons; others search for him in their efforts to repopulate and raise a generation of men to replenish armed forces; and some think it’s their solemn duty to ensure the extinction of man. It is a women’s world now, and each group’s goals intersect, clash, and conflict with each other. That’s where Agent 355 and Dr. Allison Mann come in.
With his sole mission being to make it to Australia to reunite with Beth and propose to her, Agent 355 has been hired by President Valentine to ensure Yorick’s safety, and Allison Mann is the international leading geneticist (even before the plague) who came the closest to cloning a human being. Promising to take Yorick to Beth once Dr. Mann can successfully clone Yorick or identify the structure in his DNA that makes him resilient to the plague, the three set off on a journey to save humankind.
Y: The Last Man can be appreciated for its unique, well-written narrative and characters, but more importantly, its uniqueness should be appreciated with the context in which it was written: the story predated and developed many of the post-apocalyptic storytelling tropes we see in contemporary television and graphic novels, including Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.
By the end of Y: The Last Man, you will know these characters, as fellows of “infinite jests, of most excellent fancy.” Vaughan and Guerra’s storytelling capabilities contribute to the Vertigo tradition set by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. You will celebrate the characters’ victories. You will suffer with their defeats. You will laugh. You might cry–at least inside. It’s a story you can revisit again and again.
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