Monday, May 12, 2008

Who is Yorick Brown?

“Comic book, ever the entertainment choice of juvenile delinquents...
...The format has all the advantages of film and none of the drawbacks. It’s the cheapest way to get our unfiltered vision into as many hands as possible... We could create something new, something that challenges our audience at the same time it’s helping them escape. Artists are supposed to hold a mirror up to society, but ours could be a...a fucked-up funhouse mirror!”
- from Y: The Last Man #54 (April 2007)

I am not breaking any news here; I am admittedly late to this party. This is certainly common knowledge to anyone that keeps up with comic books. Y: The Last Man is among the greatest comics of all time. In my opinion it can stand along side Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and pretty much anything else you care to nominate. I might even say it's the best of them all. My friend Rick, who turned me onto the book, compared the thirst for new issues during its recently concluded regular run to heroin addiction, and I've fell into fixing just like everyone before me. 60 issues equals about 1500 pages, and I read them all. In three frantic, euphoric days. Wizard Magazine, comic bible for the last 17 years, recently named the first issue as the best comic released during the magazine's lifetime, suggesting you "dig out your copy of Y #1 and give it to any of your non-comics-reading friends with the simple instructions 'Read this.' We guarantee the first issue won't be their last."

Running from 2002 through this past January, this masterful work by writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Pia Guerra is so many wonderful things at once. It's sci-fi, it's comedy, it's tragedy, it's a road story around the globe, it's romance, it's political and societal commentary. The story revolves around an unemployed 22-year-old English-lit grad and budding escape artist named Yorick Brown, the greatest fictional character for our times, full of smart-ass sarcastic wit, hidden smarts, and endless pop culture references, and of course the most important part - he's the last man on Earth.

One day, every mammal with a Y chromosome on the planet drops dead, except Mr. Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. They are alone together adrift in a world of women. Now every guy always says 'oh, awesome'. Yeah well, if you were the last guy on Earth and were being chased by an angry gang of chicks intent on snuffing out the last remnants of the oppressive patriarchy - or whatever - you wouldn't be so stoked.

The comic ends up developing 4 or 5 concurrent plots at once, and by the time you're in the final 20 issues, that's doubled. The obvious questions - Why did Yorick survive? How will they repopulate? - are combined with emotional human drama as Yorick & Ampersand are joined on their journey by spy/bodyguard Agent 355 and genetic engineer Dr. Alison Mann, asking deeper questions like how does one continue a life after such a global tragedy, or why do men & women really need each other, and of course, how does Yorick get from Brooklyn to the Australian Outback to reunite with his girlfriend? These sixty stories, one-issue fables or parts of larger arcs, will make you ache with joy or deflate with sadness, sometimes both at once. When I finished, I felt small and insignificant in its presence.

I recommend this book, now collected as 10 trade-paperback volumes (#10 is released in June) about as highly as possible. In the end, it's a spectacular piece of fiction, possibly this generation's On The Road - it is indeed that good - though Vaughn is less about revolutionizing prose than he is a slave to his vivid characters and their world. His story was good enough to win him his hero, Buffy/Firefly creator Joss Whedon, as a new colleague and friend, not to mention a position on the writing staff of ABC's Lost (as magnificent a show as this is a comic), and his obvious genius with wrapping up all loose ends of a huge, multi-plotted story bodes well for that show's final two seasons. And of course there's already a movie in development, optioned before the comic was even finished. DJ Caruso (Disturbia) is at work on the first of a planned trilogy to star his go-to star Shia LaBeouf (a pretty good casting choice for Yorick). But the comic is so deep, I don't know if a trilogy is enough; maybe that's just my intense love for this book talking. Regardless, it's not important for now. What is important is everyone getting their hands on Y: The Last Man. Buy it, then lend it to all your friends. That's what I plan to do. Mostly because then I can shut up about how fuckin' good it is.

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