Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's 60-issue Vertigo comic series from the early oughts reads like the greatest TV series never made. This makes a certain amount of sense, as Vaughan has worked in TV to good effect over the years. It's now available in five volumes rather than ten, making it something of a bargain for your summer reading list.
On a normal day in 2002, something happens. Every man on Earth drops dead simultaneously. Along with the men go a wide array of males of other animal species. Even sperm banks are somehow affected, the sperm itself rendered inert.
Well, seemingly every man but one -- 23-year-old Yorick Brown, part-time magician and escape artist, full-time purposeless slacker. And the male capuchin helper monkey he'd just received to train in an attempt to do something positive with his life. He named the monkey Ampersand (&) because he has an enduring interest in grammar and punctuation. He's also an English Lit graduate whose father gave he and his older sister (Hero) names of minor Shakespearean characters.
The 60 issues (or 1300 pages) of Y: The Last Man follow Yorick's picaresque quest to discover the cause of -- and hopefully cure for -- whatever devastated humanity. The pace is brisk, the characters nicely drawn, and Pia Guerra's art on most of the issues is about as clean and straightforward as it gets. This isn't an 'art' book, but Guerra's rendering and panel-to-panel continuity favourably remind me of legendary Superman artist Curt Swan's understated, emotive art from the 1970's and 1980's. Nothing showy, just solid story-telling.
Some of the set-up can seem a bit TV-coy at points, especially Yorick and Hero's names, and the fact that the story couldn't work at all if Yorick's mother wasn't a United States Senator. Vaughan's clever enough to puncture his own set-up at points, however, as Yorick repeatedly muses on the improbabilities of his life.
Yorick's co-protagonists for much of the series are Agent 355, a female agent of a super-secret American spy agency founded by George Washington, and Dr. Alison Mann, a cloning expert who may be able to save humanity's future. Their adventures range from violent confrontations to social parables to the occasional almost-Swiftian observation of one strange new satiric pocket of society or another, from the apocalyptically inclined Amazons to a peaceful community of escaped prisoners.
Y: The Last Man makes any number of gender and social observations while it wends its way from New York to San Francisco to Australia to Japan to China to Russia to France and seemingly everywhere in-between over the course of five narrative years that parallel the five years the title was published. And it's smart enough to make Ampersand a poo-throwing jerk -- the last monkey isn't all that cute and cuddly.
In all, this is fine work -- clever, funny, and often quite moving. And unlike many great comic series, it really seems almost perfect for TV adaptation. Which I'm guessing is why we've never actually seen it adapted. Oh, Hollywood! Highly recommended.