Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Five) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – the origins of the plague are revealed, and Yorick reunites with Beth. But will they live happily ever after?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

The concluding volume is packed. The highlights are as follows:

  • Dr Allison Mann undergoes surgery at a bioethics institute in order to save her life from internal bleeding caused by a previous miscarriage. There she discovers her father, Dr Matsumori, is actually still alive (making Yorick not the last man on earth).
  • Dr Matsumori reveals he was not attempting to clone himself. Instead, he managed to create clones of his daughter (Ayuko Matsumori aka Dr Mann). It is his belief that the moment he was able to successfully create a female clone, the plague struck (see further detail below in the ‘review’ section). Dr Matsumori is killed by Dr Mann in order to protect Yorick.
  • Dr Mann and Rose stay in China while Yorick and Agent 355 move on to Paris to find Beth. Yorick keeps having dreams about a decaying Beth telling him not to come find her. These dreams are a subconscious red flag, but Yorick ignores them. It is also clear that after four years of being together, and the countless times Agent 355 and Yorick have had each other’s backs, that the pair have feelings for each other. But Yorick has made a commitment to Beth (proposing to her prior to the plague) and is determined to find her.
  • Hero (Yorick’s sister), Beth II (the second Beth who seduced Yorick in Cooksfield, California), Beth II’s child (who is also called ‘Beth’… I kid you not… and is Yorick’s daughter), the female astronaut Ciba and her son, and the Russian agent Natalya journey to Paris also to find Yorick.
  • Alter is also converging on Paris to find Yorick. The reason she gives to her soldiers is that they need to secure the last man for Israel (to ensure its future). In reality, she wants to die a soldier’s death and be killed by a man (as opposed to a female soldier). Her reasons for this are explained below.
  • Agent 355 locates Beth and organises for her and Yorick to reunite. Her ‘mission’ complete, Agent 355 slips away unnoticed (burying her feelings for Yorick) and deciding to live a life as a civilian.
  • Yorick and Beth are initially happy and spend a night in a hotel. However, when they start talking, the past and Yorick’s dreams come to the fore. Beth wants to discard everything that has happened in the past, but Yorick argues that the past is important. He asks her what she was going to tell him over the phone the day he proposed to her (the phone line cut out when the plague hit, so Yorick never heard her response). Beth confesses she was going to break up with him and tries unsuccessfully to convince Yorick that she has changed and does want to marry. When Yorick leaves to think things over, Beth is left waiting. Hero and company arrive, and when Beth II and baby Beth meets Beth, a lot of confusion occurs.
  • Yorick spends the whole night thinking and eventually hunts down Agent 355. There he confesses his feelings to her, and she acknowledges she feels the same way but says it’s a mistake and that he should try to work things out with Beth. It is then he reveals the vision he saw during his suicide intervention in Colorado with Agent 711 (refer book two review). The vision was of Agent 355 wrapped in the green scarf she has been knitting for years (and that she actually gave to Yorick as a parting gift). After more conversation, Yorick convinces Agent 355 that they should be together.
  • Agent 355 finally whispers her real name in Yorick’s ear, and they appear that they will move forward hand-in-hand. However, the moment is short lived as Alter shoots Agent 355 in the head with a sniper rifle.
  • Alter confronts Yorick. In the ensuing melee, Yorick manages to get Alter’s gun. Alter tries to convince Yorick that the cause of the plague was actually the Culper Ring (which Agent 355 worked for) and that the American government had developed a chemical weapon that was used against China that was meant to make all the women unable to conceive boys but instead it wiped out 99.99% of all men instead. Yorick doesn’t believe her. Alter then reveals she is responsible for assassinating Yorick’s mother. She yells at Yorick for him to pull the trigger, and he realises that what Alter wants is to commit suicide (just as he did before his intervention in Colorado by Agent 711), but she wants to do it as a soldier killed by a man. Yorick cuffs her instead, brings her outside where Alter’s soldiers are waiting, throws her on the ground in front of them, drops the gun and walks away.
  • The epilogue reveals a number of things detailed in the ‘review’ section.

I told you the final volume was packed.

Review

The conclusion to Y: The Last Man does not disappoint. The sense of devastation when Agent 355 was shot hit me like a sledge hammer. Both the art and script were brilliant throughout, but the scenes leading up to Yorick finally finding Beth, their subsequent fall-out, and Yorick and Agent 355 coming together were by far the most impactful.

There would be no happy ending for Yorick.

While it is an amazing accomplishment the body of work Vaughan, Guerra and Marzan have generated, there are some bits that didn’t quite work for me.

The first is the revelation that Dr Matsumori is alive. Everything works up to a point. The doctor reveals that he successfully cloned his daughter a number of times. And when he heard that his ‘original’ daughter, Dr Allison Mann, was close to creating a clone, he wanted to sabotage her by sending Ampersand with a serum in his body that would infect and kill Allison’s unborn child. Through chances of fate, Ampersand got mixed up with another monkey and ended up in Yorick’s hands. Further, the serum that Dr Matsumori injected into Ampersand turned out to shield both monkey and Yorick from the plague. This same serum protected Matsumori. However, he then goes into this theory about morphic resonance and that’s where things go a tad sideways.

Morphic resonance is a pseudoscience described in this volume as the “socio-biological interconnectedness of species”. An example is monkeys on one island learning to wash their food, and the practice spread to another tribe of monkeys on another island that have never interacted with the first group of monkeys. Morphic resonance is the idea of almost spontaneous transmission of data at a genetic level. Matsumori posits that as soon as the first female clone was born, men no longer served any use, so Mother Nature (through morphic resonance) wiped out everyone with a Y-chromosome. By all intents, Dr Matsumori was mentally ill at this point and intended to complete the evolution by killing Yorick and then himself. It kind of works up to the morphic resonance bit. Then it’s up to the reader as to whether you believe it’s true (or even possible).

This truth is further debated based on Alter revealing later that she found government documents that showed the plague was caused by a chemical agent released in China (i.e., it had nothing to do with morphic resonance). This ambiguity is intentional by Vaughan et al. And you, the reader, are left to form your own conclusions.

The second thing that didn’t quite work for me is Alter’s true intentions. The wanting to commit suicide but doing it by having a man kill her like a soldier was quite the twist. All along you believe her mission to secure Yorick as the last man for Israel and protect him from other countries is her only objective. But really her motives are entirely selfish, which feels like quite a swing in her character. The amount of collateral damage she inflicts through all five volumes to reach the point where Yorick is holding a gun at her is extensive. Alter did not hesitate to kill those women closest to her (that have served her faithfully) and manipulating events to convince her soldiers to continue to follow her. All so that she could have a man shoot her? I don’t know, I’ve gone over the pages a number of times now and I’m not sure it works.

The third nugget is Yorick’s reaction to the revelation that Beth had intended to break up with him when he proposed. It is not the revelation itself that is unbelievable. It is more Yorick’s reaction. Beth explains that at the time, they were moving in opposite directions. This was true. She was working to be an Anthropolgist and had a clear purpose, while Yorick seemed to be sailing along listlessly working to be an escape artist/magician. She then goes on to say, however, that he has now completely changed since the plague struck. He has grown, and she believed he was still alive even though all evidence showed that the plague wiped out every male.

Yorick focuses on the fact that she was going to dump him, rather than everything she says afterwards. He’s hurt and devastated, which is understandable. But for him, to just let it all go to find Agent 355 was a struggle for me to believe. I have nothing against him and Agent 355 coming together. It was simply the transition felt hurried. And let us not forget that Yorick is far from flawless (recall he got Beth II pregnant). Yet, he holds on to this fact that Beth intended to break up like that means they’re irreconcilable and that the only reason she now wants to marry him is because he’s the last man on earth.

Lastly, it is never revealed why Beth travelled from Australia to France to find Yorick. The previous volume said that there was meant to be some special meaning between Beth and Yorick about Paris even though Yorick, himself, didn’t know what that significance was. This little plot hole was left unexplained.

Others may view the above as nit-picking. And truth be told, none of the above sways me from saying this was one of the best graphic novels series I have ever read. Y: The Last Man is a must read for fans of dystopian fiction. Intelligent, thought-provoking and killer art.

5 out of 5.

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