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

TL;DR – Yorick reaches Australia after three years since the plague hit. Will he finally find Beth?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

Having arrived in Sydney aboard an Australian submarine, Yorick is determined to find Beth. Though Agent 355 accompanies him and tries to watch his back, he’s found by a reporter who takes a photo of him with all his man bits on display so she can publish the news to the world and win a Pulitzer.

Agent 355 finds the reporter but fails to retrieve the film. Yorick is able to convince her to let the reporter go and allow the photo to be published because it’s a tabloid paper as opposed to a ‘real’ newspaper, and no woman will believe the tabloid photo.

Returning to his search, Yorick discovers that Beth has left for Paris to search for him. Paris is meant to hold some special meaning between the pair, but Yorick has no idea what that might be and why she would journey to France in search of him.

Meanwhile, Ampersand the monkey has arrived in Yokogata and managed to escape from the clutches of Toyota, a Japanese ninja (never thought I’d write a sentence like that…)

Review

Conflicting agendas are the name of the game at the start of book 4 of Y: The Last Man. Agent 355 and Dr Mann want to head to Yokogata to rescue Ampersand. On the other hand, Yorick has finally reached Australia and wants to find Beth. Agent 355 agrees to giving him 24 hours to see what he can find about Beth and her location and then it’s destination Japan.

Though he ends up getting photographed nude and published in a tabloid newspaper, he discovers that Beth has left the Land Down Under for the lights of Paris, which makes absolutely no sense to Yorick.

A lot of threads continue to get tugged as we follow Yorick’s journey. As the reader, we get to jump all around the world and see what is happening to the various people Yorick has interacted with previously. A number of surprises include:

  • The Beth who lives in Cooksfield, California that seduced Yorick is now pregnant with a baby girl. She is visited by Hero and joins her. Together, they head to Kansas to meet up with the Hartle twins.
  • In Washington, Yorick’s mother, Jennifer (aka Secretary Brown) discovers the tabloid and photo of him and realises he is still alive. Unfortunately, she is visited by Alter, the Israeli rebel, and is murdered.
  • More backstory on Agent 355 and how she came to work for the Culper Ring. The surprise being that she ended up killing her teacher, who attempted to assassinate the president after joining the splinter group, Setauket Ring.
  • The origins of Ampersand and his immunity are shown. He was a test monkey and injected with mysterious serum and was meant to be shipped off to Dr Mann’s laboratory. In transit, however, he ended up escaping and getting mixed up with another monkey that was destined for “Helping Hands” (an organisation that trains monkeys to help disable people). When Yorick applied at Helping Hands, he was assigned Ampersand.
  • Alter interrogates the Hartle twins and finds out that Yorick is making his way to Paris. We learn more of Alter’s origins, and there’s small surprise that she joined the army not to seek revenge for her sister’s death (who we thought was killed by Palestinians) but because she believes the world will always have war and operates on bloodshed. We discover that Alter’s sister was actually killed protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer.

However, the juiciest pieces of the puzzle come forth from Dr Allison Mann as we get several flashbacks to her upbringing. As a child, she learned her father, Dr Matsumori (a radical bioengineer) was having an affair with his research assistant, Dr Ming. We also learn he and Dr Ming were also studying cloning.

It then jumps to when Allison was a young adult, living in America with her father and falling in love with another woman named Mercedes. When her father announces that they will be moving to China, Allison refuses and accuses her father of wanting to get back together with Dr Ming. The dissolution of her relationship with her father leads her to move in with Mercedes. However, their relationship does not last, which leaves an indelible mark on Allison.

Jumping forward to where she is now a lecturer in genetics at Harvard, she receives the news that her father is a few years away from cloning himself. Refusing to allow her father to achieve such a scientific breakthrough, Allison seeks to clone herself and dangerously self-impregnates with the help of her assistant Sunil. This then leads into the events we see in book one where she is rushed to hospital because something is wrong with the baby and then the “instant” plague hits killing every man on earth except Yorick.

These flashbacks bring us full circle to the present where Allison is back on the submarine in her cabin and starts haemorrhaging. The complications of her failed birth to her clone has clearly left damage that is now coming back to haunt her.

If there are any shortfalls with book four, it lies in a feeling of repetitiveness. There is even dialogue between Yorick and Agent 355 that reflects that they just seem to jump from one dangerous situation to the next. Agent 355 is at wits’ end and lets out a number of expletives at how hard it all is, while Yorick tries to console her. However, when you you’re the last man on earth, there were always going to be several countries of women looking to find him. You can always trust politics or misplaced religious beliefs to ensure little agreement as to who should “secure” Yorick.

With only one volume remaining, it will be interesting to see what will be the fate of Yorick, Ampersand, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

4 out of 5.

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

TL;DR – The answers to saving humanity rest on the shoulders of one man, Yorick Brown, or so we thought…

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann reach San Francisco to Mann’s backup lab where they hope to finally get some answers as to why Yorick was the only man that survived a mysterious plague that wiped out every other man (and mammal with a Y chromosome) on earth simultaneously.

He and his pet monkey, Ampersand, are the only males known to be alive after this apocalyptic event.

While they undergo tests, Yorick and Agent 355 explore what has become of the city. They eventually are found by three different parties, all with different motives.

There is Hero, Yorick’s sister, who has been deprogrammed and is battling her brainwashing as an Amazon (a group of women who believe men were the oppressors and the world is better without them) and desires to find her brother to seek his forgiveness for killing a woman Yorick cared for in Marrisville (refer book two).

Then there is a splinter group known as the Setauket Ring that is looking to obtain the Amulet of Helene taken by Agent 355. There is a myth around the amulet that should it ever be removed from Jordan, a catastrophe would befall the world (refer book one). The Setauket Ring believe it is this amulet that caused the plague to occur.

Last, is a Japanese ninja named Toyota. She has been following the trio for some time but her target is not Yorick, Agent 355 or Dr Mann. She’s after Ampersand and has been hired by a mystery person named “Doctor M” to retrieve the monkey.

When Dr Mann finally obtains what she believes is the reason why Yorick survived the plague, it coincides with the above three groups colliding into them and not everyone coming out alive or unharmed. Dr Mann believes that Ampersand has some sort of mutation in him, and the monkey has a penchant for throwing its faeces at Yorick, who in turn obtained protection from the plague.

Toyota successfully captures Ampersand and heads to Japan, which results in Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann boarding a cruise ship that supposedly is transporting medical supplies but turns out is tons of heroin, and they end up in a sea battle with an Australian submarine. In book one, it was revealed when 2.9 billion men were wiped out, Australia, Norway and Sweden were the only countries that had women serving on board submarines at the time.

Through all of this, we see flashbacks of Yorick and how he came to fall in love with Beth.

Speaking of Beth, we finally get to see what she has been up to in the Australian Outback since the outbreak. Suffice to say, she is going through her own trials.

Review

The third volume in Vaughan’s series is chock full of plots and sub-plots that examines the multitude of perspectives from characters living in a world where all men except one have been wiped out.

It should be noted that while Yorick is the last man, the future of humankind does not rest solely on his shoulders as it is revealed that the female astronaut (from book two) has successfully given birth to a baby boy in a hot suite (basically, a medical bubble that provides protection from all external germs). However, the boy will most certainly die if it steps outside the hot suite, thus the need to find a vaccine.

A lot of themes continue to be examined including religion, sexuality, identity and purpose, and gender roles. One of the more interesting examinations is at the beginning of volume three, where Yorick enters a Catholic church in Cooksfield, California, and encounters a woman named Beth (no, not his girlfriend Beth who is stuck in Australia but a ‘new’ Beth). It seems Yorick wants to confess his sins but Beth reveals technically it’s no use because only auricular confessions (i.e., confessions made to a priest) can be heard and thus forgiven. This dilemma is short-lived, however, as Yorick’s conscience mustn’t be too heavy cause he ends up being seduced by Beth.

While a lot goes on, thankfully, it appears a number of sub-plots also get tied up. The Amulet of Helene turns out to be just a sandstone figurine with no magical powers. It gets smashed by the Setauket Ring who blackmail Agent 355 into giving it to them.

Hero achieves forgiveness and reconciliation with her brother, and she even manages to get over the mind games of her deceased Amazonian leader, Victoria. She ends up heading back east to tell their mother that Yorick is safe.

Ampersand is revealed as being the ‘miracle’ (not Yorick) containing a mutation that protects mammals with the Y chromosome from the plague. But the celebrations are short lived as Ampersand is monkey-napped by Toyota the Japanese Ninja.

It becomes clearer that Agent 355 is harbouring feelings for Yorick. Things get complicated when she ends up sleeping with Dr Mann because she thinks Yorick is sleeping with the captain of the cruise ship heading to Japan.

All in all though, the most interesting revelations in book three revolve around Yorick’s supposed true love, Beth (yes, the ‘Beth’ that is stuck in Australia). For the first time, we get to see her side more and the memories she has of her relationship with Yorick. These flashbacks lend much needed depth to her character, which up until now was only portrayed as an attractive blonde who looks good in a bikini and hiking boots (yes, in book one she is shown to be an anthropologist studying Aboriginals in the Australian outback, but really all you get is a character that is good-looking with a pretence at depth).

Will Yorick and Beth reunite? Only two volumes remain to find out.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

TL;DR – a companion piece to Rowling’s hugely successful Harry Potter series.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

A collection of short stories that have been passed down through generations of witches and wizards that demonstrate that for all the benefits magic can bring, it can also cause just as many problems.

Review

I have been debating for some time whether to write a review of each of Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Their success and reach worldwide (along with the multitude of reviews already written on the series) has held me at bay. I devoured the seven-book journey of young Harry when they were first published; the first book alone I have read at least eight times. But venturing into writing a book review seems somewhat superfluous when I’m sure millions have already dissected the series.

So, while I continue to have this inner monologue with myself, I decided instead to write a review on The Tales of Beedle the Bard which is a collection of short stories written from the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The introduction outlines its genesis. The collection was read at bed time to young witches and wizards as often as fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have been read to Muggles (i.e., us non-magical folk).

For centuries they have been told and re-told, and this latest incarnation has been “translated from the original runes by Hermione Granger” and has the added benefit of having additional notes written by Professor Albus Dumbledore himself.

One particular distinction between Muggle fairy tales and The Tales of Beedle the Bard are that in Muggle fairy tales, magic is usually the source of the hero/heroine’s problems, while in Beedle the stories tell of characters that can perform magic themselves but discover it is just as hard to solve their problems with magic as we do without magic.

In this way the morals in The Tales of Beedle the Bard are similar to parables and cautionary tales that have been written and shared through human history.

What makes this read a little different are the added notes by Albus Dumbledore after each story. He provides insight into how these tales link to the world of Harry Potter, Voldemort, the Malfoys and other famous witches and wizards and the historical prejudices that exist between the magical and non-magical worlds. It also underpins the division between those witches/wizards that believe they are superior and should rule over Muggles versus those who believe they should co-exist with Muggles.

Of the tales themselves, “The Fortune of Fair Fountain” is probably one of my favourites along with “The Tale of the Three Brothers” which is prophetic in nature and will be familiar to those who have read the Harry Potter series.

For die-hard fans who can’t get enough of all things Harry Potter, The Tales of Beedle the Bard will be a necessity for answering those obscure Potter trivia based on Rowling’s creation.

3.5 out of 5.

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

TL;DR – Yorick, Dr Allison Mann and Agent 355 are heading to the west coast to Allison’s lab where they hope to find the answers to how Yorick survived a plague that wiped out every man on earth except him.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for review of book one of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick is trying to make his way to California with Agent 355 and Dr Mann. Along the way they bump into a Russian secret agent, a group of Israeli troopers, a travelling theatre troupe called Fish & Bicycle, a Japanese ninja, a posse of rangers, and a militia group that has taken over Arizona and cut off transport from east to west and vice versa. And then there’s Agent 711, friend to Agent 355, who turns out to be a dominatrix psychologist (I’ll let all that sink in for a moment).

And last, but certainly not least, there’s also the crew of three astronauts returning from the international space station… two of them men…

Review

There’s a lot of people hunting down Yorick including:

  • Alter, the new chief of the Israeli army, is wanting to kidnap Yorick and keep the last man in the country of Israel. She views wars as a means of control. In her mind, a country not at war with another country will implode by fighting itself.
  • The Amazons, a group of women who believe that the world should be rid of all men. They think the world would be a better place without the testosterone, but they rule with a matriarchal iron fist, which shows they’re not any better than their deceased Y-chromosome counterparts.
  • His mother, congresswoman Jennifer Brown, who actually reunited with Yorick briefly in book one before sending him off with Agent 355 to the west coast. She now believes that the Culper Ring (a mysterious US government agency) that Agent 355 works for has its own agenda and she has placed her son in danger.

However, it is not these encounters that drive book two of Y: The Last Man. The psychological, emotional and physical impacts of 2.9 billion men dying in an instant on the remaining female population along with somehow immune Yorick and his pet male monkey, Ampersand, is what makes this series riveting.

While the dystopian reactions of the remaining female groups are expected, the surprises come in the form of moments where more backstory is revealed for Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

Agent 355’s encounter with Russian agent, Natalya Zamyatin, leads to the discovery that three astronauts are returning from the international space station, and the possibility that Yorick will no longer be “the last man” on earth. Unfortunately, the astronauts suffer complications in re-entry and only the female astronaut survives. Also turns out that the female astronaut is pregnant and later we find out it’s a boy. While these implications are yet to be fully explored, we learn that Agent 355 appears to be a decent woman trying to do the right thing (in contrast to Congresswoman Brown who thinks she has an alternative agenda).

Dr Mann confesses she has been lying to Yorick and Agent 355 all along, revealing that when she was pregnant she was actually carrying a clone of herself. She has serious doubts that she will unravel the mystery of the plague and somehow save humanity. We also learn she has a serious attraction to Agent 355.

The best bits, however, are saved for Yorick. The biggest revelation being that his reckless desire to jump into danger stems not from his clueless and goofy attitude but something far deeper. Something that only arises to the surface when he is tortured and seduced and put through the wringer by dominatrix psychologist Agent 711. This is by far the most riveting sequence in book two where Yorick is left in Agent 711’s care while Agent 355 and Dr Mann take an injured Ampersand to a hospital in search of meds.

Agent 711 is given a journal that Agent 355 has been keeping and learns about Yorick’s adventures to date. Adventures that have spanned over a year and a half now. Through this she identifies that Yorick, for some reason, has a desire for self-destruction (even though he supposedly wants to get to Australia and find the woman he loves, Beth).

Through her unique method of “therapy”, Agent 711 gets Yorick to dig deep into his soul much to his objection. His memories and experiences revealing scars and how he would have no trouble in simply giving up. He confesses as such to Agent 711 who grants his wish by shoving his head underwater. However, it is in this near death moment that Yorick sees something (not revealed to us) that gives him a reason to want to live, and he fights back.

Book two is not without flaws though as I found the chapters relating to the Fish & Bicycle travelling troupe not as strong. Still, there’s plenty going on. Enough to keep you eagerly turning each page. Engrossing.

4.5 out of 5.

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

TL;DR – a plague strikes the world instantly killing every mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick. The last man on earth.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

In 2002, an unknown plague wipes every sperm, foetus, and mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick and his pet (male) Capuchin monkey. Approximately 2.9 billion men are now dead.

Welcome to the new world…

Review

Y: The Last Man is the winner of three Eisner awards and has a quote from Stephen King on its cover that simply states, “The best graphic novel I’ve ever read.”

High praise equals high expectations. Brian K. Vaughan has imagined an intriguing and gripping premise. The story begins in Brooklyn, New York where a mother runs up to a police woman saying her boys are sick. The police woman says it’s too late. She says the same thing has happened to her husband, and it’s happening across the entire city. All the men are dead. The police woman then pulls out her Glock and points it at her head.

The story then jumps to twenty-nine minutes prior to this cataclysmic event. We meet Yorick, an unemployed young man, hanging upside down in a strait jacket, talking on the phone to his girlfriend, Beth, who is on a holiday in the Australian outback. Yorick is a bit of a budding magician and manages to get out of the strait jacket before chasing after his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yorick applied for Ampersand from some group in Boston who are seeking to train the monkeys to help with quadriplegics.

As the countdown continues, we jump to different parts of the world and meet other characters including:

  • Yorick’s mother, Congresswoman Jen Brown who is in Washington D. C. She’s a Democrat, who has a heated debate with a Senator in her own party about amendment 1646. Senator Marty wants her to vote against the amendment which would prevent State Departments providing foreign aid to organisations that perform abortions. Jen doesn’t want to vote against it and is accused by Senator Marty of being pro-life.
  • Alter, a female colonel fighting in Nablus in the West Bank. She actually doesn’t know her first name (‘Alter’ is a nickname given to her by her friends). When two of her siblings died at birth and she came along, her parents decided not to speak her name out loud as a way of deceiving the angel of death from finding her.
  • Agent 355, an American female spy/assassin working in Al Karak, Jordan. She confronts a Dr Frozan Hamad and tries to convince Dr Hamad to escape with her. The doctor refuses stating that Jordan is her home, and she will continue to fight for the rights of women in her country. But Agent 355 tells her the threat against her is not because of her political beliefs but because of the amulet she wears around her neck. The amulet of Helene, which was given to her by her father. The story behind the artefact is that if the amulet was ever removed from Jordan then a catastrophe comparable to the Trojan War would take place. Unfortunately, Dr Hamad gets attacked and though Agent 355 manages to kill the assassins, the good doctor dies. Agent 355 takes the amulet and hops on a plane back America.
  • Bioengineer, Dr Mann, who has been rushed to hospital because she is in labour even though she is six weeks early. Michael Gilman is the doctor on site and happens to be one of Dr Mann’s previous students (he took her biotech class). In a weird exchange, Dr Mann reveals to Dr Gilman that she is pregnant with her ‘clone’.
  • Hero, a female paramedic in Boston, Massachusetts, who is having a quick romp in the back of her ambulance with a fire fighter named Joe. Seems Hero has a bit of a reputation and is sleeping her way through all the guys in the fire fighter department. There’s also hints in the opening pages that she is the daughter of Congresswoman Brown and brother to Yorick.

When the twenty-nine minutes expire, scenes all around the world are shown of men (and male animals) dying including Congresswoman Brown’s male aide, the male reporters working with Alter, the male pilot that Agent 355 is flying with, Dr Gilman and fire fighter Joe who dies in Hero’s arms.

A page of text is then presented outlining a number of statistics such as 495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead; in the US alone, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains died… as did 92% of all violent felons. Internationally, 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction works are now deceased… though 51% of the planet’s agriculture labour force is still alive.

Of particular note, it states that only 14 nations including Spain and Germany, have women soldiers who have served in ground combat units. None of the United States’ nearly 200,000 female troops have ever participated in ground combat. Australia, Norway and Sweden are the only countries that have women serving on board submarines. And in Israel, all women between the age of 18 and 26 have performed compulsory military service in the Israeli Defense Force for at least one year and nine months.

And all of the above is only in part one (of five parts in book one) of this dystopian journey for Yorick Brown who seeks to find his mother and sister and reunite with Beth (who he proposed over the phone to before chaos erupted).

Craziness abounds as Yorick encounters a female ex-model who now drives a garbage truck and collects all the deceased males from houses and buildings in exchange for food; a group of women calling themselves Amazons who believe Mother Earth has rid the planet of the scourge that is man; wives of Republicans who seek to wrest the power of the White House from the Democrats; a small country town that is self-sufficient called Marrisville run by a group of women who are hiding a dark secret; and Alter and her Israeli soldiers who are being helped by an unseen ally trying to hunt down Yorick.

Plus there’s a huge surprise on the last page.

Crikey! This is brilliant stuff.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Family Tree (Volume Three) “Forest” by Jeff Lemire, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester & Ryan Cody

TL;DR – The final volume in a trilogy about the end of the world that is flatly disappointing.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous volumes and what has happened so far.

Meg has turned into a tree. Her ‘spiritual’ human form resides in a giant mystical world tree where other human spirits reside. These individuals have either also turned into trees, or they are those who believed the transformation had to happen and defended those who could not defend themselves from chain saws and axes.

The story jumps from past events soon after Meg’s transformation where she is defended and kept safe by Meg’s mother and brother, Loretta and Josh, to the present where much of the world has transformed into forest and the remaining humans are either looking to protect Meg (the first human-turned-fully-tree) or are trying to find Meg and destroy her.

In the present, Loretta and Josh are still alive though now much older. Josh has a wife and child, and together this small unit has kept the many remaining human hunters at bay from finding and tearing down Meg.

In the final confrontation, there’s plenty of death, destruction, blood and fire. But in the end, the world will live on.

Review

I enjoy short stories, and I enjoy shoestring stories where you’re thrown into the middle of something and you have to try and figure out why and what is going on. Graphic novels are a perfect medium for this type of writing because you have to be economical with your words and allow the pictures to help tell the story.

Family Tree started off in this way. An ordinary single mother and her two kids witness the beginning of the end of the world when the daughter starts having branches growing out of her and her skin starts turning into bark. There’s a mysterious group of people looking to destroy all humans-turning-into-trees, and the artwork conveys the body horror with enough oomph that you want to know where it is all going to go.

And the answer is: it all goes downhill.

There is nowhere near enough in the plot. If you’re not going to explain why people are turning into trees (which they don’t) then at least explain why certain people are affected by the seeds/pollen that come out of Meg. When inhaled, they instantly turn into trees. But do they explain this? No. If you’re unlucky enough to be susceptible (and the chances are you will be) then you better be wearing a hazmat suit, otherwise it’ll be instant bye-bye.

However, what makes things even more confusing is that certain people are not affected by the spreading seeds/pollen that come out of Meg. Both Loretta and Josh are somehow immune, which is interesting when you consider that both Meg and Meg’s father transformed into trees. So, why doesn’t Loretta and Josh? If it is somehow genetic from the father’s side then you’d think, at least, Josh would also succumb to the transformation but he doesn’t.

And then there are the other select few that remain human. Josh meets a man and his daughter while hunting for food at an abandoned grocery store. Josh and the girl eventually fall in love and have a child. Neither Josh, nor the girl transform, yet in the final pages we see that their baby has a small twig growing out of his hand. It’s all random and unexplained.

As for the “bad guys”, nothing is revealed in the final volume that explains their mission to destroy Meg other than they believe somehow the world will right itself once this happens. Their dedication is bizarre and futile given most of the planet has turned into forest and jungle. There is no real depth provided to these characters. Their leader, a woman in glasses, believes this is the right thing to do because her own father transformed and she killed him.

Even in the end, when Meg-the-tree is successfully put to the flame by a bunch of men with flamethrowers, and you see the spiritual version of Meg perish, it’s hard to feel anything. Because you know that even in Meg’s death, the world has reclaimed itself. An environmental coup to usurp power from humanity.

Flat and disappointing given its promising premise. Is Family Tree seeking to be a cautionary tale on climate change? Maybe, but I doubt writer, Jeff Lemire, had any intent to be that deep. To me, it seems he wrote this story purely for the body horror.

1 out of 5.

Book Review: Family Tree (Volume Two) “Seeds” by Jeff Lemire, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester & Ryan Cody

TL;DR – the journey continues as Loretta tries to stop Meg’s transformation from happening. Pieces start coming together as the story jumps between past and present to unveil the full apocalyptic picture.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for my review of Family Tree (Volume 1) and what has happened so far.

Young Meg is fast turning into a tree. Leaves, bark, and branches. The full caboodle. Meg’s mum and brother, Loretta and Josh, are riding in a car with a doctor (who comes off like a voodoo witch) in the driver’s seat trying to outrun some pursuers looking to hunt down Meg and capture (or kill) her. They eventually stop on the side of the road, rain pouring down, and manage to move Meg to the edges of a forest. Her feet have transformed into roots and though she tries to tell her mum that she’s okay, Loretta watches in horror as her daughter turns into a full fledged tree.

The story then jumps to the future where the world has been overrun by vegetation and an adult Josh is wandering the wilderness trying to survive.

It then jumps again to the past prior to Meg’s transformation where we see the events of Meg’s father, Darcy, reuniting with Meg’s grandfather at a bar, and Darcy revealing to his father the same vegetative affliction (i.e., Darcy was also turning into a tree).

We are brought back to the present where Mr. Hayes (Darcy’s dad) is tied to a chair all beaten up after defending Loretta and the kids against a group of thugs seeking to hunt Meg down. Thanks to Mr. Hayes, he was able to provide enough time for Loretta and the kids to escape with the good witch doctor but was captured as a result. Here we learn, that the organisation hunting down humans-turning-into-trees is being led by a mysterious woman whose father also suffered from the same transformation. She believes she is protecting humanity from sort of disease, but Mr. Hayes believes that her mission is wrong because no matter how many her organisation has killed to date, the transformation keeps happening to others.

Review

The second volume of Family Tree goes deeper into a war between two opposing factions. There is the faction that is seeking to destroy the humans that have turned into trees, and there are those who believe the transformation is meant to happen.

While the second volume conveys the turmoil and horror being experienced by Loretta in seeing her daughter turning into wood and leaves (and the illustrations convey this horror very well), the story itself does little to progress from the first volume.

Nothing is revealed as to why or how this is happening. There is no explanation as to why the faction seeking to literally uproot and chainsaw all human-turning-trees is doing what they are doing. Do they perceive the transformation to be a disease? A curse? Or something else?

All we know is that certain people are experiencing it, and there appears to be no cure. So, while the story jumps between past and present, little light is shed on why the hell it is happening in the first place.

By the end of the second volume, Meg has turned into a giant tree and is able to communicate telepathically to her mother that everything is going to be okay, and she knows what is going to happen. To demonstrate this belief, when their pursuers appear on the scene with chainsaws in hand, Meg releases a pollen from her flowers and everyone not wearing a mask suddenly bursts into vegetation. Of particular note, none of Meg’s family is effected. Loretta and Josh get to witness first hand the instant eruption of more trees that were once human.

This is meant to be shocking but loses its lustre because the story hasn’t progressed enough to keep me engaged. For what it’s worth, there are only three volumes to Family Tree so it’s not like it’s being dragged out, but there isn’t enough in the story to make me think it is anything amazing. I’ll pick up volume three from the library only because I want to see how they explain the mystery, but I’m not expecting any monumental twist.

2 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Twelve) “Sour Grapes” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – To prevent the end of the world, Tony Chu has to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

By committing suicide, Mason Savoy forces Tony’s hand and results in him having to cannibalise Savoy in order to uncover the truth behind the alien fire writing and the avian flu that previously killed millions and resulted in the prohibition of chicken.

Using his cibopath powers and slowly, painfully acquiring all of Savoy’s knowledge and experience, Tony learns that the avian flu was triggered by Senator David Hamantaschen who hired the specialist services of three food-powered individuals to “broadcast” a contagion that would target any individual who consumed chicken. The reason for the Senator unleashing the mass murder of millions was in response to the fire writing in the sky. Hamantaschen deciphered the writing was from a highly advanced, alien race of chickens that have the technology to destroy planets. The writing is a warning that the denizens of a planet must stop eating chicken lest it be blown into oblivion.

Unfortunately, Hamantaschen deciphered the timing of when the chicken aliens would arrive to pass judgement incorrectly and unleashed the contagion early. The chicken aliens would not arrive for many more years, which thus follows the events in the volumes of Chew.

Now, with the end of the world just around the corner, Tony realises that the only way to survive judgement that doesn’t result in the obliteration of Earth is for all people who are eating chicken to die. However, the price that Tony has to pay to save Earth is not one he is willing to pay.

Review

The finale of Chew created from the marvellously deranged mind of John Layman and the stunning art of Rob Guillory left me speechless. In many ways, the previous volumes provided enough insight and shocking twists to try and prepare me for what would be unleashed in this final volume.

My attempts failed. I was utterly unprepared for the brutality and emotional knives that would slice me up into bite sized pieces to be cooked and stewed for days to come.

In volume eleven, I wrote about how Mason Savoy and Tony Chu had conflicting philosophies. Savoy was willing to sacrifice the few in order to save the many, but Tony did not hold to this principle. For Tony, he could not tolerate the lengths that Savoy would pursue in order to uncover the truth.

But with the knowledge that only Savoy knew how to save Earth, Tony had no choice but to take large literal chunks out of Mason and absorb his power and knowledge using his cibopath abilities.

This is when everything goes sideways.

Tony learns that the dire prophecies from The Church of the Immaculate Ova are actually true and that they’re not some simple mad cult of vegans. Their dire warnings to the world to stop eating chicken hold truth. And that truth is that an alien race of technologically superior chickens are coming to judge Earth and will wipe out the planet unless humanity stops consuming chicken.

But that’s not the worst of it.

The worst of it is a now dead Mason Savoy in psychic ghost form whispers into Tony’s ear that the only way to stop Earth’s obliteration is for Tony to eat Amelia (his wife).

Amelia, like Tony, has her own food-related power. And this power has evolved over time as she has been consuming the alien fruit (that tastes like chicken) known as Gallsaberry.

Tony has all the ingredients to do another “broadcast” that will target and wipe out all people who consume chicken just as Senator Hamantaschen unleashed years ago. This would coincide with the arrival of the alien super chickens who would see that humanity have stopped eating chickens and would pardon the rest of Earth from destruction.

However, one crucial ingredient that Tony is missing is Amelia’s power to evoke a reaction from people who read her writing.

When we first met Amelia, she was a journalist and food critic and had the ability to describe a dish with such accuracy that anyone who read the article would taste the dish. Through consumption of the Gallsaberry fruit, Amelia’s powers have slowly evolved to the point where she is close to being able to write fiction stories and evoke reactions from people including lethal food poisoning.

But Tony refuses to sacrifice Amelia to save the world.

When the alien fire writing appears in the sky once more, they both know it’s the last day before the end of the world. Tony wants to spend the day with Amelia, treasuring what time they have left. Tony wants it to be a romantic day, but instead they end up helping Tony’s older sister, Rosemary, who has her car stolen.

There is one particularly beautiful sequence where at the end, the pair are sitting on a bench, and Amelia says:

“That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you. Because you do the right thing. You help people. You make things right. Even when you pay a price. Even when it’s awful for you.”

And though they go home together, make love, and Tony falls asleep, Amelia takes matters in her own hands. She heads to her computer and starts writing a story, tapping into her power even though she is not ready for it and in the process dies.

When Tony awakens, he sees in horror what she has done. The story she has written has a coded message that will attack anybody with chicken in their system. All Tony has to do is broadcast it using his existing powers.

John Colby (Tony’s FDA partner and long time friend) arrives and together they go on one last case to hunt down a bad guy. They succeed in stopping the bad guy, and John convinces Tony that he has to read Amelia’s story and save the Earth even if it means committing mass murder on a global scale.

But little does Tony know, John has recently been eating chicken also and while Tony ends up saving the world by broadcasting Amelia’s story, he unintentionally ends up killing John.

Thus, does Tony lose arguably all the most important people in his life. Amelia his wife, John his partner, and previously Toni his twin sister who was killed by The Vampire.

And in the end, Mason Savoy succeeded in forcing Tony to go against his principle. It’s gut wrenching.

In the final chapter of this final volume, the timeline fast forwards to when Tony is now an old man. He has been invited to the “Landing Ceremony” where the alien chickens will arrive to meet with Earth’s humans for the first time to negotiate peace.

In a final act of defiance, an act of revenge, Tony moves through the crowd of onlookers to the stage where the spaceship lands and the alien chickens disembark. He pulls out a knife and lunges at the alien leader and plunges it into his chest.

Thus, the story of Chew ends.

To the bitter end, Tony could not let go of his anger. The perceived injustice that he had to sacrifice all those he loved (as well as the murder of millions of lives) to save a planet held hostage by an alien species that acted as judge, jury and executioner was too much for him. So, he bided his time and sought revenge (or justice depending on your point view) in the only way he could, by killing the alien responsible for making him kill so many.

Truly, unreservedly, epic.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Eleven) “The Last Suppers” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Tony Chu faces off against Mason Savoy.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

The Pope has declared, “Chicken is DOOM!”

The proclamation occurs during Easter to millions of people televised worldwide. Applebee assigns Tony and John to investigate why the Pope has now become an egg worshipper and converted follower of the “Divinity of the Immaculate Ova” church. The Pope has gone on to say that eating chicken is a sin and that anyone eating chicken must die.

The pair are led back to the Pacific Island of Yamapalu where the alien fruit that tastes like chicken, Gallsaberry, grows. There they encounter Mason Savoy who convinces Tony to have a sit down, which turns out to be more precarious than either of them thought as they psychically “time-travel” back to the dinosaur ages (with the help of a food-powered individual) where they discover a species of animal that is half-human, half-chicken. Or at least, they have chicken heads with a humanoid body. Savoy reveals that this species would have become the dominant life form on Earth had they not been wiped out by an errant meteor that wiped out the Mesozoic era.

Meanwhile, Tony’s wife, Amelia has been continuing writing her novel using her food-power that allows her to write about the origins of the food that she eats (her writing so believable that anyone who reads it can taste the food also). She has been taking bites out of her own Gallsaberry and receiving images of an alien detective fighter against a mad tentacled alien eater.

Add to this that NASA have discovered another planet with alien fire writing encircling its skies and things are coming to a head.

Review

How much is a life worth? Would you kill one life to save the lives of billions of others?

For Anthony “Tony” Chu, the answer is every life is equally precious. For Mason Savoy, the answer is the lives of billions outweighs the life of one.

This philosophical conundrum is at the crux of the conflict between Tony and Mason. As two of the three known remaining cibopaths on Earth (the third being Tony’s daughter, Olive), their power to obtain the origins and events of things that they eat combined with their ability to absorb others’ food-related powers (should they decide to cannibalise them) makes them pivotal in unraveling a series of mysteries including:

  • The so-called avian flu pandemic that wiped out millions of people (including Mason’s wife).
  • Subsequent conspiracies around the government’s prohibition on chicken
  • The sudden appearance of alien fire writing encircling the Earth
  • The rise of “The Divinity of the Immaculate Ova” cult that believe that chickens should not be consumed and all chicken eaters should be killed
  • The rise of individuals who have a vast array of food-related powers, some using it to further their own ends, some seeking to serve the greater good.

For Tony and Mason, they initially started out on the same page, but they quickly diverged as Mason was willing to torture anyone who might have information to uncover the truth surrounding the mysteries listed above and would go so far as killing anyone standing in his way.

Of course, Tony stood in his way and thus an indelible chasm has separated the pair. In this volume, Mason makes one final attempt to extend an olive branch. He knows that together, they can get to the truth.

Their last supper involving psychic time travel and the revelation that a specifies of humanoid chicken once existed leads much to be speculated. But not even this can sway Tony to Mason’s side, much to Savoy’s fury.

This gives the impression that Savoy has determined that Tony must now be removed from the equation, which leads to the events in the epilogue of Volume 10, where inexplicably we see Tony holding what appears to be a murdered Amelia in his arms.

What is revealed, however, is that Amelia is actually attacked by E.G.G. terrorists and it is Mason who comes to save her. Further, Amelia, while seriously injured, is not dead. She reveals to Tony that after Mason made quick work of the terrorists, he stole the final chapters of her book and the Gallsaberry fruit that she was eating.

This leads to some brilliant writing by Layman and art by Guillory. Spattered throughout each chapter of this volume, we see Mason doing a monologue. At first, it gave me the impression that Savoy had broken the “fourth wall” and was talking to the me (the reader) directly.

His monologue revolving around why he will do anything to uncover the truth even if the path he goes down causes him to become a monster. However, I realised that he is actually talking to Tony.

I then thought that perhaps this monologue was somehow set in the future, and Mason had successfully captured Tony and is trying to explain his actions before the inevitable “now-I-have-to-kill-you moment” (thanks for listening!)

But I now believe this monologue is a message left for Tony as one of Mason’s memories. Similar to when Tony’s twin sister, Toni, was murdered by The Vampire. She took specific steps to be able to communicate to Tony even after her death.

And in a twist that I did not see coming, we discover on the final page that Mason has hung himself and left one final note for Tony which simply says, “Eat me.”

Absolutely brilliant stuff.

In this penultimate volume, Chew has surpassed my expectations and kept me guessing. I don’t want the ride to be over, and I have a feeling that the final Volume 12 will be bittersweet.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Ten) “Blood Puddin'” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Finally revealed what Tony’s twin sister whispered into his ear in order to give Tony the key to defeating The Vampire.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

John Colby’s attempts at reconciliation with his partner, Tony Chu, go bust. Tony still blames John for working with wanted fugitive Mason Savoy and roping in his daughter Olive to try and take down The Vampire. The casualties were high in the last volume, and Tony is holding onto a lot of anger.

Tony ends up working with D-Bear who reveals he has some intelligence beneath that giant Afro as they bust a couple of food-powered baddies. But these are side stories for the main one, which sees Savoy and Olive awaken in hospital and escape to hunt down the location of The Vampire once more. And this time they have Tony’s wife, Amelia, in tow.

It takes OIive’s words to strike home how much Tony has failed her as a father, going so far as to say that Savoy has taught her more and been more of a father than Tony ever has been. This makes Tony realise how important relationships are in his life, and he seeks to be better not only towards Olive but also John.

When it is finally revealed how Tony can defeat The Vampire, Tony and John have been on the same page all along. The key to The Vampire’s defeat is to eat Poyo the rooster; the greatest crime fighting rooster in the history of all roosters (and humankind).

Oh, and Mike Applebee and Caesar Valenzano, who both looked like they were on death’s door after the failed assault on The Vampire, get turned into a robotic centaur and man with a cyborg lobster claw respectively. Great stuff!

Review

Cibopaths are individuals who have the strange power to know the origins of anything they eat. For example, if they eat an apple, they know what tree the apple came from and where it grew. If they eat a steak, they get all the gruesome details of how the cow died in order to become a steak. Further, cibopaths can acquire the strengths and abilities of those things they consume. So, if they go so far as taking enough bites out of a person who has other food-related powers, then the cibopath will acquire that other food-related power also.

There are four known cibopaths: Tony Chu, Mason Savoy, Olive Chu and The Vampire. Of the four, The Vampire is the primary antagonist of the Chew series. He has been hunting down every person with food-related powers, all around the world, to kill and consume them in order to acquire a new power.

The Vampire is responsible for the murder of Tony’s sister, Toni Chu (who had the food-related power to see into the future of those she takes a bite out of). Toni left a piece of her toe for her brother to consume, so she could communicate to him (by him eating her toe) after she gets murdered. In that exchange, she whispered something into Tony’s ear telling him how to defeat The Vampire, but we don’t get to see what she said until this volume.

And now, it all makes sense.

The last volume (Vol Nine) saw the shocking end of Poyo the killer rooster. John Layman has done something very clever. Poyo has been a recurring character since the beginning, and while integral in demonstrating the ongoing ‘food-related theme’ of the series and showing Poyo is the baddest and most deadly of all poultry-related creatures, he was presented as a side character in following volumes. In fact, his appearance was usually in a two-page spread that gave artist, Rob Guillory, the freedom to go crazy showing Poyo fighting against some super food-powered monster. The two-page spread was often a ‘Street Fighter’ style depiction that would look cool on a poster, but it always felt like a strange side-bar in the Chew series.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Poyo had his neck broken, not by a super food-powered monster, but by John Colby. The fact that they are both on the same team, looking to stop The Vampire and solve food-powered murders, allows John to get close enough to Poyo and unexpectedly breaking the poor bird’s neck. The subsequent confusion (and ending of volume nine) was both brilliant and agonising as I had to grab the next volume post haste.

And like I said, it now makes sense. John realises that the only way Tony can stop The Vampire is to acquire all the fighting knowledge, anger, skill and downright bad-ass attitude of Poyo by eating the bird. But, initially, Tony doesn’t want to hear anything John has to say after Colby’s failed incursion on The Vampire’s compound led to Olive badly hurt and in hospital.

After much butting of heads, the pair finally come together and reveal what the other doesn’t realise they already know. Tony reveals his sister told him to eat Poyo, and John reveals his belief that the only way to stop The Vampire is to eat Poyo. The moment is both funny and marvelously well-timed.

Thus, Tony fulfills his destiny and kills The Vampire. The confrontation is action packed and clever as Tony ends up killing The Vampire the same way The Vampire killed Tony’s sister, by breaking his neck. The Vampire believes, however, he has the last laugh as he thinks Tony will take a few bites out of him to acquire all of The Vampire’s collected food-related power. The Vampire conveying mirth at the idea that he will live on in Tony, but to his surprise, Tony says he doesn’t want any of those powers and finishes his arch nemesis off.

But the series is not over. There is still much that is unresolved including the alien fire writing in the sky, the mystery of the avian flu, the origins of the individuals who have acquired food-related powers and the space fruit known as Gallsaberry, which tastes like chicken.

And in the epilogue on the final page of Volume Ten, we inexplicably see Amelia (Tony’s wife) dying (or dead?) in his arms. What? Why? Who? How?

Layman and Guillory are not holding anything back. Riveting stuff from first page to last.

5 out of 5.