Monday, February 4, 2008

Y: The Last Man rides into the sunset, and MORE.

- Well, the Patriots had a hell of a season, but in the end they lost the big one - a story somewhat familiar to fans of New England sports. Though I was sad to see the Pats lose, it was undoubtedly a great game, and the Giants deserved to win with an incredibly gutsy and hard-nosed performance. Plus, what really excites me now is the Celtics. I can't wait to see them in action once the playoffs begin, and it's going to be really exciting to see how this relatively new lineup matches up against the established powerhouses of the NBA. Things also got really interesting with the Lakers making a deal to get all-star Pau Gasol, instantly pushing them up a notch in the Western Conference rankings. Might we see a Celtics-Lakers final? Would be interesting, for sure, but personally I still want to see the Suns make it to the finals one of these years.

- Some decent commercials this year during the 'Bowl. I love anything featuring Charles Barkley, so his T-Mobile spot with Dwayne Waid cracked me up. A lot of really strange / offbeat ads this year though - that one woman's heart flying out of her chest for Career Builders was a bit much, I thought. Also, aside from the Iron Man and Narnia spots, not too much in the way of bigtime movie teasers. Would have been cool to catch a first glimpse of Indiana Jones, for example.

- Anyways, had a pretty fun weekend. Sadly, my pal Dan has decided to leave LA for more sane pastures, but he had a nice little going-away party on Friday that was a good time. On Saturday, I ventured out to Tarzana for the first time ever for Paul L's b-day. I thought Tarzana was really far from me, but it actually wasn't too bad of a drive at all, and I had a lot of fun bowling at Corbin Bowl down there. I hadn't bowled in probably over a year, and it showed, as I only managed to score an 87. Guess I have to practice a bit if I want to bowl a game that would make The Dude proud. Next was Superbowl Sunday, and I had a fun time chilling with Kyle and co and rooting for the Patriots in a mostly pro-Giants crowd.

- So ... what I'm really itching to talk about is Y: THE LAST MAN. The last-ever issue of Y came out last week, and I was both excited and very sad to see this seminal series reach its long-anticipated conclusion. Y, for me, has easily been my overall favorite comic / graphic novel / illustrated fiction / whatever you want to call it of the last several years. The reason I threw out all those different terms though is that people have such built-in preconceptions about what they imply. Y is a comic book, yes, but man, it's also literature. I'd put it up there with anything else in modern fiction, and I think when all is said and done, it will be regarded (and already is, to some extent) in the same breath as things like Watchmen, The Sandman, Preacher, etc. - a modern classic that transcends the usual trappings of the medium, and can be held up as a canonical representation of everything that comics can be. Y was smart, funny, relevant, and I think appealling to anyone interested in good storytelling, whether you're male or female, young or old.

Over the years, writer Brian K. Vaughan created one of modern fiction's most interesting characters in Yorick - a quirky twenty-something who finds himself in the unlikely scenario of being the last man on earth following a plague that wipes out the planet's entire male population in an instant. What made Y brilliant from the get-go was that BKV quickly subverted his story into anything BUT what you'd expect given its premise. For one thing, Yorick was pretty much the oppossite of what you'd expect the world's last man to be. He wasn't some strapping, lantern-jawed hero - instead, Yorick was a bit geeky, very esoteric, somewhat self-absorbed, and clearly not ready to be thrust into the role of the earth's last, best, hope for survival. The second thing that immediately made the book stand out was that, while the premise makes one assume we might be in for some kind of crazy sex-romp, Y was anything but. Not only did it present an amazingly well-thought out view of what might actually happen if all of the world's men were to disappear, but it immediately defied our expectations by having Yorick, despite suddenly finding himself as the world's last man, caring about little save for finding his girlfriend Beth, who had been studying in Australia when the disaster hit. With the world having gone to hell in a handbasket, the last man on earth is just trying to see if he has any future with his first true love - a quest made all the more ironic, and futile, when we later learn that on the day that the plague struck, Beth had been planning to dump Yorick!

Y was about so many things. A thoughtful look at how our society works, and how it might continue in the event of such an incredible disaster. It was about adventure and espionage and politics, with secret agents, international intrigue, and ninja assassins. Anyone who is a fan of the TV show CHUCK need look no further than Y to see where that show surely got some of its inspiration. But Y just took things to a whole other level, to the level of truly memorable art and literature, with characters that I'll remember and think about for the rest of my life. The scientist Dr. Alison Mann, ironically named and ever in pursuit of her own identity. Alter - the driven Israeli general who carried over her old grudges into the brave new world of Y. Hero - Yorick's unstable sister who joins up with a cult of new-age Amazons. Agent 355 - a tough-as-nails Culper Ring agent, a character who always surprised me and who became almost as integral to the story of Y as Yorick himself. Ampersand - Y always had a great sense of quirky humor, and that was evident from the start when we realize that the only other male being to survive the plague wasn't a human, but Yorick's helper monkey, Ampersand. It sounds weird to say it, but man, it speaks to the talent of BKV that he made you care so much about a goofy monkey. And when I say care, I mean Ampersand's final scene in Y's last issue was absolutely, totally heartbreaking. And then there's Yorick - a bundle of pop-culture trivia, random humor, and helplessness, Yorick was a completely unique and yet completely relatable character, and I give tons of credit to BKV for crafting a protagonist who was an amateur escape artist and had a helper monkey, and yet also felt like a guy you might know or be friends with or might you yourself be a lot like.

And also give tons of credit to regular Y artist Pia Guerra. I became a huge fan of her art from the moment I saw it - it was somewhat minimalist, even cartoony, but extremely expressive and masterfully helped tell BKV's stories with clarity and emotion. Thanks to the potent combination of Pia's art and BKV's words, Y became a book that, with each new chapter, consistently produced moments - be they last-page cliffhangers or mid-story revelations - that made your jaw hit the floor in shock, with that rare but exhilerating feeling of "I absolutely need to know what happens next, and I need to know now!"

And now Y has reached an end ...

I remember way back when very much looking forward to the first issue. I had become a fan of BKV's via his work on Swamp Thing (I guess I was one of the few who really got into his take on the character) and on some random but memorable stints on titles like Batman. But Y took things to a whole other level. By the time Issue 1 came out, I had also become a devout reader of DC's Vertigo line of comics - picking up everything from Swamp Thing to 100 Bullets. I loved the imprint's mix of adult comics, from crime fiction to Westerns to war stories to fantasy, and I began to eagerly await anything new from Vertigo even as I delved into their back catalogue with things like Preacher and the Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing. But I think Y: The Last Man is the only truly GREAT, classic ongoing book that I got on board with from Day 1 and read each month until its conclusion. It's been an amazing ride, and it's going to be sad not to have that monthly does of Yorrick, Three-Fifty, and the rest.

As for the last issue, well, it blew me away. I had made an effort to stay way from any spoilers, so I was very surprised by what I got to say the least. I was expecting a much more straightforward continuation of the penultimate issue. Instead, Y went out with a time-spanning tale worthy of Lost, fitting as BKV is currently knee deep in that show as one of its best and brightest writers. From the first moment, just as I had been with issue #1, I was shocked as I read - as I was introduced to an 80 year old Yorick, and then transported to some key moments spanning the time between then and now, the pivotal pieces of the puzzle between the time we last saw Yorick as a plucky twenty-something and when we are shockingly reintroduced to the elderly version - a bitter, detached old man, bemused by the world around him and his role in shaping it, quietly planning one last great escape.

I quickly but nervously turned each page, scared and excited for what might occur. And man, what an emotional rollercoaster this one was. Suffice to say, it's been a long while since I've had this many chills while reading. I won't go into heavy spoiler territory, but what a thought-provoking, shocking, hard-hitting finale to one of the all-time great stories. Its one I'm going to have to revisit, because there are so many details, in the words, the images, the symbolism of it all, this is a work that begs reexamination.

So thank you Brian K. Vaughn, thank you Pia Guerra, thank you to all involved with the Y: The Last Man. It's been an amazing ride - sad, funny, horrific, exciting - and it's been awesome being a part of it all these past several years. If you have yet to check it out, I can't urge you enough to head to your local bookstore and give Y a shot.

- Alright, I'm out for now - back tommorow with more. Go out and VOTE!

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