The first collected volume of Y: The Last Man, Unmanned, follows protagonist Yorick Brown as he discovers that he is most likely the last living man, after “something” causes men to die all over the world. Yorick – named by his Drama professor father (his sister is Hero, continuing the literary theme) – is introduced before the event occurs, shut up in his apartment talking to his girlfriend on the phone (she’s in Australia for an archeological dig). His penchant for magic and the art of escape is evident in the first few panels, as he hangs from the top of his bedroom door, phone squeezed between the crook of his neck and his shoulder, attempting to escape from the self-imposed straightjacket trapping his upper body.
Yorick is a graduated English major without a job. He didn’t get the job he had been hoping for, and tells his girlfriend, “I graduated more than a year ago, Beth. And the job market isn’t exactly booming for English majors with moderate-to-poor computer skills.” He’s adopted a helper monkey called Ampersand, and is supposed to be training him before sending him back to the company (where Ampersand will apparently, Yorick says, “help quadriplegics with their chores and shit”). He is introduced as aimless and ambiguous, and why Yorick and his male pet monkey are the only two survivors in the world with a Y chromosome is an apparent mystery. He alludes to the idea of fate and determinism on the phone to Beth (this phone call lays much of the groundwork of Yorick’s character and predicament), in a conversation about Elvis and his twin brother who was stillborn. Yorick says, “How insane is that? I mean. What if Jesse had lived and Elvis had died? Or…or what if they had both lived? I don’t know. Do you ever think about destiny? Why does fate choose one man over another, that sorta thing?” Even though he’s talking about the job he didn’t get, it still sets up the same question of why Yorick.
Yorick’s introduction is paralleled by his mother’s, a Democratic representative who lives in Washington, DC; a woman in Jordan wearing an amulet, and an agent named 355 there to protect her; a scientist about to give birth to her own clone; Yorick’s sister Hero, an EMT officer whose firefighter boyfriend has just been called to an emergency; and a female soldier in Palestine. Although they remain mostly unconnected, or connected loosely, these events will start to make sense in relation to each other as Unmanned continues.
The story gets interesting when it starts to answer the question it poses: what if “gendercide” destroyed “every last sperm, fetus, and fully developed mammal with a Y chromosome”? And why is Yorick left behind to bear witness to the event? Vaughan introduces readers to a group of women called the Amazons, who are adamant about resisting the return of men to their female society, and travel to monuments emblematic of the patriarchy to scrawl graffiti and enact other acts of damage. There is also a group of women who attack the White House, insisting that because their Republican husbands died, they should be able to take their seats. Vaughan’s imagination extrapolates the reality of women in contemporary society, and allows him to question what if?
Vaughan’s unique introduction of Yorick and a society, our society, absent of men, is incredibly well-structured, not just in terms of imaginative possibility but also in terms of character and story. It has also been collected into Cycles, One Small Step, Safeword, and others – I’m looking forward to catching up on them all!