Review: Y: The Last Man Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

May 10, 2020

 ·  1 comment

I have questioned whether, leading into its 10th volume, Y: The Last Man has lost some of its mojo. If that's the case, then it regains it when it counts, in the final volume, Y: The Last Man Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores. The final story is epic and controversial, delivering exactly what it should, and smoothing over some recent bumps in the series along the way. And after that, the epilogue is wonderful and bizarre, an unexpected left turn for the series, with an ending rather completely unexpected. If Y did not land every jump it made, it sticks the landing, and that's what it should be remembered for.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among excellent moments throughout the final volume is when Yorick, newly reunited with lost love Beth, discusses the revelations of Y: The Last Man Vol. 9: Motherland. Struggling to describe the happenstance elements that kept him alive when all other men died, Yorick calls it "monkeys and clones and ... some kind of morphing thing" (the psychic morphic resonance). He continues, "As far as answers go, it was ... vaguely unsatisfying." Beth replies that after all they've been through, "Is there any explanation that would have been satisfactory?"

They're both right, of course, via writer Brian Vaughan, and that dialogue is exactly what was needed to buoy those indeed-unsatisfying revelations about the gendercide. It was confusing and unsatisfying, but at the same time finding an explanation that would work after being built up 10 volumes is probably as tough as finding a sufficient explanation for the secrets of the Lost island. It wasn't satisfying, but what would be? Further, Vaughan buffers the esoteric morphic resonance theory by reminding us that for about half the series, Beth has been seeking Yorick due to a "vision quest" — that the realm of the mind has been a perpetual theme of Y, as good a site for the explanation of the virus as any.

That issue, Y: The Last Man #56 and fourth from the end, is a humdinger, where Y delivers exactly what it needed to. For 55 issues before this, Yorick has searched the world for former girlfriend Beth, and this, at last, is their reunion. The issue starts with three pages of Agent 355 buying herself a dress, a metaphor for the seeming end of she and Yorick's journey — and then almost 19 pages of Yorick and Beth, graphically naked, as they rekindle and then watch the flames die out on their relationship. It is epic, again everything it needed to be: sexual, complicated, dealing with the origins of the plague, and finally, finally recognizing that Yorick's quest for Beth has been a fool's errand, that he had clearly built up in his head a relationship with a woman that didn't actually exist. (The nudity that backgrounds their fight, a far better picture of reality than what mass media usually represents, reminds of the climax of the equally daring Before Midnight, released five years later.)

It is in ultimately choosing real over imagined love that Yorick ends up back in 355's apartment in the next issue (while old enemies kidnap Beth and company). The conversation there is downright Bachelor-worthy, coming two years before an actually similar Bachelor plot twist: Yorick admits his affection for "the one that got away," 355, though he wants to take it slow until he clears things up with the girlfriend he just proposed to. It's altogether awkward, not in the least because it was never clear why these two would fall in love anyway; I like 355 and felt her sudden death in this issue acutely, but that she would love Yorick over the trope of "man teaches stoic woman how to feel" has always seemed a disservice to the character.

Y, in the present action, ends on a dour note, with 355's murder and Yorick suffering over it. Yes, Yorick has spared the Israeli lieutenant-general Alter's life and symbolically renounced violence, and in that way ended "mankind"'s legacy of violence that Alter was counting on to bring her death. But if we take an ending as one that should function on its own, irrespective the epilogue that follows, the last part of "Whys" leaves a lot in the air in favor of considerable darkness — nothing more about the virus, no real insight into the future, Yorick never even meets his baby daughter on camera, and despite the prediction embedded in the series title from the beginning, Yorick does not die — if this is the story of the "last man," it's neither proven nor disproven in the confines of "Why." Inappropriately but also appropriately, "Whys and Wherefores" functions as much as a particularly dark finale as it does just another cliffhanger in this book before the next arc.

It feels all the more miraculous then when Y's actual final issue opens on sunlit Paris, bright and futuristic. The series has never toyed with flash-forwards, so the effect is pleasantly shocking, and Pia Guerra's always-consistent art seems to have notched up an inch in the beauty of the surroundings. What follows reminds of the Six Feet Under series finale, which preceded this by three years, in which we visit the lives and deaths of the main characters through sometimes sad, sometimes sweet vignettes. One of these is a "typical" interaction between Yorick and Agent 355, something of a pseudo lost scene, and I couldn't help thinking if there had been more of those, maybe their romance would have been more convincing.

It's the best turn of the entire series that at the end of this book, Yorick does not die; rather he disappears — he escapes — nigh walking off the page itself. As I've mentioned, it's taken me around 15 years to finish reading Y: The Last Man, and all that time it's been my suspicion that "the last man" would ultimately be taken literally — that Yorick would die; that he would indeed be the last man, no clones or etc.; that an earlier theater troupe's prediction that the last man would kill himself for the good of the world's women (an idea Yorick gave a scathing review) would turn out prescient. Not to mention that I thought I read a spoiler that revealed Yorick's death. So despite 355's premature passing, Yorick's living (perhaps forever) is a wonder; even as I'm unsure if it's necessarily the best ending, it is at least a nice one at the end of all of this.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Y: The Last Man Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores

I would never discourage one from reading Y: The Last Man. It's good, almost great comics, certainly a demonstration of the power of the medium and a fine gateway for new comics readers. Also surely Y should be of interest to Saga readers, though the similarities of structure between the two discourages a binge — if anything, read Saga first, and then come to Y during the hiatus to see how Brian Vaughan geared up for Saga with Y. The characters who factor majorly into Y: The Last Man Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores are perhaps the clearest sign that this series could have dropped a few arcs in the middle — most of who's here were introduced and then rarely seen after volumes three or four — but at the very least the end was worth the trip.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Y: The Last Man Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Some thoughts here at the end:

    -Seems like my opinion on these last couple volumes was the opposite of yours: I liked the previous volumes more than the end. I wonder if that was because I went into the series knowing there would be no conclusive revelations on the origin of the gendercide and so I wasn't searching for them (similar to Walking Dead, that's not what it's "about").

    -Not a huge fan of the end. It came off as more confused than bittersweet. At least it ended better than Vaughan's Ex Machina (Saga please don't let me down)

    -Is this the origin of the trope of having the final issue flash forward after a major character death? Walking Dead, Invincible, and Chew all did this too (it's a bit overdone at this point).

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