Pipeline: Reviewing "Y The Last Man"

Tue, August 14th, 2012 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PRELUDE TO A LONGER REVIEW

The aforementioned "longer review" is the second part of my "Y The Last Man" opus. It's spoiler-filled, so I'll run it at the end of the column where you can avoid it if you haven't read the series yet.

  • Quick Kickstarter tip: When figuring out your campaign's goal, please include the cost of labor. If you're a writer, don't ask for funding for just printing and assume you'll find an artist later who'll draw your book for a percentage of the profit. And if you're making a video game, no matter how locked down the design might be, make sure you can pay a programmer a professional wage to finish it. If you don't, Reddit will entertainingly rip you a new one.

  • When Marvel someday announces a release date for "Marvel's The Avengers 2," do you think every other Hollywood Studio with an action/adventure/science fiction movie will automatically move their release at least a month away? Would any executive dare brave the fates of "Battleship" and "Total Recall" of this year?

  • When "Marvel's The Avengers 2" is released, will Warner Bros. still be looking for a director for "Justice League"?

  • While wandering the mall, I noticed a large number of comic book-related t-shirts I saw men wearing. "Graphic tees are in," my wife said.

    "Graphic tees?" Back in my day, we called them t-shirts. If they had comic book characters on them, we were outcasts and geeks and looked down upon and beaten up. Today, they're hip so I've stopped wearing them.

    And, to invoke the bitter words used in all such situations by long-time comic geeks, "If only ten percent of those people wearing comic book t-shirts had actually bought a comic book in the last year, the industry would be in great shape."

  • Two shirts stuck out to me. The first was a cover for the Wolverine/Havok mini-series ("Meltdown") painted by Jon J. Muth. I'm a geek so I recognized the image and remembered the series immediately. The guy wearing the shirt -- who had cut off the sleeves to, I guess, wow me with his bicep size? -- probably has no idea who Havok is, but was happy to find a Wolvie shirt.

    The second was a Bane t-shirt that I later saw on sale in Old Navy. It's funny to me how they've taken a star of the "excessive" 90s and attempted to portray him as a Silver Age character.

  • I think it's great that Hugh Jackman is using Alan Moore for his inspiration for the new Wolverine movie.
LET THE "Y" SPOILERS FLY

Last week, I did a spoiler-free review of "Y The Last Man." This week, we raised the spoiler flag to discuss all the bits I couldn't fit in.

Here be spoilers. You've been warned.

  • I mentiond briefly the lettering of Clem Robins last week, but ran out of time to show some examples. So let's trace the evolution of his style with examples this week.

    Figure 1

    In issue #2 (figure 1), we see Robins' natural veteran hand lettering. It looks comfortable. There are natural imperfections to it that make it feel right. The spots where the balloons meet are imperfect, and even the thicknesses of the balloons varies just a slight bit. The words don't fit perfectly into the balloons (see the second balloon, in the bottom right), but everything feels good.

    Shortly after going digital (figure 2), we see things change. The font is too precise. Every letter sits perfectly on an imaginary line. They all top off at the same level, too. It's too perfect, too regular. The tails are two straight lines and the first one is too wide where it meets the balloon. The bridges between the balloons aren't sure whether they're supposed to start wide and taper off or vice versa, so Robins does one of each.

    Figure 3

    Finally, in this third example near the end of the series (figure 3), you can see the ballon tail that's not perfectly straight. You can see how he joined two balloons without making it look like a simple Photoshop "join" of two circles. They're back to overlapping again. And the font has changed into something more closely resembling Robin's hand lettering style. It's visibly bouncier.

    It's not perfect. To my eye, there are some curved balloon tails that still look too wide or uncomfortably hooked, but it's a big difference from where he started three or four years earlier. It's not the kind of thing you'd notice from issue to issue if you read the series as it came out, but a deep dive into the series makes these things more apparent.

    Plus, I'm a lettering geek. It helps.

    • So what killed all the men? Vaughan raises several possibilities throughout the run of the book, from the hard science to the slightly softer science that's based on observation but no solid cause/effect, to the more spiritual and religious. And while you're most likely drawn to as hard a scientific explanation as possible, there's never a firm solution to the question, is there? About the only thing Vaughan did eliminate is the magical healing powers of the engagement ring, which formed the basis of one strong San Francisco-based story arc, but then was written off as coincidence. Maybe.

      In the end, the science wins out when we fast forward 60 years and see how society is building itself back up. To that end, the spontaneous reappearance of men in the mice population can't be seen as proof that nature abhors a vacuum and automatically recreates what it needs, can it?

      Or am I reading too much into this because I read through it so quickly that I didn't stop to think about it enough? I hope not. I like the nebulousness.

    • That San Francisco storyline had some of Pia Guerra's best and uber-dramatic moments, both on the streets and in the baseball stadium. She drew a dramatic driving rain at night, too, which Zylonol kept readable with appropriate colors. I love that stuff.

    • Yorick's reunion with Beth is a ridiculously strong issue. It's two characters in a room talking for damn near 20 pages. Most of it, naked. It's almost all dialogue, and Vaughan writes it so well that you don't realize until you're done that the whole issue was this conversation. Given that it's the focal point of the series for nearly five years, it deserved that treatment. Not too many writers could have pulled it off, though. Vaughan did it with a doozy, too, when he flips the script and Beth admits that she wanted to break up with him. Ouch. I didn't see that coming at all. I had completely forgotten about that interruption in their last phone conversation. I didn't think anything of it until it came up again. But Vaughan's reasoning behind it made sense, and Beth's back-pedaling was well-reasoned, and the revelation that it allowed Yorick to have about 355 was a natural fallout.

      And did I mention it was all in a single room between two naked characters? It includes two splash pages that echo each other and work in different ways.

    • The first issue deserves credit, too. Looking back on it after reading the whole series, it's remarkable how many wheels Vaughan started turning with those first pages. The "dramatis personnae" are all there. It never feels overwhelming, either. Guerra's characters aren obviously just at the beginning of their evolution, and their final looks will firm up in the coming issues, but it's not a major difference. But Vaughan moves the reader across multiple locations in a couple of different time periods rapidly. There's no time to get settled into one place before zipping to the next. And some of the "random" places you see this early pay off much later, especially with the NASA panel. But you still know who the import people are and who the random sampling of people are. It's a nice trick.

    • The final issue, though, is what sells the series for me. Finales are tough to pull off. Name your favorite long-running television series of all time, for example, and name me the ones whose finales were memorable for being good. (I can only think of "The Shield" and "Babylon 5" at the moment, to tell you the truth.) Vaughan goes more in the "Babylon 5" route by jumping ahead a few years (sixty, in this case) and catching up on where all the characters ended up. And I'll be damned if Ampersand's fate didn't damn near make a tear come to my eye.

      But there is no magic cure. There is the slow march of progress there, and a mix of fates for all the characters. Yorick's finale is a bit more mysterious, as befits the character, but seeing him sitting in a straight jacket, much as we were introduced to him in the first issue, felt right and tragic and awesome and sad all at the same time. After living with his compulsive pop culture name-dropping and self-destructive streak and confused 'romantic' life for 60 issues, seeing him confined in a straightjacket seemed about right. There aren't always happy endings, but at least he survived the experience and lived to see an earth in the midst of repopulation.

      Obviously, you can ask a million more questions at the end of the issue about civilization and the new sexual politics and which nations did or didn't survive the experience. But it's important to remember that all of that is the backdrop to telling the story of this smaller group of characters. What starts out as Yorick Brown's story grows to be that of Hero's, and Beth's, and the other Beth's, and the little Beth's, and Dr. Mann's, and -- well, 355's. You could almost make the argument that this is 355's series more than Yorick's. I almost started making that case until I realized that the same could be said of Dr. Mann, who has a complete character arc, a serious role in the series' overall storyline, and a definitive conclusion. Yorick's fiancee pales by comparison next to those two. While she gets a spotlight issue at one point, her character is not a major point of the series beyond being the carrot at the end of the stick for Yorick. Her shadow looms larger than her actions. She's more than a MacGuffin, but she turns out not to be quite the destination we had all expected.

    • Poor 355. You had to see it coming. She put her life in danger for the entire series. She survived a stabbing/impaling or two. She had guns pointed at her and punches landed against her and every sort of bruise imaginable. And when her mission was completed, so too was her character arc. Trading in a gun for a dress was a very symbolic gesture, but it also meant that her role was complete and, well, you always hurt the ones you love, right, Vaughan? Didn't make it any less tragic to see the bullet in her forehead, though.

    • It took 56 issues to get to this image. Now that is restraint.

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  • TAGS:  pipeline, y the last man, brian k vaughan, pia guerra

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