End of Mankind: The literally unmanned world of Y, The Last Man

Gautham Shenoy August 12, 2017

Every so often, the puny Y chromosome turns up in newspapers to occupy a few column centimetres about its impending disappearance, inevitably under sensationalist, click-bait headlines like ‘Men are going extinct!’ or ‘The end of mankind!’.

Today, Y – the sex chromosome that determines if the individual (of any mammalian species) will be male – is tiny compared to the X chromosome in terms of size and number of genes. While X has more than a thousand genes serving varied functions, the Y chromosome has come down to just about 50 genes. Extrapolating this degradation is what leads to sensational stories. Which is inevitably followed by refutations. As things stand, the Y chromosome, even if it did have to go extinct, won’t do so for a few million years at least. But that hasn’t stopped science fiction from imagining what would happen if everyone with a Y chromosome died, in other words, males – human and mammal – just wiped out.

And that’s exactly what kicks off one of the most acclaimed, loved and recommended comic series of all time – Y: The Last Man. Written by Brian K. Vaughan, with art by Pia Guerra, the extended team includes José Marzán Jr. (inker), Pamela Rambo (colourist), and Clem Robins (letterer).

One fine day, everything with a Y Chromosome just dies, right down to the last sperm and foetus. All the men just literally drop dead bleeding, suddenly and simultaneously. Along with all the other non-human male mammals. (Still think it’s a fine day?)

Left: Brian K. Vaughn, writer of Y: The Last Man. Centre: Cover of the comic’s first issue. Right: Pia Guerra, the artist behind Y: The Last Man. Via: Wikimedia
Left: Brian K. Vaughn, writer of Y: The Last Man. Centre: Cover of the comic’s first issue. Right: Pia Guerra, the artist behind Y: The Last Man. Via: Wikimedia

In one fell swoop, the gendercide brought about by this mysterious ‘plague’ – we learn what it is later – wipes out 48% of the world’s population. This includes 495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs, 85% of the people in government positions, 99% of the world’s landowners, 99% of all mechanics, electricians and construction workers and 100% of imams, Orthodox Jewish rabbis, and Roman Catholic priests. In the USA alone, over 95% of pilots, truck drivers, ship captains and violent felons die. It’s almost the death of rock and roll, with even The Who, Radiohead and the remaining Beatles dead. (No mention is made, however, of Keith Richards.)

All males gone. Except….for two. The titular last man, Yorick Brown, a budding escape artist and his pet monkey, Ampersand.

Panels from Y: The Last Man, showing the reaction of a woman police officer in the immediate aftermath of the gendercide.
Panels from Y: The Last Man, showing the reaction of a woman police officer in the immediate aftermath of the gendercide.

Alas, poor Yorick must now navigate his way in this drastically changed and dystopian (utopian?) world because his priority is to be reunited with his lady love halfway across the world. Meanwhile, there are various groups chasing him having found out about his survival and existence. Including an Isreali soldier, and a militant group of radical feminists known as Daughters of the Amazon, who’ve modelled themselves after the Amazonian race. All these many people and groups chasing Yorick have their own ideas of what to do with the last man. If some want him to be an Adam-like figure and help repopulate Earth with men, others see him as the last living symbol of the patriarchy who deserves to be killed. Some couldn’t be bothered because they feel cloning has anyway made men obsolete.

Joining Yorick and Ampersand in the adventures and escapades is a spy, Agent 355 who’s assigned by his politician mother to be his bodyguard, and a brilliant geneticist, Dr. Allison Mann who’s trying to find out what really happened and the solutions science holds for the future of humankind. All along the way, we meet a cast of some very interesting characters – all women of course – including Yorick’s sister, his fiancée, a ninja and more.

Few more self-explanatory panels from Y: The Last Man.
Few more self-explanatory panels from Y: The Last Man.

Engrossing and entertaining from start to finish, Y: The Last Man is graphic storytelling done right and a fine example of what can be achieved in comic book form – with its speculative analysis of gender and gender roles, of society, politics and power structures, the sociological implications of a world without men, and the ethics of science – without being too heavy or burdensome on the reader. With excellent writing, plotting and pacing, with art that matches it, there is never a dull moment as the action keeps shifting from one place to another, from one enemy to a new friend and so on. Y: The Last Man is an adventure, a philosophical enquiry, an emotional exploration of all the possibilities of the premise, a fun read and a satisfying comic book experience rolled into one. Little wonder that Stephen King called Y: The Last Man the best graphic novel he’s ever read. It’s definitely up there high on my personal list of all-time favourite comics and in my opinion, has one of the best endings to a comic book series.

Covers of the first three volumes of the deluxe editions of Y: The Last Man (one of which – Book One, left) – you can win in this week’s NWW contest)
Covers of the first three volumes of the deluxe editions of Y: The Last Man (one of which – Book One, left) – you can win in this week’s NWW contest)

Y: The Last Man had a 60-issue run from 2002 till 2008 when it ended, having been nominated for a Hugo award along the way and winning the prestigious Eisner Awards (the comic book equivalent of the Oscars). It’s easily available today in 10 trade paperback volumes or as five deluxe editions. Speaking of which, as is almost a New Worlds Weekly tradition now, we’re giving away one copy of Y: The Last Man – Deluxe Edition Book One (hardcover) in this week’s contest to the person who can give the best answer to the question, “What I’d do if I found out I was the last man alive on earth.” Tell us what your reactions would be, what you’d do first (or not do at all), would you be glad or sad and why, what would be your priority (and why) – in 50 words or less – before 11:59 pm IST Wednesday, 16th of August, 2017. You can submit your entries in the comments section below, leave a comment on the FactorDaily FB page or tweet to us with #NWWonFD. All the best!

And on that note, I wish you all a happy weekend, a very Happy Independence Day in advance and I’ll see you, as always, next Friday with yet another edition of New Worlds Weekly.

Live Long And Prosper!


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