“The Ring of Truth: Chapter Three”
Plot: The three-way confrontation between Agent 355 (Yorick’s protector), Hero (his sister), and Anna Strong (of the mysterious and almost certainly insidious Setauket Ring) is brought to a climax, but not resolved. Back at the lab Dr. Mann discovers the cause for Yorick’s collapse and continuing ill-health while the mysterious Toyota lurks outside the window. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, Yorick dreams of his “sessions ” with Agent 711. Dr. Mann makes a startling declaration.
Comments: Science fiction – excluding space operas such as Star Wars or Dune – typically lies somewhere on the continuum between longing for the future and dreading it. The closer to the present the story is set, the darker the view tends to become, partly because it is hard to imagine our way out of the binds – sociopolitical, environmental, economic, scientific, ethical – in which the human race currently finds itself. Thus it is in the not-so-distant 2019 that we see the dark dystopia of Blade Runner, and in the already-past 1997 that Snake Plissken escapes from the hell on earth of New York. The resonance of Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man has its source in this temporal proximity: The Earth that its characters inhabit is ours, minus, of course, the men.
YTLM #29 continues hilariously, and touchingly to illuminate the human condition by using a global cataclysm as social laboratory. While this issue is more given over to furthering the plot than to character explorations, the familiar games Vaughan plays with gender are still on display. Anna Strong, aptly referred to by Hero as Annie Lennox, stands, baseball bat in hand, on a pitcher’s mound flanked by her Birka-wearing henchwomen, each of whom is armed with a pistol pulled straight from a James Bond film. The dissonance between this multitude of conflicting gender emblems is typical of the title and the reason for its quirky energy.
But this tableau of a butch pop singer and Islamic fundamentalists playing secret-agent baseball was present in the previous issue, and this is where the weakness of YTLM #29 lies: the plot presses forward, but it relies on images and ideas that have already been deployed. Although Yorick’s dream of the dominatrix Agent 711 is executed cleverly (one of the laugh-out-loud moments of the issue occurs when she says, “I thought you promised to quit your faggy little suicide attempts.”), the real power of the scene comes from the reader’s memory of it, not because it is reused in any new way. Likewise, Dr. Mann’s bickering with Yorick (“You absolute retarded son of a retard!”) crackles as sharply as ever, but without deepening the dynamic that already exists between the two characters.
The issue makes up for this failing by heightening the drama. Agent 355’s realization that the Setauket Ring has killed agent 711 sends her into action-hero mode, but it is with tears in her eyes that she extracts vengeance. Hero, who has become a most compelling minor character, inspires the reader’s pity as she struggles with the conflict between her tough Amazon posturing and her total lack of real direction. As usual, Pia Guerra’s matter-of-fact drawings serve as a clear conduit for the story being told. The sense of drama is derived not from the textured expressionism of an artist, such as Daredevil’s Alex Maleev, but from a faithful service to the action of the scene.
New readers looking for a point of entry into Y: The Last Man would do better to pick up Safeword, the latest collection, for a fuller introduction to the title. The qualities that make Vaughan’s writing so successful – his capacious imagination and the sense that his characters, like the actors on Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls, must have taken elocution lessons to deliver such an endless stream of wit – are evident in issue #29, but as a stand-alone, it doesn’t quite capture the pleasure to be had from the book.
The cause of Yorick’s recent illness is discovered to be something quite common. Hero, 355, and the Setauket Ring have a three-way fight that leaves two dead and one crippled. The ninja that’s been following our heroes and heroines is now outside their window. And Dr. Mann thinks she knows how Yorick survived the plague.
What’s great about Y is how it answers some questions while raising others. Hero reveals why she and her mother, the current U.S. president, think Agent 355 and the Culper ring have kidnapped Yorick. Hero also reveals that Agent 711, 355’s friend is dead; killed by the Setaukets. Plot points from previous stories come into play here, which shows how well Vaughn thought out the series. Everything happens for a reason, and those reasons are being revealed.
This issue also shows how much 355 dislikes killing people. She has killed before, but only when she had no other choice. Here, given the choice, she cripples her opponent. 355 actually cries when Hero points her gun on her. 355 wants to protect lives instead of taking them. Too bad one often means the other. Her personal journey is just as much a part of the story as Yorick’s.
And what more can we say about the art of Guerra and Marzan? It’s clean, clear, emotional, passionate, and easy to follow. And let’s not forget the contributions of color studio Zylonol and letterer Clem Robins. They all contribute to the book’s excellent look and feel.
Short version: This is one of, if not the, best comic book series on the stands right now! I can’t think of anything else that would convince you to buy it. What, you want swearing and titty? It’s got that too, you dumb fuck. If you’re stupid, buy this and get smart. If you are smart, prove it and buy this.
Intro: A global plague strikes instantly, killing every animal with a Y chromosome–except for one man and his pet monkey! As species begin to go extinct and human civilizations grapple with its new status quo, Yorick Brown slowly makes his way across the United States toward the cloning research facilities of Dr. Allison Mann in a desperate effort to preserve Earth’s dominant life form. Aided by secret agent 355, Yorick has survived attacks by Amazon warriors, Israeli spies, and his own sister. But why did he last out the plague that killed every other male on the planet?
This issue: Dr. Mann nurses an ailing Yorick, who believes the plague has finally caught up with him. Meanwhile, 355 barters with rival agents for the ring Yorick swears has kept him alive. Hero, sibling of the Last Brother, attacks the gang of spooks without discrimination. As the true cause of Yorick’s illness reveals itself, Dr. Mann makes a startling discovery.
Thoughts: If you haven’t been reading this series, you’ve got some reading to do. Most story arcs to date have been collected, and you’ll want to start at the beginning. Next issue promises the Great Revelation, how Yorick survived the plague. And writer Brian K. Vaughn’s stories seldom fail to pay off big.
Artist and series co-creator Pia Guerra has been a great help in maintaining a consistent feel and tone to the series, with minimal fill-in issues by other artists so far. Her straight-forward illustra
tions perfectly transmit the both the humorous and horrifying aspects of Yorick’s life, both of which are dominating forces on the book.
Waiting for the trade?: Although Y is written in multi-issue arcs, it actually reads better as a monthly due to the maintained level of high suspense and regular cliffhangers. One doesn’t want to wait a whole month to discover what Dr. Mann has found, but the delayed gratification makes it sweeter. Plus, there will certainly be rampant spoilers before the paperback arrives, and missing the full impact of this revelation would be most unfortunate. For those who’ve been reading the series in TPB up to now, it would be a good idea to break the habit just this once and get this arc in serial form. Don’t worry about how your bookshelf will look; according to the Zen principle of wabi-sabi an imperfect collection is more perfect for its flaws. And who can argue with Zen.
Damn you, Keith Dallas!
I was happily reading this series in TPBs every six months or so. Y: The Last Man is a great comic, and the story arcs make for wonderful reading in one sitting. But Keith is the guy who decides what we reviewers will be writing about in the Sunday Slugfest. Keith seems like a great guy, and I enjoy making him happy. So when he specifically asked me to part of the team to review the latest issue of Y, I said sure.
Poor naïve me…
Little did I know this issue would have a killer cliffhanger. Like an awesome cliffhanger. Like the kind of cliffhanger where a reader literally can’t wait for the next issue for the great revelation to come to pass.
I was happily living my life, thinking about Christmas shopping and work and sex and my complicated feelings about Brian Michael Bendis’s writing, and all the other things a regular guy thinks about. Then my buddy Dallas steps in and now I have something else on my mind. What is the great revelation? What happened? And will it push this wonderful series in a whole new direction?
I don’t blame Brian Vaughan or Pia Guerra. They’re just doing their jobs, and doing them well, as always. This is about as solid a series as there is in comics these days: clever, interesting and creative.
No, it’s all Dallas’s fault. Damn you, Keith Dallas. Now I’m counting the days till Y #30 comes out. January 5th. 31 days. 31 long, long days.