Yorick Brown finally makes it to Australia! Aaaand his beloved Beth is nowhere to be found. But that’s not the end of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man—we’ve got four more trades left to reread, including this week’s installment. Sydney, then, becomes a day trip en route to the much more narratively important locations of Yokogata and Tokyo, full of other last men (…by a certain definition), popstars-turned-yakuza-leaders, and Beth going full Anastasia leaving Yorick with a “together in Paris” reference. Back in the United States, our new favorite post-apocalyptic girl group finally forms, while welcoming a brand-new member: Beth Jr.!
If that weren’t enough, these two trades are full of some of the series’ very best standalone issues—giving long-needed texture to the pasts of Agent 355, Allison Mann, and Alter Tse’elon with their respective formative traumas. Plus, an Ampersand deep-dive we dare you not to cry at. After all, we need to know where everyone’s at individually as we race toward this series’ epic finale across the world. But first, we need to meet an intrepid reporter and Allison’s badass mom…
Volume 7: Paper Dolls
After the rollicking adventure on the high seas last time that ended in a shipwreck, the series slows things down a bit with a story isolated to 24 hours in Sydney. Due to that shortness, however, this trade also adds on three, count ’em three, key standalone issues—filling in the blanks of 355’s redacted adolescence, matchmaking a friendship between Yorick’s two most important girls (after Beth… and 355… and, well, you get the point), and making yours truly cry like a loon when it comes to Ampersand getting his very own equivalent to the Appa episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves: As a journalist, of course I remembered ruthless tabloid reporter Paloma West, but I had forgotten that she’s only part of a post-apocalyptic power grab over headlines and readership between her derided rag The Monthly Visitor and the more esteemed paper The Global Fellowship. One covers far-off cloning hopes, while the other chases down rumors of cis men’s survival—funnily enough, the latter runs the gamut from ridiculous to pretty on-the-nose (good question about the astronauts, random lady). I like how the remaining female journalists decided not to ascend the ranks of the New York Times or Washington Post (“Democracy Dies… with XY?”) but instead founded new publications entirely.
What a Man, What a Man: And does Paloma have the scoop of the century, or what! Her photographic proof of Yorick provides yet another opportunity to poke fun at the last man’s body insecurities, in which he apparently fails to “rise to the occasion” of being photographed at gunpoint. Despite all the effort he and 355 go to to destroy the film, Yorick is remarkably sanguine about eventually losing control of the narrative and the photo getting published. He says better for it to have wound up in The Monthly Visitor than The Global Fellowship, but as we see from a later scene with Jennifer Brown reading the paper, those who are already searching for the last man will still appreciate the proof of his continued existence.
The Bad Touch: Allison and Rose hop into bed—er, on the exam table together, which at first seems adorable. But as we will learn later in “The Tin Man,” poor Allison has the worst luck with relationships; it stands to reason that the woman who can find her g-spot on the first try would also turn out to be still spying on them.
Life, Uh, Finds a Way: Tongues of Fire established Beth II as both Eve and the serpent—but she did not manage to impregnate herself, despite what the Catholic Church might think. While Sister Lucia Ober (the Church’s highest-ranking woman at present) believes that Beth II has pulled a Virgin Mary and divinely manifested a fetus, her reasoning is a bit reminiscent of, well, the serpent chasing its own tail: Allegedly Beth will give birth to a boy, who will become the next pope, who will pass a law that women can be elevated to run the Church…thus making himself insignificant. But only this miracle boy can do it, and we know that the only male infant is currently waiting for Hero to bring some of Ampersand’s antibodies so he can emerge into the world for the first time. That’s right—Beth’s having a girl!
Because I couldn’t find a place for this in the commentary, I’ll put it here: I appreciate that there’s mention of Beth getting an abortion eight years prior (in her early twenties, maybe?), but I also am curious to know more about how she feels about this pregnancy. Obviously in her isolation (and trying to protect Yorick’s existence) she didn’t feel she could search out a doctor for any scans or even talk of terminating the pregnancy—and for all we know, the country has gotten even more pro-life post-XY, since extinction is a growing worry over the past few years since all the men died. But we don’t see if Beth is resigned to her pregnancy, or welcoming it as an odd quirk of timing; she’s just very matter-of-fact, which I imagine is how she was about her last pregnancy.
Best Magic Trick: Maybe it’s Hero flashing her Amazon scar at the Swiss Guard to convince them that she’s the other parent of Beth II’s offspring—her shameful past providing them with the perfect alibi to avoid death for not fulfilling a sacred prophecy. But really, it’s Yorick bringing together Hero and Beth II because “you two nutty broads deserve each other.” Obviously this sweet dumb boy never considered that his unprotected romp in the church garden would bear fruit, so he didn’t know that him asking Beth II to befriend his traumatized sister was yet another favor with which he was burdening her—nor did he consider that rather than say his goodbyes, they would be forever linked by their own little trick of genetics.
HBIC: 355—both of them, honestly. The ninth one, who recruits her eventual successor in name and jaw-as-close-combat training; and the tenth, who we see through the unimaginable loss of her entire family in one blink to blazing through the ranks of the Culper Ring to suffering a similar loss of her mentor and role model. (But also, it’s not surprising that it would take the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal to disillusion the former Agent 355.)
Big Bad: Alter finally faces off with Jennifer Brown in-person, and while the issue ends on a cliffhanger, it seems pretty clear that she’s murdered her onetime boss.
Plague Narrative: We know from Ring of Truth that Ampersand’s poop protected him and Yorick from the plague, but in 1,000 Typewriters we learn how his cells got rewritten in the first place: The mysterious Dr. M injects Amp with something, with some sort of serum—and then intends to ship him to Allison in Boston, only Amp gets switched at JFK and winds up as Yorick’s helper monkey instead.
Ampersand’s Prophetic Dreams: Raise your hand if you didn’t expect to be crying over a monkey’s laxative-induced hallucinatory dreams about protecting his owner. He’s guarding a nest of eggs? And one of them cracks and it has Yorick’s face?? And he’s fighting off a seagull and the ocean waves because he loves him so much??! How dare Allison say that Amp is incapable of love, HE IS. A:TLA gave us “Appa’s Lost Days,” Hawkeye had the Pizza Dog issue, and Y knew long before them: Always have a standalone episode starring your beloved animal companion in their own words and/or images.
Volume 8: Kimono Dragons
Yorick has the right attitude going into this trade: It might be “another in a long line of emotionally crippling misadventures,” but they’re gonna have fun along the way anyway. If “fun” means facing off with a drugged-out low-rate popstar, reuniting with Ampersand (!!), perhaps discovering something about his relationship with 355… and we haven’t even gotten to the emotional roller coaster that is Allison’s reunion with (and coming out to…!) her doctor mother and revelation about Rose’s true motivations!
Best Magic Trick: I guess we’d have to give it to Yorick’s disguise in Yokogata—it’s the closest thing to a regular outfit after years of gas mask/cloaks and burqas. Between the long hair, the eyeliner, and the mask, he seems to give off the vibe of “lesbian Clockwork Orange fan,” though that sounds somewhat like an oxymoron. Still, it clearly does the trick, because no one gives him a second look. Though I gotta say—before this year, I would not have recognized Yorick’s mask in Japan as a KN95, but that intense familiarity was #tooreal.
What a Man, What a Man: “Welcome to the future,” proclaims the cis male sex android that Yorick and 355 stumble upon in Tokyo. The bot may not have an XY chromosome, but he’s got the same working parts as Yorick, and arguably more of a sensitivity chip—his primary programming seems to be to encourage clients to tell him about their day and to hold them while they cry. Technically, this Blade Runner-esque creation is called an Actroid; the first prototypes were unveiled in 2003 in our reality, so it makes sense that Vaughan would have heard about them while writing Y. While our world’s Actroids are mostly in the “young Japanese woman” model, it stands to reason that the post-plague world would fast-track an older male model—this robot looks like someone’s husband, reunited against all odds, like the Fish & Bicycle troupe’s “last man” play but more wholesome.
Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves: Epiphany the Canadian popstar is such a nothin-muffin of an antagonist that I had completely forgotten she shows up in the third-to-last volume of the series. While it’s a diverting adventure that does have some important plot ripples, it also feels like the closest thing to “fun” before shit gets real at the end. Basically, Epiphany very much gives off “Harmony and the Minionators” vibes from Buffy: A legend in her own mind, but her control over her lackeys is actually pretty fragile. Everyone just seems to be treading water until they have a better boss to follow—which winds up being You.
The Gender Issue: The vice cop/private investigator/possible yakuza member/madam is probably the series’ best example of a woman who has figured out how to combine the multitudes she contains and find a way forward. After using the Actroid to reveal how little Epiphany thinks of her followers, You convinces them to come join her for a more reliable job by reopening the brothels and staffing them with sex robots.
Mano a Mano: Rarely, the most memorable one-on-one moments in this series aren’t showdowns. Stuck in a hotel room after Yorick’s plan of You-as-Lando-at-Cloud-City doesn’t quite work as planned, the last man and his protector fear that they may actually be coming to the end. So, he and 355 take the time to just talk—about him killing Leah, about her knowing what 711 was up to (and having experienced her own précedé d’enfer), actually being real with each other. It’s the platonic ideal of a heart-to-heart, and when she puts her hand on his cheek, it’s undeniable that there’s something between them. Alas, this moment gets interrupted when You does actually save their lives.
That said…back in Yokogata, Allison and new squeeze Rose go searching for her mother’s lab, only for poor Allison to come upon an inferno of destroyed research for the second time since the plague began. When they do track down the first Dr. Matsumori, she winds up running Rose through with a sword (whoops); then, while stitching her up, Toyota—the ninja working for the other Dr. M—shows up. I will never not love Allison’s line about “I’m an Ivy League lesbian, bitch,” but not even her badass fencing is enough to stop Toyota from snatching her mom.
Plague Narrative: Before Dr. M gets spirited away, she does reveal to Allison that she’s the one who convinced President Margaret Valentine to send Yorick her way! …But really, she needed Ampersand to wind up in Allison’s hands, with Yorick just being incidental. But that’s all we get to find out before the cliffhanger.
Beyond saving her mother, Toyota’s taunt will lure Allison to discover just who caused the plague. But before then, we’ve got to prepare for the Motherland arc by meeting Allison in all stages of her life: preternaturally observant child catching her dad cheating with Dr. Ming; secret softie hiding behind a tough-dyke exterior; and Harvard professor who decides to engage in cloning research less out of noble hopes for the future and more to stick it to her dad, who admittedly is quite the asshole.
Life, Uh, Finds a Way: Beth II and Ciba bonding over their babies—carrying Beth Jr. while Vlad Jr. frolics with butterflies—is such a lovely, all-too-brief moment of peace before…
Big Bad: …Alter ambushes the science bunker with a tank and a vendetta. She’s killed Jennifer Brown, and she has no compunctions about playing on the Hartle twins’ love for one another to force them into revealing Yorick’s whereabouts. And while Heidi gives in, Alter reassures them that she’s not there to kill the last man—holding out a photo (that we will later learn is doctored) of female troops supposedly gunning each other down, she proclaims that she is Yorick’s savior. Suuuure.
It wasn’t until I saw Paloma West’s snapshot of Yorick again that I really appreciated the title of Paper Dolls—flattening Yorick, in all his three-dimensional annoyance but also occasional depth, into an image to be dispersed and projected upon. How many girls do you think will grow up comparing notes about this image they stumbled upon in childhood, an urban legend of the supposed last surviving man, and what fantasies or anxieties they dressed him in? It’s also a great lead-in to the sex robot subplot in the next trade: cis men as disposable toys instead of flesh-and-blood beings to be engaged with and engage back.
Speaking of men-as-urban-legends, I appreciate that we get to see not just an American artistic interpretation of the plague with the Noh performance in Yokogata—and especially its meta dimension of the Harajuku and Lolita fashion girls challenging the traditional theater form. I almost wish we could have stuck around long enough to see what, if any, resolution the hitogoroshi (“manslaughter”) demon and the surviving girls reach.
Not that Alter is the human manifestation of the plague, but that’s as good a segue as any to her storming the hot suite in Kansas and going after my favorite quartet of ladies: Natalya, Ciba, Hero, and Beth II. (Seriously, I can’t wait to keep following them in the next two trades, because they are such a good example of women whose paths would never have crossed if not for the plague, but they seem to have such a great dynamic.)
I am as struck now as I was when first reading by the allusions to real-life figure Rachel Corrie in Alter’s backstory in “Gehenna.” Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a place or state of misery” (which certainly fits Alter’s series arc), but Encyclopedia Brittanica adds cultural context in that Gehenna’s original location was a valley southwest of Jerusalem, where children were burned as sacrifices to the Ammonite god Moloch. The death of Alter’s older sister Rachel is what compels her to devote her life to the Israeli Defense Forces. But as Sadie discovers after the plague hits, this Rachel died in the exact same fashion as Rachel Corrie: killed by an IDF bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes. But Rachel Corrie was an American who was in Gaza during a college independent study program as a sister-city program. This Rachel is Israeli, though Alter attends what seems to be an exchange program in Maine before her sister’s death brings her back to Israel. The details are so specific that it seems clear that Vaughan was working a then-contemporary event (Corrie died in 2003, the same year the Actroid was unveiled) into the fabric of his story. Back to the plot: Alter’s devotion to the IDF seems at odds with their role in Rachel’s death, but she explains that her sister died because she was unwilling to see that “peace is more than just impossible, it’s unnatural.” More than any ripped-from-the-headlines inspiration, this is the Alter takeaway that will dictate her actions for the remainder of the series.
Aside from Alter’s approach, the final fifth of the series seems to be primarily driven by emotional conflicts. Sure, Rose has unintentionally revealed via injured confession that she’s still spying for Captain Belleville, but the real drama is in Allison overhearing her and then not confirming to Rose that she knows. Especially after the “Tin Man” standalone where we see how closely Allison guards the void in her chest where a heart is supposed to be, it makes my heart hurt to see her going through their further adventures knowing she has to keep Rose at arm’s length, but still keep her around for their own benefit.
And then there’s our unexpected love triangle of Beth, Yorick, and 355. Obviously there were hints sprinkled throughout the series, from another medicine-induced slip of the tongue back in Marrisville, not to mention that there was clearly more to Yorick’s jealousy about 355 and Allison hooking up in Girl on Girl. Their bonding over sharing all the same pet peeves about other people is amusing in the moment, but combined with their heart-to-heart in the hotel room, it’s undeniable: There are feelings that go beyond “mama bear protecting stupid cub” when 355 tenderly puts her hand on Yorick’s cheek.
But 355’s mission has always been what her predecessor taught her: “The Culper Ring gets people where they need to be.” And as far as our core trio are concerned, Yorick still needs to be reunited with Beth. Though at this point in the series, it seems as if even Yorick is hedging about whether she’s his girlfriend or his fiancée—or even just a girl he used to know. The latter is how he disguises his search for “Bangin’ Beth Deville” to Margot at Palmer’s, the lesbian bar-turned-speakeasy. There’s something funny about Margot misunderstanding why Yorick doesn’t know the significance of Paris—but also, we readers saw it from Beth living out Yorick’s dream back in “Boy Loses Girl.” It’s not so surprising that years later he wouldn’t remember an offhand joke during a water-gun fight (where clearly the more pressing matter was the impending wet T-shirt contest), but it’s also incredibly telling that she’s mythologized Paris whereas it’s only through luck that he now knows where to find her.
A fun little detail: “1,000 Typewriters” is issue #42—the revelations about Ampersand certainly do play into life, the universe, and everything. Plus, he also had a stillborn twin just like Elvis? Damn, he and Yorick really were meant for each other.
Only in pulling the images for this installment did I realize that these two volumes start and end with key photos: the snapshot of naked Yorick that can be dismissed as a bad photoshop job preying on desperate women’s hopes for proof… and Alter’s grossly altered images of war, feeding other women like herself who need there to be a conflict to fight over instead of struggling through peace. Paloma West gets all the flack for just doing her job, which involves chasing down and often inflating rumors, whereas Alter Tse’elon has completely gone rogue, twisting facts into false truths.
Did you also cry? Or laugh, gasp, cheer, curse at the increasing emotional stakes? We’ve got two trades left, so get ready for the inevitable heartbreak.