Y : The Last Man : Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, #1)Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a lot of time for Brian K. Vaughan.

It started with my discovery of Runaways, a series that rapidly came to encapsulate some of the best things about comics for me. And with Pride, I realised that I was in it for the long haul. I like what Brian K. Vaughan does. I like the art of his writing; the great soaring arcs of plot and of action that can be captured over ten issues or ten frames, the moments where everything seems to still and hinge upon a word, and those moments of writing that seems to almost split and bare a characers soul before me. I like that. I am, at times, rampantly jealous of that.

I’ve taken a long time to get round to Y:The Last Man. I’m not sure why. A little bit of it is due to the fact that I get a lot of my books from the public library and they’ve always been hard to get hold of. The comic books, I mean, not the libraries. Although in today’s climate – ? I digress. Suffice to say, though I have been aware of the series for a long time, I’ve only just got round to it.

And that pains me because this series, this book of such a simple premise – what happens if all the men on earth suddenly die? – is so very good. It is so good because there is a coda to that thesis statement and that is this: all the men on earth have died, save one. The last man. The eponymous Y – Yorick Brown. And his monkey, Ampersand. The two of them have, against all odds, survived whatever it was that has killed every other man on earth.

This volume follows Yorick as he tries to find his girlfriend, tries to escape the various authorities on his tale, and tries to figure out just what it means to be the last man.

What I love about this volume (and the great, wild arcs that develop from it) is the fact that Vaughan is unafraid to give us a problematic hero. (A Hero. Ha. Yorick’s sister is called Hero. Their father was really into Shakespeare.) Yorick is flawed. His life is not as it should be.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps Y:The Last Man is about the nature of heroism and what that entails. Destiny, maybe, and the problem of great and world-shattering hope being put into the hands of those who aren’t quite ready for that yet. Humans, maybe. That’s the best way to describe it. This volume, and the series as a whole, colours the post-male world in shades of vivid and deep grey. Nothing is quite right any more. But then, what’s right? Why do we do what we do? Is this simply the world reasserting itself? Is this how it was always going to be? What would you do? What should Yorick do? How do you continue to live in a world where you’re the only one left?

Choose light. Choose dark. Choose rage. Choose hope. Choose to walk into tomorrow with your eyes wide-shut, or with your arms outstretched and ready to receive whatever may come. Just choose something. Something. Anything.

I love that Vaughan throws all that at us and asks us to consider what we’d do. And I love that he doesn’t make it clear. He doesn’t make it easy. He doesn’t make it right. Yorick makes decisions, foolish and blind, and – it’s true. To him. Maybe not to the ideals of what this world could be. But it’s his experience of that world, and Vaughan lets that happen in the right way. The complicated, contradictory and often foolish way.

This is storytelling, really, even the parts that made me feel uncomfortable and antagonistic towards the text. And don’t get me wrong, there are parts of this story which are deeply problematic – but they are problems of this story and they are integral to this story and this story is Yorick’s and so, to ignore these problems and to edit his storyline would pull the story far away from him and to a place that it should not be.

Y: The Last Man is a lesson in how to handle the light and dark, the madness of story and how to let it tell itself. It is a lesson in complexity and darkness and shadows and light, and it is is a lesson in a comic that is anthemic in scope and reach.

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part two)

The Jolly Postman – Janet & Allan Ahlberg

This book is one of those that rewards persistence. Every double page spread has a *something* that can be pulled out of the envelope,  and be read. I love the layers that are at work here and how, very subtly and cleverly, the concept of story is played with and expressed to the utmost.

Similar to : The Jolly Christmas Postman

When The Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs

Possibly one of the finest and most heart-breaking graphic novels produced this century, Where The Wind Blows is full of rage and hopeless anger. Superbly, and subtly constructed, it is the story – and the painful conclusion – of a husband and wife dealing with the impact of nuclear war.

Similar to : Maus

Dear Grandma Bunny – Dick Bruna

The brilliance of the Miffy books is undoubted, but Dear Grandma Bunny is one of the finest. Dealing with the death of Grandma Bunny in quiet, clear imagery, it is superb and reaches much deeper than it appears to. Worth hunting out.

Similar to : Nothing.

Cloudland – John Burningham

A picture book made of magic, Cloudland is the story of the children up in the clouds and the games they play. Albert, out walking with his parents in the mountains, falls off the edge of a cliff and instead of falling to his doom is caught by the cloud children. Stylistically this book is incredible, told in a mixture of cut-outs overlaid on the most beautiful of images. It’s very beautiful.

Similar to : Helen Oxenbury (hee)

Stanley’s Stick – John Hegley / Neal Layton

A vivid, screaming to be read out loud, tribute to imagination and the sheer joy of play, Stanley’s Stick is a delight. Stanley goes through the book discovering everything his stick can be. A charming, beautifully constructed book.

Similar to : E Nesbit (I know there’s an age difference but hey, esoteric remember? 😉 )

Rosie’s Walk – Pat Hutchins

Don’t let the front cover fool you, this book is superb and not at all dated . Witty and sparky with a constant hive of activity in the background, it’s one which pays off the reader in slapstick by the barrel load. Brilliant.

Similar to : Laurel and Hardy

A Ball for Daisy – Chris Raschka

Poetic, wordless, lush imagery tells the story of Daisy and her ball. Raschka’s use of line is bold and thick and vivid, and Daisy herself is a gorgeously vivid creation. One of the books that makes you think words aren’t always necessary.

Similar to : The Chicken Thief

The Five Senses – Herve Tullet

I have a lot of love for Tullet’s work primarily because of the sheer, irrepressible exuberance of it. Nominally an exploration of the five senses, this book provides a journey into the act of reading (can you tell I love an interactive, active engagement with a text?!). This book’s awesome, passionate and full of joy.

Similar to : Press Here

Pride – Brian K Vaughan

A deceptively simple alternative look at the invasion of Iraq. It’s told through the eyes of a pride of lions accidentally freed from Baghdad Zoo. This book is alternatively terrifying, heartbreaking, and laugh out loud funny. It’s a visual tour-de-force.

Similar to : Persepolis

Runaways (Volume One) – Brian K Vaughan

This book  revolutionised my perception of graphic novels and the first couple of volumes in the series are stunning. Based on the simple premise, what if your parents are really evil, Runaways is awesome. Want strong female heroines? Want them to mention things like puberty? Want a dinosaur? Done.

Similar to : Famous Five meets the X-Men

Pride of Baghdad : Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

Pride of BaghdadPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have I told you how much I love Pride? I fell in love with Brian K Vaughan after discovering Runaways (which I blogged about here) and first discovered Pride on a day when the rains opened and I sheltered in a library in Maidenhead.

And I discovered a very, very good book that moved me to tears and laughter and heartbreak all in one sitting.

The eponymous Pride of Baghdad (oh there are levels we can read that title at, so many levels) is Zill, lion of the Baghdad Zoo, and his lionesses Safa and Noor and her cub Ali. Their life changes forever when the sky erupts with bombs and naturally, inevitably, some of them fall on the zoo and free the animals inside. We follow the Pride on their exploration of Baghdad, through good times and the bad, through to a, well, a climax of intense proportions set up against the blood red evening sky.

This book is beautiful, and heartfelt, and something so very special. The artwork (Niko Henrichon, playing a blinder) is dynamic, bold and yet curiously lyrical all at the same time. Some of the big splash pages are full of poetic staging set against the most destructive of backgrounds. There’s a lot going on here and it’s worthwhile taking a moment or two to let the images sink in.

Naturally there’s an element of commentary on the nature of war and the invasion of Iraq but it’s one that I felt didn’t overshadow the book. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, is achingly painful and poignant to read and one that will – and should incite discussion. The main narrative itself has some very hard moments which are painful – and upsetting to read. There’s an implication of repeated rape at one point (over a one page spread) and the eventual antagonist in the book is a defiantly terrifying character. It’s vital to remember that a vast part of this book is allegorical in nature and can be read on so many levels.

I read this, whilst the rain pounded down outside in one of those viciously emphatic downpours that the UK is prone too, and I didn’t move for the entire afternoon. This book held me.

It still does.

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Runaways (a love letter)

Dear Runaways,
May I tell you a secret?

I still love you.

Gert. Nico. Karolina. Molly. Mighty Molly Hayes with your hat of awesome. I still love you. All of you. My beautiful, brilliant, bad-as-hell Runaways.

When I saw that the second round of the Women Write About Comics blog carnival was Favourite Stories Starring Women, I knew it had to be about you. In a way, my comics love begins and ends with you. There’s a dalliance with Ms Marvel, a lovely dalliance that primarily began and ended with (ohgodshehassuchlovelylovelyhair) but it comes back to you. My Runaways. Always.

You’re currently lost in limbo, abandoned somewhere between guest appearances and the dark corners of Hiatus-Land. But you were good, once. You were so damn good.

Karolina Dean

When the quirky girl discovered she could fly, when the youngest kid found out she was a super-strong mutant , the witch got her powers when she got cut (or had her period) and when the fat chick got her dinosaur, I knew I had my series. Simple as.

You never forget your first love.

This is what made comics brilliant to me. Your story, such a simple one, such an elegant hook of ‘parents truly are evil’, had me. (“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean it but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you” – Larkin).

Runaways had me at Pet Dinosaur. Runaways had me at “Try Not To Die”. Runaways had me, to be somewhat cliched, at hello.

The representation of the female characters in Runaways blew me away. Still does.  I’m sorry, but I’ll be ignoring the covers and the subtle, and the none too subtle, moments of Gert-slimming, as these are just extraneous paratexts in my eyes. They’re not my story. Not today. Today is about you.

Forget vampires, forget time-travelling bad guys, forget duplicitous boy-crushes; these women were ultimately defined by each other. They weren’t defined by some big bad of the week or even by their clothing (there’s no typical superhero garb to be had here). They wore hippie-chic, casual-urban, or hipster-goth twists on street clothes. Practical yes, but still resolutely sharp, sexy and so viscerally teen (and oh! Molly’s hat!), Spandex and overtly superhero outfits were adult. They were symbols of the establishment that the Runaways had stepped away from. Superhero names were adopted, yes, but ultimately discarded or used in with wry humour at their arch metatextual nature.

This team did things their own way.

Cover to Runaways vol. 1 #15 Art by Jo Chen.

And then … somehow … it all got a little lost.

The mad, glorious heights that the Runaways had scaled suddenly stopped. I love Whedon and I will do so forever but his issues of Runaways were stuttering. Short, sharp stutters in a series that had been previously so full of brilliance that they had made me gibber at Brian K Vaughan when I met him at a convention. I had meant to ask him to sign my issues in a nicely coherent manner, but instead I just went “BBeudhcCouldYouSignThesePleaseThankyouMurbeleBleh”

What went wrong, I think, lay in the shift of focus. It continued after the Whedon issues. It continued and became so awfully pronounced.  The Runaways (and I’m suddenly deeply aware of the irony here) began to fit in. These women became less. Just … less. Their differences, their strengths, their Gert – it was all gone.  It was diluted as the game-changing original issues were stretched far beyond the limits of credulity and believability. These teens needed to be lonely, brilliant, moody wanderers. These women didn’t fit in. The world of rules, of adulthood and responsibility, wasn’t theirs. They were teenagers; mad, confused, emotional teenagers living a sort of Kerouacian dream that I could never have dreamt of experiencing (but God, I wanted to read it so bad).

My Runaways never came back.

I stuck with the series through to the Immonen issues and to the eventual hiatus(ness…ness?) but it all fell flat. Flat and a little pat. This wasn’t the team I loved anymore. Though I adore Xavin, and Chase, and Victor, and Klara, (and in a different way, the machiavellian Alex)  none of them ever got to me as much as the original Nico-Karolina-Gert-Molly quartet.

These women were different. They had periods (periods! the realisation women had periods! I still can’t get over how revolutionary this was!). They worried about love. They had good days and bad days. They fought. They laughed. They lived. They remain one of the most inspirational groups of fictional women I’ve ever met. Shit happens. Shit of the shittiest kind happens, but you deal. You deal with it and you come through it and you come through it strong if you just have faith in who and what you are. You may be a screw-up, an abandoned kid, a runaway, but your power comes when you admit it. And the more … ‘corporate’ … the Runaways became, the more I lost the original heart of this team that had captured me whole.

So thank you, thank you Brian K Vaughan for creating a team full of brilliant, wondrous women. I’ll remember the good times.  I’ll remember the moments when they were survivors. I’ll remember the moments when you realise that with characters who are this brave and bold and strong, you can change the world.

And, as for the bad times, I’ll paraphrase a certain Joss Whedon.  The biggest threat to the Runaways was the world – both inside the narrative and outside of it. The hardest thing that the Runways ever had to do was to live in it.

Recommended issues: Runaways #1-#24, Brian K Vaughan

all images are copyright: marvel comics