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Y: The Last Man (Volume Three of Ten: One Small Step)

part of Brian K. Vaughan's sci-fi comic book series from DC/Vertigo

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The quest to save MANkind goes astray for two issues

  • Jun 7, 2012

Lots of people are after Yorick Brown.

Some want to save him because he is the only man to survive a sudden and bloody plague that killed all of the other men on Earth and all the other mammals with a Y chromosome, except Yorick's pet monkey, Ampersand. His would-be saviors see Yorick as humanity's last chance to re-populate.

But others want him dead. To them, a world without men will be Eden and Yorick is an obstacle on the road to paradise.

In One Small Step, the third volume in his exceptional science fiction comic book series, Brian K. Vaughan introduces someone who wants the monkey. Maybe Ampersand is more vital to mankind's future than we thought, perhaps even more than Yorick himself.

It is an intriguing suggestion that sets the stage for future riveting installments, and it comes in a digression. In Volumes One and Two, Vaughan has focused on the challenging journey that Yorick and his colleagues are taking to the research lab in California in which they hope to solve the plague's mysteries and ensure the resurgence of men and other male animals. Vaughan maintains that focus for five of the seven issues of the comic book that are collected in this paperback. But in the final two issues, he concentrates on a troupe performing a play about the last man on Earth.

Some readers will appreciate the change of pace from Yorick's difficulties, while others will think it is a needless distraction that adds little, except for the shadowy figure who is willing to kill to get the monkey. And except for a terrific bit of self-deprecatory humor: Vaughan, who has named his title character Yorick, has one of the actresses say, "If there's one thing I hate, it's crappy works of fiction that try to sound important by stealing names from the Bard."

For me, the theatrical troupe storyline is unconvincing, the first instance in which Vaughan's characters do not ring true. The actresses have named their company the Fish & Bicycle Traveling Theater Troupe, a nod to the 1970s witticism that a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. But their own play presents women as sex-crazed nymphomaniacs who voice in vulgarities their desperation for a man. Vaughan has resisted the adolescent porn aspects of the one-man-many-women scenario so far. That is enough to make one trust that this is a momentary lapse, not to be repeated.

Fortunately, most of One Small Step is not about the thespians. They are the focus of only two of the seven issues collected in this volume.

Yorick and his comrades, Dr. Allison Mann, a cloning expert, and Agent 355, a mysterious government operative, are joined by a Russian agent in an effort to get to a Soyuz capsule that is expected to crash in Kansas. Aboard might be an astronaut and a cosmonaut who would instantly triple the number of men on Earth, if they can survive whatever remains of the plague. The trouble is that a hardcore Israeli army colonel wants to capture Yorick for her country, and the other men as well. It is a dangerous race to the capsule in which the Israeli side is, surprisingly, aided by a character we met in an earlier volume but whose motives we might not understand as well as we thought.

As he has through the series so far, Vaughan writes with energy and audacity that allow him to make convincing developments that could have seemed implausible. That is, until we get to the bit about the Fish & Bicycle Traveling Theater Troupe.

Fortunately they aren't in Volume Four.

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