Avast! It’s the next installment of the Y: The Last Man reread. Even if the prior two trades of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s comic covered the most narrative ground in the post-apocalyptic series, these two trades are significant for crossing the United States—and then leaving it. Yorick Brown is set for Australia, after all, both for Beth’s sake and because he needs to find his kidnapped capuchin Ampersand.
From San Francisco to the high seas, Yorick’s metaphorical yellow brick road is getting harder to follow, but this post-XY Dorothy and his Tin Man (Dr. Allison Mann) and Scarecrow (Agent 355) will continue gamely on, with a cameo from the Cowardly Lion (Hero), plus a biblical serpent and some sexy pirates. Other detours include hookups for all the major players, which are contrasted with some tough truths about how women have survived post-plague and stunning reveals about who is actually alive—for both Yorick and Beth. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because we have to meet the other Beth…
Volume 5: Ring of Truth
Ring of Truth is always the volume where I forget that it’s not just halfway-point plot filler. Even though it has a tough act to follow with Safeword, and the latter half of the series starts upping the stakes by going international, these three arcs are vital to the series, and include the introduction of my personal favorite character Beth II and the potential answer to why Yorick and Ampersand survived the plague.
The Bad Touch: If you thought that Safeword had absolved Yorick of all of his Catholic guilt involving sex and death, the two-issue arc Tongues of Flame says “hold my lighter.” Beth II seems almost spiritually delivered to Yorick in his time of need/after he nobly resisted 711’s reverse psychology: She’s a snarky blonde who survived the plague and has the wicked facial scar to prove it. Unlike sweet brunette Sonia, or the gorgeous Kilina we’ll meet in the next volume, Beth II looks and sounds enough like his fiancée down to the name that it’s easy for Yorick to imagine that he’s found his Beth on the other side of the country instead of the other side of the world—that here she is, changed by this new reality but not entirely unrecognizable and still very smart and sexy.
But in reality, this Beth is a stranger with whom he has a good rapport and great chemistry, and she takes on something of the serpent-in-the-Garden-of-Eden role. She bluntly points out that Yorick’s Beth is probably either dead or shacked up with another woman (foreshadowiiiiing!), and she pursues him as freely as Eve deciding she wants a bite of that knowledge-fruit. She may even be the first woman that Yorick has had unprotected sex with; his first time with Beth involves that fly-infested tissue, and a later flashback between them seems to imply that while they don’t grab condoms in that heated moment, they also don’t have penetrative sex. This amps up the forbidden nature of Beth II and Yorick, and might as well be a big beacon hinting at life, uh, finding a way once again later in the series.
While Beth II doesn’t regret tempting Yorick in the church garden, she does draw the line at fully stealing him away from his search for the OG Beth. It is funny, however, that Beth II’s parting words involve wisdom about learning to carry your mistakes with you… And just in case readers were worried, Tongues of Flame oh-so-briefly reveals that Beth is currently alive, though about to be kidnapped by some Aboriginal women…
Best Magic Trick: Yorick as God/ghost-priest/symbol of all the toxic masculinity tied up with the church for the Amazons. Between the sound system, quoting Pulp Fiction, and performing the reverse Balducci levitation, he was no David Copperfield, but he also distracted the Amazons just long enough to make the trick successful.
HBIC: Beth II, obviously—her flashback is the best “where were you on the day it happened” story, with her forcing the Rapture-obsessed air traffic controller to do her goddamn job. Even if Beth ultimately blames herself for potentially taking more lives by grabbing the controls instead of trusting that the pilots had set it to autopilot before they died, she acted heroically.
Plague Narrative: Culper Ring splinter group the Setauket Ring is convinced that the Amulet of Helene killed all the men the moment it left Jordan; plus, its leader Anna Strong cites its supposed ancient tie to Helen of Troy and her final punishment, implying an eventual revenge on the other sex. But when it comes down to it, they’d rather destroy the amulet than have 355 deliver it to its original destination of Ankara to open up talks between Turkey and Jordan. So really, their intention all along was to maintain the status quo—that is, to prevent any possibility of all the Earth’s dead men coming back to life. Anna acts like she’s all about championing the women of Saudi Arabia in their newfound freedom, but 355 calls her out for her “white woman’s burden routine.”
The trade’s other jewelry-related red herring involves the “magic” engagement ring that Yorick bought for Beth at his local magic shop: made of silver and gold, it’s meant to represent masculinity and femininity. When the Setauket Ring snatches it as collateral to trade for the amulet, Yorick suddenly begins vomiting blood, seemingly implying that the ring somehow protected him for the past several years…only for Dr. Mann to realize that Yorick just has run-of-the-mill botulism, and the ring doesn’t mean anything more than its original symbolic promise.
Instead, Yorick’s convalescence helps potentially solve the plague mystery by giving Dr. Mann the delightful revelation that what seems most likely to have protected the last man is… Ampersand’s poop. That’s right, the feces-flinging capuchin was actually dosing Yorick with Y-shaped antibodies, which poetically is so perfect, but all Yorick can feel is bitter disappointment at such a “rip-off.” Of course, it makes sense that he would be upset that there wasn’t some cosmic reason for his special survival, but he’ll have time to keep processing that over the series’ latter five trades.
Yorick’s Prophetic Dreams: More of a fever dream, but it’s got Yorick and Beth doing… Buck Rogers (feel free to correct me if I missed the reference)? It’s a brief dream that seems less intent on telling him something, unless you count dream!Beth rattling off the various definitions of bridge—fitting, as this trade is something of a bridge between their adventures in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Hero’s Prophetic Dreams: Starting in the single issue Hero’s Journey and continuing on through Ring of Truth, Hero swings between memories—though one features the voice of Queen Victoria (?) speaking to her through a statue (??), which seems like a childhood fancy that is then fulfilled by her encounters with Victoria both living and as a Battlestar Galactica-esque voice in her head. The latter resembles an acid trip, with Hero returning to her murder of Sonia but ultimately turning on Victoria.
Sins of the Father: Despite the former Amazon leader goading her into killing Yorick, Hero realizes that Victoria sounds most like her father, which gives her the strength to put a dream-arrow through her dream-eye.
Life, Uh, Finds a Way: We now officially know that Ciba’s baby is Vladimir, Jr.—named for his father, aww. (Honestly, I was expecting his full name to be Vladimir Joseph Weber to properly honor the space throuple.) And while Hero’s initial arrival had Head Victoria hissing at her to dash the poor baby boy’s brains in, by the end of this trade she’s carrying Ampersand’s poop antibodies back to the Hartle twins so they can try to synthesize some sort of protection for Vlad so he and Ciba can finally leave the hot suite.
Mano a Mano: We get two San Francisco showdowns showcasing 355’s skill—important considering all of the anti-Culper Ring bullshit that Jennifer and Hero have been spouting, plus the fact that poor Three-Fifty has been stuck as Yorick’s babysitter for so long. First she faces off with Anna and the Setauket Ring in Candlestick Park; and when she finds out that Anna is the one who killed 711? Hoo boy, that fight goes quick. Later, she and Toyota fight over Amp on the Golden Gate Bridge in a dazzling rainsoaked scene.
Death Wish: While initially it sounds like Yorick is challenging Hero by asking, “Why didn’t you just kill yourself?”, it becomes clear that he’s begging her not to. We also learn that their grandfather, who molested Hero, eventually killed himself. It’s very them for the Brown siblings to bond over deciding to make up for the horrors they’ve inflicted on the world.
Volume 6: Girl on Girl
One of the series’ more lurid-sounding titles, it actually has a dual meaning: Yes, it teases 355/Allison on the cover, but this trade really crystallizes the situation when two opposing sets of women are both trying to survive. Past issues have featured individual communities (Marrisville) or collectives (the Daughters of the Amazon, the Republican widows) reshaping what their survival and future looks like going forward. When Yorick and co. wind up in the middle of the Royal Australian Navy versus The Whale, his status as the last man isn’t as pressing as these sailors and pirates determining who rules the seas.
The Gender Issue: Never has Y: The Last Man‘s gender-based worldbuilding been more confusing than one of the pirates referring to Yorick as “another testosterone junkie?” The pirate’s lack of appreciation for trans men is unfortunately clear, but the line lacks the necessary follow-up to explain if this is a minority opinion or really how much thought cis women give to trans men. Knowing in retrospect that they’re drug-runners does lend some texture to her characterization of Yorick as a junkie; could it be that alongside the Bobbis of the world there are other trans men who have been misdosing testosterone in some way?
HBIC: It’s dueling captains time! In this corner, you have Kilina, bursting out of her quarters with her “avast” and her barely-buttoned top, and who seems hot and competent. But who’s that in the approaching submarine? Why, it’s Captain Bellville! Tough as nails, adored by her crew (even when she has to make difficult decisions to leave someone behind, like spy Rose), she’s a fantastic depiction of a middle-aged woman in a speculative story who is entirely in her element.
Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: Despite the Royal Australian Navy initially coming across as the villains, considering that they’re chasing and spying on The Whale, it soon becomes clear that they’re technically the good guys—because Kilina and co. are drug runners. As Rose tells Allison, the post-apocalyptic drug war began with an American girl taking advantage of most of the DEA croaking to grow opium in the national parks and eventually send it overseas to hook four-fifths of Australia’s surviving female population. When confronted, Kilina is unapologetic about how they get by, and how their customers cope. And yet, neither entirely earns the Big Bad title this time around, for reasons you’ll see later on…
The Bad Touch: 355/Allison! This hookup was hot, but also intensely bittersweet, especially upon reread. For one, 355 asking for Allison’s glasses (“how bad is your prescription?”) makes it seem as if she’s looking for a level of remove—not that she only wants a warm body, because she and Allison have had moments of understanding over the past few years. But it still feels like it’s more about 355 being horny (as evidenced by her knitting) than about acting on an attraction to Allison. Even worse is she knows that Allison has, or had, a crush on her.
If Yorick hadn’t barged in on them, this probably would have been written off as a night between friends blowing off some steam. But instead, he makes it all about his wounded feelings (jealousy? FOMO?) and immediately shames 355 into a blurted “This isn’t what it looks like.” And once they’re made aware of the encroaching battle of the seas that they’ve wound up in the middle of, Allison and 355 realize that they are on such different sides ethically that last night really was a mistake.
Those who live on glass ships should not throw stones, however, because it’s not long before Yorick and Kilina are macking on each other over Battleship. What is fascinating is how clearly pop culture plays into each of Yorick’s short-lived attractions: Sonia could quote Bowie, Kilina’s got Vonnegut ready to go, and Beth II… knows her Bible? The boy has a type—and yet, as we will eventually find, he also doesn’t.
Death Wish: For once, it’s not one of the Brown siblings! Once she realizes that the last man is here to eventually save the world (…that’s optimistic), Kilina decides channel the captains of yore and go down with her ship (oof). She’d already demonstrated a self-destructive streak, believing that the human race had their lifetimes left, however long each person’s was, but a future is too much for her to face.
What a Man, What a Man: Let’s pour one out for Davy Jones, the male mannequin strapped to The Whale’s prow as a post-XY figurehead. And if that didn’t give you enough of a sense of how Kilina both holds up and sacrifices male figures, one of her last acts is to sneakily alert the Royal Australian Navy to the existence of the flesh-and-blood last man over the radio, womp.
Big Bad: Alter’s back! Those on a first read might think, too bad for Sadie who had enough time to get a nice judge job and sentence her old commander, only for Alter to reveal that she had already (had always?) turned the other women on poor Sadie. Those joining me for the reread are thinking, we have been set on our end-of-series collision course. Alter doesn’t yet know where the last man has gone, but she might as well have a dotted line on a map, Indiana Jones-style, of her slowly creeping toward our trio.
Beth’s Prophetic Dreams: Everyone’s having weird dreams this time around! But the most significant is the issue Boy Loses Girl, which (similarly to Hero’s Journey) delves into Beth’s subconscious via memories and some seriously trippy dreams. It’s all thanks to some psychedelic dosing by an Aboriginal woman who believes that she was sent to them because of something inside her. The woman—a kid, relative to her own elderly mentor figure who thinks she’s just spitting laced water on Beth to no purpose—gently guides Beth through significant events in her life (see below), eventually fraying the line between memory and dream: A water gun fight with Yorick turns into a scenario where she’s saving him from Ampersand-as-King-Kong, only to discover that somehow she’s living Yorick’s dream from years before—Beth as “like, this fucked-up superhero” rescuing Yorick. And when he tells her “I’m alive,” she realizes that it’s not just wishful thinking, but the truth.
Sins of the Father: One of Beth’s formative memories is attending her father’s funeral at a young age. It’s a brief moment in the issue, mostly of her being forced to kiss her father goodbye as he lies in the open casket, and initially I wasn’t sure of its point aside from filling in a detail of Beth’s childhood. I think one read is that because she was so young when her father died, the plague didn’t affect her in the same way as it did so many others: she didn’t have a father to lose; she had already processed this loss, as opposed to experiencing it as a rite of passage into adulthood like Yorick and many others all did on the same day.
Another formative memory, fascinatingly enough, is Beth and Hero at the funeral for Grandpa Brown, who we now know killed himself. Beth tries to ask if Hero and her grandfather were close, or that’s what I’m assuming before Hero cuts her off. Even if Beth isn’t getting what we readers know, these returns to that branch of the Browns’ lives emphasizes what a presence the grandfather was, and how his actions continued to ripple through Hero’s life.
Best Magic Trick: Beth’s Zatanna costume. No, but really—tapping into someone else’s dream years later and using it to relay to yourself the knowledge that your boyfriend is indeed alive is a pretty cool trick.
When Yorick makes it to Cooksfield, California, at the start of Tongues of Flame, I was suddenly reminded of the Y screenplay that Vaughan penned, once upon a time when there was a potential movie adaptation in the works. Instead of spanning the world, Yorick’s journey is constrained to the United States, searching for Beth in California. The action culminates at Hearst Castle, which would have made a great set piece. I’ll be curious to see if the TV series similarly keeps things domestic; international is super ambitious even when there’s not a pandemic happening, and I think I’d rather see them fake different U.S. cities than try to pass off the States or Canada as Australia, Japan, or (eventually) Paris. (I still haven’t recovered from Quantico trying to convince us that Brooklyn was Munich.)
I also only just got the meaning of Ring of Truth: the magic-trick ring, sure, but also each revelation having the ring of truth—that is, the semblance of the truth, even if the listener isn’t entirely convinced. Like Yorick with the poop revelation, or 355 and Anna debating who’s projecting more about having to commit to her work as the only thing left to cling to in this world, or Allison being swayed enough by Rose’s story to help the Australian spy.
Speaking of Ampersand’s poop—at first it sounds puerile and laughable, like, of course feces are what save this random dude from extinction. But on reread it’s actually very sweet, especially when Kilina mentions that capuchins can apparently get “potty trained” very quickly. Yorick takes it as another slight from his monster of a pet, but how can he see it as anything but Amp making sure he survives!
I’m waiting until the Bobbi standalone issue to delve further into how Y treats trans men, but the pirate’s line about “testosterone junkies” knocked some ideas loose. When I read Y in 2011 as a cis straight girl, it “made sense” within the context of the story that trans men like Bobbi kind of came out of the woodwork once the cis men all died. The series seems to imply that a number of supposedly cis women transitioned in order to fill a need, which matches with the most significant character being presented as a sex worker. But to depict trans people as only existing in service to cis women, as opposed to existing on their own terms, is incredibly cis-centric and problematic. I’m very excited to see that the Y TV series has a trans male character (played by Elliot Fletcher) and even in the teasers looks to be engaging with gender with more nuance.
Hero’s Journey is a single issue, but it is such a powerful fill-in-the-blanks for Hero Brown. As a reread it feels almost rushed with the flashbacks, but I remember the first time I got these little insights into Hero’s character, especially when she quits her liberal arts college because she feels that she would bring more value to the world as an EMT than as a writer (oof). This is the first we learn of Hero’s creative impulses, but that instinct for storytelling comes around by the end of the issue, with her taking the polaroids of those she encounters during her atonement tour. Safeword kinda called dibs on making polaroids Yorick’s thing (tied up with his formative sexual memories), yet here they effortlessly become an extension of Hero’s journey: She needs to record the faces of the lives she crosses, as a reminder that she does not have to be a killer and that there is hope in the world and people to return to.
What I appreciate about Rose’s description of the drug war is that it’s never entirely clear how correct she is. The picture she paints—America’s national parks transformed into opium fields, the Sydney Opera House transformed into an opium den—seems almost too bleakly poetic. Even if some of the details have shifted in the telling, her point comes through loud and clear: There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different ways that the culture has changed that could not have been predicted before the plague. Whereas Yorick has a clear goal pushing him through eventually five years, the majority of what remains of the human race is just getting by day to day.
That said, poor Kilina with her line of “Now that you’re here, I’m just another crazy bitch fucking up the world you’re gonna save.” She knows that her drug running is morally gray at best, but she saw it as her way to help people and, most importantly, take a leadership role. She only got to be captain of The Whale because she was first mate, so it was a quirk of the hierarchy, but she’s clearly earned the title and the respect in the years since. To see not just any last man, but this snarky boy, must be like a harpoon to the heart. If anything, it calls back to Yorick’s first unintentional charming of Beth, with his woke criticism of sexist articles in European languages and how one male word turns a pack of female words male—his presence necessarily revolves the conversation around him. So Kilina would rather go out in a blaze of glory, all attention on her, than fall into step supporting this last man. It’s a bit overdramatic, but it also makes so much sense.
Of course, she gets in one more kiss before knocking Yorick out and lashing him to some driftwood so he can survive the boat’s sinking. This romantic bit made me groan ten years ago, and it is just as useless now. Mostly because it comes so close on the heels of Beth II, which has more time to justify the temptation. Perhaps that’s why the Kilina flirtation happens—does Yorick believe that he is somehow owed these dalliances? Even as they’re crossing oceans, has he finally given up hope on Beth being alive? Or is this meant to show his ethics changing, like not believing Kilina deserves the same punishment as Sonia for similar crimes—except in this case he’s holding himself to lower standards of fidelity?
And yet, as chill as he is about making out with Kilina, Yorick is really tough on 355 about Allison. It’s unclear if we’re meant to read this lashing out as growing feelings for 355, as censure for taking advantage of Allison’s crush, or some weird jealousy that two of the three of them did something without him. His reaction rankled then, and it rankles now, and yet it fits because the group dynamics are shifting and romantic sparks are flaring up and dying out and flaring up elsewhere. I’ll be curious how much the TV series explores these various attractions, and if it carries Yorick’s troubled morality or if it’s more of an attitude of, sometimes people are just horny.
Speaking of horny and tired, Beth is alive! I understand why her dream journey happens under the guidance of the Aboriginal woman, but it is curious that the Australia portions don’t reference the supposed drug epidemic. Perhaps it’s because she’s in the Outback, or it would simply be too much to shoehorn in—or maybe Rose is lying about how bad heroin use is in the country. At any rate, Boy Loses Girl is a good reminder that Beth has had absolutely no reason over the past few years to believe that Yorick is alive. Why should she? She loves the guy, but there is nothing special about him to imply, beyond her own desperate hopes, that he might have made it when every other cis man did not.
But by the end of the issue (and the trade), her subconscious has blared alarm bells that he somehow is alive. Plus, it foreshadows their eventual meeting in Paris. What I didn’t remember from these flashbacks were two key moments: The first time Beth meets Yorick he’s talking about his dad, and how “he doesn’t even think he was part of the human race until a girl broke his heart.” Breakup as rite of passage, and all this talk about the last boy trying to become the last man, hrmm. Then there’s Beth and Hero’s heart-to-heart, in which Hero advises her not to let Yorick become an albatross. We’ve seen from Hero’s Journey that her own family didn’t take her seriously because of her penchant for linking her life to a (usually unworthy) man’s, which makes Joe’s death that much more devastating, as he finally seemed to be the right guy for her.
But before then, she’s advising Beth that “you’re a smart chick… you’ll work it out.” That could be read as Beth and Yorick figuring out any parts of their relationship that aren’t working… or Beth sifting through her subconscious and finding that elusive but undeniable ring of truth.
With that, we are more than halfway through our reread! Time flies when you’re traversing the world on foot. Y: The Last Man premieres on FX on Hulu in a little under a month—excited to delve into the last four trades as we count down the days.
Natalie Zutter is realizing that for all of the different women we’ve met so far in Y, she doesn’t know who her post-apocalyptic persona would most be like. Join her for the Y reread here and on Twitter!