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Y: The Last Man: Safeword is the fourth entry in author Brian Vaughan's phenomenal series about the adventures of the last surviving man; and his male pet monkey, after a mysterious plague has wiped out every other mammal with a Y chromosome. It follows the end of the third book (One Small Step), but these books follow a strict chronology so you really should start way back in book one (Unmanned). Otherwise, beware spoilers aplenty.
While reading the Y: The Last Man saga I have found a series of mature comic books that happily featured adult content in a very grown up way. Sadly the next book in the series managed to change all that, and at times made me feel very awkward while reading it.
The storyline follows on from Ampersand's attack in the filler story of the last book. The gang are trying to find him some medical treatment when Agent 355 realizes that Yorick's tendency to charge into dangerous situations is putting everyone at risk. So she decides to leave him with an agent named 711 (no jokes allowed) who used to be her partner. Once 355 and Dr. Mann have gone though, 711 wastes no time in drugging Yorick. He awakens tied to a chair with 711 standing over him in; what I can only describe as, her Sunday best bondage get up. What follows is a string of torture and humiliation scenes as 711 tries to get to the route of Yorick's self destructive behavior.
Now I should add that my negative feelings toward this issue should in no way show that the writing itself is bad. There are still plenty of both the literary and pop culture references that we have come to know and love. In fact, one of these openly tells the reader what Yorick's problem is before his experience begins, and when it happens the lines are delivered as sharply as ever.
However it's in the darker aspects that this issue really shines. Some of the imagery you see; as Yorick relives the worst moments of his life, will feel genuinely disturbing. Others will make you feel the same sense of disgust as Yorick himself. One moment that really stands out is Yorick's memory of the first time he left his home after the men all died! In fact these experiences really do give you a good look into the main characters psyche, and why he has the hang ups that he does.
So what is my problem then? It's just that; even with all that strong writing, the central concept that united states agents are trained to use bondage as a suicide intervention is just to silly for words. It made the whole thing feel quite puerile and therefore some of the artwork felt unnecessarily sexualized. This not only makes me feel awkward while reading it, but just cheapens what would have otherwise been a mighty fine story. Vaughan simply did not need to use the sexuality angle to tell this story, when the torture and mind games were more than enough.
Fortunately that was only half of the story. The Safeword story was never dragged out beyond necessary, so another storyline had to be told to make this book a worthwhile length. This time its the filler story that saves everything.
In it Yorick and Co. are once again interrupted in their journey after the Interstate is closed down by a bunch of Southern soldiers named 'The Sons Of Arizona' who believe the government has killed all the men. Yorick meets, and hits it off (platonically) with some bald mechanic named PJ. Meanwhile Dr. Mann tries to make a deal with the revolutionaries and Agent 355 must try to save her.
This was a terrific story, with some highly unsettling scenes of Dr. Mann being tortured that are tempered with some superb banter between Yorick and PJ. They hit it off almost instantly like best friends, and Yorick confides in her about why he has been able to abstain from sex in a world where he is the only man alive. He is simply not interested in taking advantage of the loneliness of women he knows would not have slept with him before. This is the kind of thing I like about Yorick. He is a man of genuine honor who could do us all proud, and I find him very relatable for it. It's moments like this bit of light hearted banter that make me love the series.
The artwork is as strong as ever, although it does feel a lot darker this time around. It's still bold and colorful for the most part, but just seems to change slightly as the story goes in darker directions. It's not like the colors get muted or anything. Yet the scenes of torture and beatings do look a little more realistic, when the cartoony visuals should have stopped them from hitting this hard. It's an impressive effect, especially considering the fact that the art style doesn't change, it's just your perception of it due to your attachment to these characters. 711's big reveal still looked a little unsettling though! Ewe!
At the end of the day, if you want to follow this series then this book will be a necessary evil. It is still a strongly written story, and I hope it wont detract from the overall picture too much. However that does not change the fact that the central concept is both silly, and slightly unnerving. Consider yourself warned!