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Male Carrier

  Y: The Last Man Book 4: Safeword


Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Parlov and Jose Marzan Jr.

DC/Vertigo, 2004

Rating: 4.4



Posted: December 04, 2004

By Dave Brennan

Y: The Last Man might just be the best contained series since Preacher. Brian K. Vaughan's tale of Earth's sole surviving male and his companion monkey gets better with each issue, maintaining a fevered momentum while slowly unfolding its secrets with each new installment. Safeword, the series' fourth collected volume, extends the post-apocalyptic road trip with new perils and complications, and provides unexpected insight into the story's characters along the way.

In the wake of an unknown plague that has wiped out every male mammal on the planet, only young Yorick Brown holds the key to Earth's salvation. Joined by his helper monkey Ampersand, the enigmatic Agent 355 and cloning specialist Dr. Mann, Yorick sets out for San Francisco in the hopes of unlocking the secrets behind his survival, and in the process, saving his species from an early extinction. So far, this motley crew has faced off against bandits, violent feminists and a team of Israeli commandos, but Yorick's biggest obstacle still lays ahead -- an internal showdown with his darkest fears and insecurities at the hands of a brutal dominatrix.

Safeword displays Vaughan's careful balance between intense action and psychological depth through skilled plotting and profound character development. The first half of the volume takes place in a single setting, yet propels readers through a disturbing and revealing examination of Yorick's inner demons. For the first time, our protagonist is exposed not just as a smart-assed slacker stumbling his way through a complex situation, but also as a conflicted individual with deep-rooted sexual anxieties and a nearly suicidal tendency toward depression. It's a moving and unexpected journey to the heart of an established character, and one that makes him all the more human and accessible. Meanwhile, the remainder of the book is centered on a climactic confrontation with a deluded and dangerous female militia in the midst of the Arizona desert. Between the bullets and the bravado, Yorick and his companions are forced to once again learn the true meaning of sacrifice.

Echoing Preacher's finely woven blend of genres, Y: The Last Man is a swift and clever combination of science fiction, complex character drama, action, humor, suspense and commentary on politics and gender roles in society. Vaughan has realized his unique premise to its utmost potential, exploring new repercussions around every turn and driving home the reality of the grim situation he's created. In the past, we've seen men treated as a commodity and a threat in a global power struggle, and viewed a throwback to Shakespeare in the form of an all-female theater troupe. Safeword further develops Vaughan's world by examining the environmental implications of the chromosomal plague, as species with shorter reproductive cycles begin to disappear forever.

With each new volume, this series earns its status as one of the most talked-about books on the market. A high-energy monthly serial with a mysterious foundation and crisp, realistic artwork, Y: The Last Man tells an intriguing and well-developed story, and Safeword carries it confidently toward its inevitable conclusion.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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