Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review # 77: "'The Walking Dead Vol. 1 - Days Gone Bye' and 'Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 - Unmanned'"

It may seem odd to group these two collections together, but to me it makes sense. These are the first two comic collections I've ever purchased that don't involve superheroes, though they are still clearly in the realm of sci-fi. When I brought the first volumes of "The Walking Dead" and "Y: The Last Man" to the counter at my local comic shop, I called the purchases "dangerous." Both people at the counter nodded in agreement.

We all read the situation perfectly. These are great. I want more.

Let me level with you on "The Walking Dead." It is a major hit show (well, duh) and many people I know freak about it all the time. I, meanwhile, have never seen even a single episode and I really don't care to. What I DID like though was the adventure video game Telltale released last year. It was more gripping and emotional than any TV series I think I'd ever seen, and I don't believe in my mind that there's any way the TV adaptation could ever live up to it.

That said, I wanted to take a look at the source material. I'm familiar with Robert Kirkman's work, including his "Marvel Zombies" series which is exactly what it sounds like. He starts out the volume with a warning, saying his book is not meant for scares and is more about society and the human condition. I'm glad to see it because that's exactly what I was looking for. The book starts out as a cliche zombie story: a man (police officer Rick Grimes) awakes in a hospital and finds the world has changed. He tries to find survivors, heads to a bigger city and finds things are much worse.

I am pretty confident this is all a set-up to the first major instance where he sets up a cliche to deliberately break it. Outside Atlanta, Grimes confides to another survivor that he's looking for his family. When I read it, I thought "Here we go. I'm betting the rest of the series will be his never-ending search and his undying hope." Imagine my surprise when his wife and son turn up alive the very next page. I laughed. Hard. I'd been had.

It's a brilliant move, though, as Rick finding his family actually creates problems and moral confrontations. This builds to a zombie attack and the haunting aftermath. I'm curious to see where it goes. Hook, line and sinker. Good thing the compendiums are cheap.

As good as this was, I don't think the first volume of "The Walking Dead" holds a candle to the debut of "Y: The Last Man." Brian K. Vaughan's series about the last man on earth after the entire male population of the world - animals included - dies instantly is black comedy at its best. It's a biting social commentary about the continued male dominance in some areas. For example, the new President of the United States' line of succession falls all the way to the Secretary of Agriculture. Militaries are decimated, allowing a single force to take command of several countries. My favourite moment of insanity is when the rich wives of the Republican party demand their husband's seats, and fire guns at the White House to try to take them.

All this spins around the life of Yorick, as mysteriously he and his pet monkey Ampersand are the only males to survive, seemingly across the planet. Yorick instantly becomes a commodity as showing his face often puts his life in peril. Particularly hot on his trail is the insane gang known as the Amazons. They believe God wiped out all men to punish humanity and that no more shall live. Along with being absolutely crazy (all members burn off one of their breasts as a sign of solidarity, much like how the tribe they're named after once did,) the person assigned to track Yorick down is a great twist.

"Y: The Last Man" is wonderfully drawn as well. Pia Guerra brings an air of appropriate desperation, discord and depression to all of her pages. Despite the bright colours and relatively normal settings, there's an underlying creepiness that is difficult to describe.

Of these two post-apocalyptic stories, I easily prefer "Y: The Last Man." Its premise is more creative and it reminds me a lot of Stephen King's work (the author himself has offered Vaughan high praise.) I must say, though, that it's nice to pick up a couple of great comic series where I don't know a lot going in. Thanks to pop culture influence, that just doesn't happen with me and traditional comics anymore.

Ratings: 8.5/10 ("The Walking Dead Vol. 1 - Days Gone Bye"), 9.5/10 ("Y: The Last Man Vol. 1 - Unmanned")

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