There have been some great long series in comics, but Y: THE LAST MAN is unique in that all ten volumes making up the entire run tells a single story. The various books truly have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Other series may have a background arc that extends throughout the various books comprising their run, but Vaughan's masterpiece introduces a number of questions in the first volume that are developed in the ensuing nine volumes and answered only in the last. Will the human race survive the loss of all the males? Will Yorick be reunited with his finance? What do the Israelis tracking him have in mind? These and other stories are developed gradually over the course of the entire run.
The tone of the series as a whole tends to action drama laced with pop cultural references and humor. You laugh on one page, only to have something really horrid take place on the next. But none of the shocks of the first nine volumes comes anywhere near the shocks found in the final issues comprising Volume Ten. I won't go into details, but while all the main stories are completely wrapped up, they won't please every fan. While most of the news for the human race was positive, things did not turn out all that well for most of our heroes. Indeed, some of the arcs ended in utter tragedy. Though the story as a whole focuses on Yorick's constant joking about everything, the book's final events bring even his jokes to a halt. Some things are beyond wit. One event in particular is so shocking (you'll know it when you see it) and so unforeseen that it completely changes the nature of the entire series.
In a story like Y: THE LAST MAN it is absolutely essential that you end the whole thing well. This volume does precisely that. It cannot, of course, be read on its own. Anyone wanting to read the entire series needs to start with the first volume and move forward. FABLES 10 came out earlier this month. You might, with some difficulty, be able to start reading in that (wonderful) series with that volume, but Y: THE LAST MAN has to be read from beginning to end. Starting with this volume would be like beginning GREAT EXPECTATIONS with Chapter 25.
I want to single one character out for praise. I've been engaged in a project lately that involves looking at the major female heroes in various popular media, from TV to graphic novels to movies. The past ten to fifteen years (Buffy seems to be the tipping point) has seen an explosion of great female heroes. But incredibly very, very few of these have been women of color. Max in DARK ANGEL is racially indistinct but seems exotic, but she is close to the exception. Agent 355 in this series is easily one of the most compelling and truly heroic black characters around. The genre -- indeed, all genres -- need more characters like her. It isn't just young black females who need to see empowered characters like 355. Just as, I believe, that both men and women have their views of women subtly altered by popular female heroes like Buffy and Xena, so I think all of us have our views of race and gender affected by a character like 355. Sadly there are very few black female characters her equal. Storm in the X-Men is an exception as well as several characters in Octavia Butler's novels (especially the protagonist in the Earthseed novels). But there shouldn't be so few examples.
In a way, I'm truly saddened that this series has come to an end. For years we've been looking forward to the next issue and looking ahead to the distant future (which is now past) to find out how everything ends. I confess it didn't end like I had expected or even how I had hoped. But sometimes as readers we get the story we needed instead of wanted. In the end, it was a great read.