Brian K. Vaughn is a consummate story teller. His creator-owned comics were described in a 2007 interview with Wired Magazine (after he won their Rave Award) as “finite, meticulous, years-long story arcs”, to which Vaughan comments, “That’s storytelling, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Something like Spider-Man, a book that never has a third act, that seems crazy.” Swoon. Truly a comic book writer after my own literary heart.
Don’t worry girl, I’ve got well structured plot for days
(2014 DC Comic-con)
When I say something is a creator-owned comic that means it is a story without a comic book legacy. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, they all are legacy comics owned by DC or Marvel with hundreds of different writers following a prescribed pattern. Vaughn ended up writing for big names like Captain America, Spiderman, The X-Men, Green Lantern, and even the wildly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics (considered the eighth season by series creator Joss Wedon) early in his career. He also wrote for the television show Lost and was an executive producer for Under the Dome.
However, Vaughn started writing his own stories in 2000 and hasn’t looked back. In 2002 he started Y: The Last Man with Vertigo Comics. This is his first huge independent success. The story is about an amateur escape artist named Yorick Brown and a badly behaved Capuchin monkey Yorick is training named Ampersand. They are the only two males of their species to survive the simultaneous deaths of every XY chromosome carrying creature on Earth. Planes once piloted by men drop out of the sky, doctors drop dead in the middle of surgery, cars crash wildly on the streets. Society plunges into chaos while the women left behind are forced to deal with the destruction.
A Man and his monkey
(Cover of Issue #23)
Like any well written science fiction, it is a fascinating thought experiment as well as a hero’s journey. While we follow Yorick on his quest to find his family and the girlfriend in Australia he attempted to propose to immediately before the death of half of all life on Earth, he has run ins with women of all ilks who are working, sometimes to different ends, to rebuild society.
There is a group of roving anti-male, one breasted, Amazons hunting him down to destroy him while another group made of Israeli soldiers seek him out as a political bargaining chip. He has a secret agent and a biologist accompanying him on his travels to protect him and to try to find the secret of what saved him and how it can save humanity’s future. He comes across a town completely made up of former female convicts happily and peacefully building a community where he is forced to reevaluate his sense of right and wrong. In addition to being a hero’s journey, the series asks, “What would it be like to be literally the last man on Earth?”
Apparently beggars CAN be choosers.
Vaughn’s characters are incredibly well written and complex, and the voice he lends to his female characters comes across as totally genuine. In fact, while reading this comic, you’d swear that Yorick is more of a supporting character, the real story is about the women left behind. They are flawed, strong, and believable characters who are out not just to survive this apocalypse, but to thrive.
A movie of Y: The Last Man has been in and out of production for years but Vaughn announced in October 2015 that the project had found new life in a different form as a television series through FX. Keep and eye out as Ryan Reynolds has been tapped as a possible Yorick Brown.
Vaughn’s latest work has also been very popular. An epic space opera entitled Saga. In Saga’s two worlds, Landfall and it’s only moon Wreath, fight a never ending war. The war has been so destructive that the two sides decide to export the war, dragging other worlds into the fray as battlefields and forcing the inhabitants to choose a side. The technologically advanced people living on Landfall have wings, everyone’s wings are different, from butterfly wings to feathered appendages. Wreath’s population have varying styles of horns and reject technology, using magic instead.
Two worlds give rise to our two main characters, Alana from Landfall and Marko from Wreath. Both are former soldier’s for their respective sides but when Marko is taken prisoner and Alana is assigned to guard him they, with the assistance of a trashy romance novel, fall in love and decide to go AWOL.
The story begins with the birth of the the narrator and the couple’s daughter, Hazel, blessed with both wings and horns. Vaughn said this about the story in Comic Book Resource in 2011:
“I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags … I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are regular people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war.”
They are real parents, dealing with real parental problems, such as disapproving in-laws and a snotty teenage (undead) baby sitter, while also being the two most hunted beings in the Universe. Both Wreath and Landfall see them as a threat to victory over the other, (blinded by their own generational hate, they cannot see their daughter as a symbol of peace) and both look upon Hazel with complete revulsion and disdain. There are multiple assassins trying to catch up with the new family as well as a terrorist group who are against both sides trying to use her as a bargaining chip.
This story is filled with other stories branching off of Alana and Marko’s tale. We meet a six year old sex-slave, liberated by two of the assassins trying to locate Marko and Alana, who can see the past of any object she touches. The story of the assassins, who are joined by Marko’s ex-fiancee, is fascinating as their goals begin to shift due to personal tragedies and new found understanding. The crowned prince of Landfall, a robot with a television for a head, chases down the low born robot revolutionary who killed his wife and stole his infant son from the palace.
Don’t you want to read this comic just to find out about the snow seal in overalls with a battle ax?
The art in Saga deserves more than just a mention. Fiona Staples designs all of the ships, characters, and weapons. Vaughn stated that no one’s art is like hers and he gives her incredible artistic license to create his world. It was her choice to give all the robots different kinds of televisions for heads, all the Wreath residents different horns, and all the Landfall people varying wings.
Vaughn has certain themes that are threaded through all of his stories, creation and destruction especially interest him. Yorick is needed for the creation of children for the destroyed planet. Alana and Marko create a child who, though totally innocent, cannot help but leave destruction in her wake. Swarming around these dual realities of nature are emotional and fragile creatures, desperate to make sense of what is happening and clinging to each other while attempting, and often failing, to find solace through love. Though Vaughn writes science fiction, these tropes are so familiar that the reader cannot help but feel gutted by the events that unfold in each story.
In short (too late), I highly recommend his work.