Y: The Last Man has been called a road trip story, but one danger of a road trip in serial fiction is the audience beginning to feel like they're just not getting anywhere.
Such is the problem with Paper Dolls, volume seven of Brian K. Vaughn's tale of Yorick Brown, the last man on Earth after a mysterious plague wipes out everything with a Y-chromosome except Yorick and his male monkey Ampersand. Though some notable events do take place — including the Y series' first instance of male frontal nudity – I couldn't help but feel like this trade was for the most part treading water.
In the main story of the trade, "Paper Dolls," an unexpected stopover in Australia on the way to Toyko to rescue Ampersand from kidnappers affords Yorick an eight-hour window to search for his missing fiance Beth, last seen in Australia. Yorick — his gender hidden to protect his safety — is quickly discovered by a tabloid journalist who takes a picture of Yorick and tries to return with it to the States.
Much of these three issues involve Yorick and his protector, Agent 355, chasing the reporter through generic-looking Australia, and when they catch her, ultimately Yorick resolves to let her go, thinking no one will believe what they read in a tabloid. There's some discussion of tabloids and rumor mills here, as well as a conversation as to whether women continue to read trashy magazines when there aren't any men around (the question itself is slightly ridiculous), but for the most part the issue of journalists in this new apocalyptic world goes unexamined. I felt there was great potential here for an exchange of ideas that Vaughn replaced with a couple of action sequences instead.
What was surprising, however, was the full page image of the photograph that the tabloid reporter takes, of Yorick completely naked and shown as such on the page. Arguably, it may be even more surprising that it's taken forty issues for male nudity to be shown in a story that focuses primarily on the last man alive on Earth. There's irony, to be sure, that a book that has as one of its themes an examination of women in society and how they're treated and portrayed, has shown breasts "on camera" for most of its run, but never a penis.
Until it happend, I actually thought that the creators weren't allowed to show Yorick naked, and the fact that they can makes me wonder why they waited so long. Certainly, this is an instance where Yorick is exposed, both in a literal and journalistic sense, and the nudity here makes that point greater. In a later chapter, however, a female assassin's breasts are shown while she's exercising, in a scene where she could just have easily have been clothed, making it seem like the creators have a conservative streak for one gender but an exploitative streak for the other.
None of this is helped by comments from Yorick which, even given the comedic undertone of the series, seem fairly unbelievable. Though Yorick has been the last man for over two years and has supposedly matured some, and even as the reporter's photograph threatens his safety, Yorick still complains that he wasn't erect for the photograph. It's too easy a joke on Vaughn's part, and one that makes his character seem silly rather than interesting.
The final three chapters of Paper Dolls each contain a revelation about the series, though the lassitude of the trade's first half seeps in here, too. We learn that a woman that Yorick had sex with is pregnant, but another protracted action sequence leads only to learning that the child is a girl. There's a flashback to Agent 355's past, though it doesn't reveal more about her secret agency than we already knew. We learn that Ampersand may be a genetically-altered monkey, with much of the weight of this impeded by confusing dialogue.
It's certainly established that Y: The Last Man is destined to be a classic, but even as the series approaches all the right notes, this particular volume just doesn't shine. The next, Kimono Dragons, suggests that Yorick and his friends will finally make their way to Tokyo, and hopefully more will happen once this road trip finds its destination.