‘Ex’ Vs. ‘Y’ — Comparing Brian K. Vaughn’s Classic Series

by Frank Martin

The 2000s were very good to comic writer Brian K. Vaughn. He had two 50-issue series that were extremely well-received (and are both fan-favorites even to this day). Y: The Last Man was a post-apocalyptic adventure story about the last man on Earth trying to find his way in a world of women. Ex Machina was a political thriller about a retired superhero who became mayor of New York City. Both series are very good and have a lot to say about the world we live in, but they go about accomplishing that in two very different ways. Ten years after both series ended, it’s worth looking back and comparing them to each other to see the mark they left on the world of comics.

The two titles have very different feels to them. Y: The Last Man feels more like a journey for the reader, probably because the main characters are on a literal journey. Protagonist and reader travel all over the globe experiencing exactly what has come of it in the wake of a horrible tragedy. Ex Machina is more local. It focuses primarily on New York in a very real world sense. Current events and political history play a main part in Ex Machina — oddly making a story about super powers feel ground. That’s not to say that Y: The Last Man is fantastical, but because of its post-apocalyptic nature, the story’s setting has a space of separation from its reader.

Then there are the books protagonists. Mitchell Hundred in Ex Machina has a lot in common with Y: The Last Man’s Yorick Brown. They are both aloof and awkward heroes, if they can even be described as heroes at all. They are both also burdened with responsibility, but each handles it and in a different and unique way. At first, Yorick runs from his while Mitchell’s responsibility is misplaced. They also each have a transformation in relation to their responsibility over the course of the series, which brings us to probably the most important part of any story: it’s legacy.

Y: The Last Man was definitely a product of its time, which is strange since Ex Machina was so heavily involved in historical events. But Y: The Last Man has aged a bit as both the world and the nature of sexuality has changed since its release. This is probably why the television adaptation of it struggled to find its footing. Whereas Ex Machina is about politics, and politics are always relevant, especially now in an extremely divisive world. There’s still no confusion, though, as to where these series rank among the great comic book stories of all time.

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