Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Saying Goodbye to Y: The Last Man

Posted by lisagbrown on March 4, 2008

Spoiler Alert: This blog entry reveals major plot points from the final installment of Y: The Last Man.

The Last Man, Saying GoodbyeIn February 2008, the popular comic series Y: The Last Man came to a crushing, emotional end. The series, created by veteran comic writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra, tells the story of a modern apocalypse. The world is struck by an inexplicable plague that kills every male — human and non — on earth. Every male, that is, except Yorick and his capuchin monkey Ampersand. What follows over a 60-issue story arc is an adventure story of epic proportions.

There is much to say about Y: The Last Man. For those of us who were fans of the comic and have been following the story since its inception, the conclusion of the series was a sad goodbye. But in particular, I want to use this space to pay homage to Ampersand, whose life ended along with the series. Ampersand is introduced in the first issue as a monkey who has come to Yorick because, “A group in Boston was looking for people to train the things,” and Yorick has volunteered to raise (and train) the monkey. It should be mentioned that this hypothetical organization is based on a real life Boston-based organization called Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. At the time that Y premiered in 2002, I was, in fact, an employee of this organization, and I trained monkeys (like the hypothetical Ampersand) to help men and women with severe disabilities. Given my preternatural love of comic books (and the obvious added interest of a monkey helper,) I was hooked.

A new issue of Y came out about every month, and with each comic, Ampersand’s personality was fleshed out with increasing depth. With astonishing accuracy, Guerra captured in her drawings the movements and postures of a capuchin. Vaughan gave him a range of emotions and behaviors. The representation of Ampersand wasn’t always 100% true to capuchin behavior as I know it, but it was closer than any fictional capuchin I’ve ever seen. Ampersand was created with sensitivity and knowledge, and it is perhaps for this very reason that I grew to love him as much as I did. Given how much I know about monkeys, and the skill with which Ampersand’s character was developed, it was not hard for me to think of him as a real being, just as Yorick and other characters in the series were so three-dimensional that I could imagine them as real people. Monkeys, like so many other animals, are simply small people. They experience the dramas, emotions, joys, fears, preferences, passions and feelings that we do — perhaps not in exactly the same way, but in a way that is more dynamic and significant that they’re usually given credit for. But it was clear to me that Vaughan and Guerra had done their homework. They developed Ampersand not only as a monkey, but as a character as well.

Through my experiences at Helping Hands, I came to know many monkeys as friends. One in particular, I consider a part of my family. Over the years I’ve experienced such incredible joy in these relationships — so different from the interactions I’ve had with dogs and cats, yet still unlike my relationships with humans. The tragedy is that because of all the amazingly wonderful things that I shared in my friendships with capuchins, each and every monkey death that I’ve endured has been gut-wrenching. Such is the case with love — the more devoted you are, the more devastation you experience when it ends.

And so, when Ampersand died, I had certain knowledge of what this meant to Yorick. Everyone has known death in some form. But to go through the death of a monkey — it’s such a specific and unique experience of death. I could not help but see Yorick’s grief and feel it as my own, to remember the pain of monkey deaths from my past. Worst of all, I could not help but realize my own fear of monkey deaths yet to come. Ampersand’s death made sense in the context of the plot; it had to happen to further the storyline; but most devastating of all, this is a death that simply had to happen, because it would have happened in real life.

Farewell, dear Ampersand.

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One Response to “Saying Goodbye to Y: The Last Man”

  1. There’s a special poignancy for some of us, isn’t there, to an animal’s death, either in real life or fiction.

    Recently, some of us followed the story of a neglected little colt that had been rescued. Over the three remaining weeks of his life, a large internet following watched him trying to recover by video-cam, applauded the efforts of his rescuers, and grieved as a community when he succumbed.

    This past week, another following is watching for the recovery of Iditarod sled dog, Zorro, who was seriously injured by a snowmobiler last weekend.

    Laika’s death, fictionalized in a graphic novel, was no less touching.

    The experience is removed from our intimacy with pets and animals we work with, yet it is still very powerful.

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