The Last One trade paperback
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist/Cover artist: Dan Sweetman
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $24.99 US
Boom! Studios is joining the ranks of such publishers as Fantagraphics, IDW Publishing and Image Comics by collecting out-of-print, creator-owned work that deserves to find a new audience in the 21st century. The Last One was a six-part series published under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993. Readers of more unusual modern comics fare might find The Last One a little reminiscent of Peter David’s Fallen Angel, but really, its parentage is pretty clear. On the one hand, it’s clearly writer J.M. DeMatteis’s baby; the writer has demonstrated a penchant for writing surreal stories of spirituality and the supernatural. DeMatteis is the father, and Vertigo founder and editor Karen Berger is the mother, as this book boasts some of the same genetic material as the imprint’s original flagship title, Sandman. In any case, The Last One is a mature, thoughtful book full of smaller stories that make up the larger one of a divine being’s slow journey towards realization and fulfillment.
Before existence itself, there were the Old Ones, but as the world was created and the New Ones, AKA mankind, arose and gave birth to God, and the Old Ones faded away. But one of them remained and walked the earth eternally. He, or she, is Myrwann, and today, Myrwann takes lost souls into his/her home in New York City. S/he nurses them back to physical and spiritual health, often by telling them stories about his past lives. As the guests heal and grow, though, Myrwann him/herself has been weakening, searching for the kinds of elusive answers he’s tried to offer to so many over the years.
Scattered throughout the book are framing pages set in the time before the world was the world, basically, and for those segments, artist Dan Sweetman adopts a style reminiscent of Kent (Blood: A Tale) Williams’s paintings and linework. The rest of his efforts on the book remind me a bit of Mike (Sandman) Dringenberg’s loose style, or that of Paul Johnson (who worked with Gaiman on a chapter of the first Books of Magic series). Sweetman’s design for Myrwann evokes memories of Marlon Brando late in life — large, lumbering, slowly falling apart. The ragged, skewed gutters are in keeping with the downtrodden lives of the characters, but they also reinforce the surreal elements of the story as well. Some might view Sweetman’s work here as somewhat crude, but it captures the mood DeMatteis is striving to establish. Furthermore, Sweetman adapts his style to suit the various flashback stories that Myrwann tells throughout the book. At times, his stuff might remind one of Michael Zulli’s style or perhaps Frazer Irving’s.
The back cover of this new collected edition describes Myrwann as “the sole survivor of an ancient race of immortals.” I don’t find it’s an apt description. Early on, s/he’s clearly meant to be seen as an angel living among mankind. Later on, Myrwann seems more like s/he may be God him/herself, lost and without a clear purpose in the wake of creating all that is or will be. DeMatteis leaves it open to the reader to interpret, though truly, we’re meant to see ourselves in Myrwann and his human guests.
I was struck by the following line from the penultimate chapter of the book: “I told them I was no saint. I was just a seeker, like them.” I was immediately reminded of another DeMatteis-penned Vertigo title: Seekers: Into the Mystery. Boom! Studios offers up a Seekers collection this week as well, and it explores similar themes and moods as The Last One. Personal journeys of self-discovery and explorations of one’s spiritual self are common themes in DeMatteis’s work, especially when it comes to his creator-owned work. When it comes to books like The Last One, Seekers and Moonshadow, I wonder if they’re all pieces of a larger tapestry.
The Last One seems to share a lot of elements in common with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Both stories are about a timeless god-like being and keeper of stories who’s in the process of attaining personal enlightenment regarding his own immortality. Both feature stories within stories prominently. Myrwann’s house and guests are reminiscent of the rooming house that Rose and Fiddler’s Green called home in Sandman: The Doll’s House. DeMatteis and Gaiman offer similar interpretations of angels and pre-Creation history. Todd Klein brings his unique touch to the lettering for both titles. There are many more comparisons I could draw. I’m not suggesting that DeMatteis mimicked Gaiman’s popular work. It stands to reason that the success of Sandman would have an influence on other books in the Vertigo line. Now The Last One is published beyond that context, and it holds up quite well. Sandman fans will enjoy The Last One, but one needn’t be familiar with Gaiman’s opus to enjoy this book. 8/10