Y: The Last Man was a fantastically written comic book series by Brain K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. Published by DC’s indie imprint Vertigo the book lasted for 60 issues, published between 2002 to 2008. The series is set in a world where all mammals with a Y chromosome suddenly die and all that is left is a young escape artist, Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, Ampersand. In this world of women Yorick has to travel the globe, avoid being captured or killed as he, a secret agent and a scientist look for answers to why all men have disappeared and find a way to save humanity.
There have been numerous attempts to adapt the series: I Robot screenwriter Jeff Vintar and Vaughn himself have written screenplay drafts, as well as Jericho writers Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia. Disturbia direct D. J. Caruso had long been attached to the movie adaptation with David S. Goyer set to produce. The likes of Shia LaBeouf, Zachary Levi and Alicia Keys have been attached roles in to the adaptation. The last director attached was Dan Trachtenberg and rights have reverted back to Vaughn and Guerra.
Y: The Last Man is a great series, deserving of its Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series . So we at Monkeys Fighting Robots have decided to look at ways of how an adaptation of the comic book series could work.
What other films and TV shows could influence an adaptation?
Though Y: The Last Man is a fantastically written comic book series it is not the first piece of fiction to look at an event that leads to a massive trauma for humanity, nor will it be the tackles such themes. There have been novels, films, TV shows, comic books and video games that could be used as influences for any production of Y: The Last Man.
One of the most obvious movies that could be used as an influence is Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of Children of Men, a classic sci-fi dystopia movie that shows the world has suffers from universal infertility and no children have been born 18 years, resulting in war and chaos around the world. Society is collapsing and Britain has become an authoritarian state to keep law-and-order. Since people are unable to have children many people have fallen into nihilism and despair. In Children of Men humanity has one hope, Kee, the first pregnant woman in 18 years and Yorick would be in a similar position, being the only person able to ensure humanity’s survival. Though the different would be that a Y: The Last Man would focus on Yorick, instead of being a supporting character like Kee was.
Another influence could be the HBO series The Leftovers, a series that tackles a similar theme of the impact on to society if 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears. Families will lose loved ones, people question why the event happen with spiritual and religious upheaval, leading to changes in society. The impact in Y: The Last Man was even greater, half the world’s population dies in an instant; many women would see their husbands, sons, brothers and fathers die in front of them and because of the sudden death events like nuclear meltdowns and plane clashes happen around the world. In the longer term issues of law enforcement and political leadership become concerns as around the world there are power vacuums due to men dominating positions of power.
But Children of Men and The Leftovers are religiously themed while Y: The Last Man is not as concerned about these issues, so adaptation would be more focused on the sociological and social psychology elements that Y: The Last Man addresses.
The possible tonal and thematic approach
With the subject matter of half the world’s population disappearing any adaptation of Y: The Last Man would be a serious affair as the society of women who have to cope with their lost and rebuild the world. Yet Vaughn did inject moments of dark humor, political commentary and satire into his series. Vaughn touches on many issues, from women being underrepresented in political positions, the treatment of prisoners, particularly women being the victims of abusive relationships and harshly sentenced.
Y: The Last Man is not just a story about society having to dealing with its possible demise, it is also a familial drama about Yorick’s relationship with his politician mother and his sister who ends up joining a group of men hating militants called The Amazon.
Yorick own personal struggles play a part in the series from his survivor guilt for being the only man left alive, his quest to reunite with his girlfriend in Australia and his relationship with his protectors Agent 335 and Dr. Alison Mann.
Could a loose adaptation be the answer?
This would be a high risk strategy due to any major deviations from the source material could result in upsetting fans of the series. Look at the bad press World War Z received before its release. But a successful loose adaptation can be done. Re-looking at Children of Men the movie adaptation is a very different beast to the novel it is based on with the only similarities being the premise, basic story and character names. Cuarón used the premise as a median to examine the themes he was interested in, looking at the war on terror, British attitudes towards immigration and policies that result, societal collapse and changing the approach towards the religious themes of the novel. A filmmaker could take a similar approach with an adaptation of Y: The Last Man, giving their own interruption to the scenario presented.
Y: The Last Man was a product of it time with its political jabs against the Bush Administration and the Republican Party; this would need to be updated for any film adaptation. V for Vendetta had a similar issue, being a very British-esque dystopia that criticized both Thatcherism and Anarchism in a world after a nuclear war. James McTeigue and the Wachowskis changed the focus to be on the War of Terror and how the spectre of terrorism is used to keep people in a constant fear and making the population obedient, transplanting American issues into a British setting.
A loose adaptation may be the only route to adapt Y: The Last Man. The series lasted for 60 issues and it would be difficult the series justice in a two hour long film. Either subplots would have to be cut or the film may end up having to be a sluggish affair as it tries add everything into the film. Even Vaughn wrote a loose adaptation when he was tasked to write a screenplay for New Line Cinema.
Maybe television is the way to go?
A more loyal adaptation of the series could be achieved in a television adaptation, giving the story more time to breath and explore all the avenues the comic book series. The Incredible Hulk and Now You See Me director Louis Leterrier did express an interest in adapting the series as a TV show back in 2010.
HBO has had great success with their adaptation of George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, better known as Game of Thrones. The show follows the novels closely, particularly in the early seasons and it be applauded by fans and non-fans of the books alike. Y: The Last Man could follow the success of Game of Thrones as a loyal adaptation of its source material.
AMC’s The Walking Dead is another example any Y: The Last Man TV Show could follow. The Walking Dead is a looser adaptation of its comic book series, yet it is a show that lifted the bar for zombie apocalypse fiction. Like The Walking Dead a Y: Last Man series could look at how different people and groups survive and change due to the crisis. On a technical level The Walking Dead would be a model to follow because the first half of the series is set in the countryside of America, so the show could be filmed in location like Louisiana or Georgia. They could even double for Australia and France later in the story. Both Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are merchandising juggernaut and a Y: The Last Man could aim to emulate that success.
As already stated The Leftovers is a show that touches on similar themes about the lost of a large portion of the world’s population suddenly disappear and a TV show could look at the social impact of lost of men and may even expand the story beyond the confines of the comics.
Who Could Adapt Y: The Last Man?
Though Y: The Last Man is a great comic book series the attempts at film adaptations have only attached lightweight talent. However the series has big name fans like Joss Whedon and Damon Lindelof. Whedon would be a fantastic fit for any adaptation, whether cinematic or televisual: just look at his body of work. He has a proficiency for writing strong female characters and his style of humor matches what is in the comics. Vaughn himself has been a successful writer, working on Lost and was the creator of Under the Dome. He could always ask someone like J. J. Abrams to produce a TV or film adaptation. There are plenty of networks where Y: The Last Man could work as a part of their link up, like AMC, Netflix or Amazon.
If we ever get to see a film adaptation of the comics it will require someone who would be able to handle all the complexities of the society in Y: The Last Man and be able balance its drama, dark humor and satire. It would be a mighty task to adapt the series but it has an interesting world that writers and directors could play around and make another great dystopia movie.