Adapt This: Brian K. Vaughan's 'Y: The Last Man'
There’s nothing new under the sun — but somehow, these awesome properties have never been adapted for screens big or small. Psst, Hollywood: Let’s change that.
Television audiences love a good mythology-heavy, post-apocalyptic, slightly sci-fi survival story — just think Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or The Walking Dead. Yet, Hollywood has failed time and time again to come up with a new idea, and the graveyard of failed ones only continues to add new victims. Let’s go down the list, shall we? The Event. Flashforward. V. Perhaps even Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Sure, there’s Revolution and The Walking Dead staking their claims, but networks are in need of something completely new that will amp up the stakes. The answer? One letter: Y, as in Y: the Last Man, written by none other than Lost scribe Brian K. Vaughan. The title pretty much sums up exactly what happens to set up the series: A plague caused by something — possible candidates include a magic amulet, a cloning mishap, and a chemical agent — makes all mammals with the Y chromosome, including embryos, die on Earth. Yep, total decimation. The only males seemingly left are a goofy but goodhearted young escape artist named Yorick (after the Shakespeare character) and his Capuchin monkey, fondly named Ampersand.
What happens after the first, grotesque pages dedicated to depicting half the population collapsing and bleeding out, is a thrilling, epic tale that’s led by a diverse ensemble of women with quippy dialogue who kick ass. Awesome.
And fine, Hollywood’s been trying to adapt it into a film (more on that later). But considering the way the graphic novel reads, it’s much more suited for television. Here’s why (er, Y, if you will):
First, the characters. The series created a compelling collection of women who are not only powerful, but smart, driven, and supportive (and also sport strange names). TV could always use stronger female characters, and Y: The Last Man‘s got a bevy of them ready to go: There’s Agent 355, the mysterious secret agent who becomes Yorick’s bodyguard. There’s Doctor Allison Mann (get it? zing!), the geneticist who reluctantly joins Yorick and 355 to uncover the source of the plague and at the same time, explore her troubled past and work with cloning. Besides those three, there are supporting characters like Natalya, the Russian soldier who helps the gang along the way.
The series also introduces memorable villains, including Yorick’s sister Hero, who joins a group called the Daughters of the Amazon, a fanatical, misandrist cult where each member must cut off a breast and roam the United States murdering male impersonators and wreaking havoc. Doctor Mann’s family also creates conflict, while a ninja named Toyota stalks the group’s every move. I know what you’re thinking: A cult? A ninja? Yeah, this series gets weird — there’s a whole plot that deals with the International Space Station — but its cast of strange characters elevate its appeal. Plus, how many times have you suspended your disbelief to continue with sci-fi shows? Don’t be shy.
Next, the episodic setup of the series. The entire series ran from 2002 to 2008, publishing 60 issues and more than 20 story arcs. That’s a ton of material to work with, Hollywood, but it’s also material writers can take and spin off of. There are villains like Alter Tse’elon, an Israeli military general who can be explored beyond her antagonistic appearances. Issues also leap forward in time, and those spaces can be filled with an understanding of the original work and some imagination.
Finally, there’s a built-in fanbase. Much like The Walking Dead, Y: The Last Man found a wide reader following that has clamored for this to be adapted on screen. (Those fans include the aforementioned Joss Whedon and even Hurley on Lost.) Those fans have even made trailers, and they would watch in droves.
Of course, here’s where reality comes in: Hollywood’s already heard of Y, yet it insists on building a film around it. Starting in 2007, David S. Goyer, the mind behind Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, has been in talks to produce a film version. Shia LaBeouf was attached at one point to star. (Ugh.) And then the idea died down, and though Dan Trachtenberg was announced in January as the director, little news has come about casting or production since, just whispers of talks among the Hollywood elite.
Talks, talks, talks — it’s something, but rumors aren’t enough for this series, and it’s time Hollywood got its act together and understand that television is the perfect medium for Y.
But that’s enough of me ranting. On to dream-casting! The best bet for Yorick would be an actor like
Shia LaBeouf Andrew Garfield, who has the right build to pull off Yorick’s escape artist antics and the chops to deliver the balance of dramatic scenes and comedic dialogue. (That said, Yorick has always read to me as having the personality of a younger Chuck Bartowski, so maybe I’m just envisioning a younger Zachary Levi.) As for his cohorts, that’s a tougher one: Who’s mysterious and kick-ass enough to play Agent 355, yet also able to bring out her vulnerability? Naomie Harris of Skyfall? Marsha Thomason of White Collar fame? (Ideally, Gina Torres would take the role, but I fear I’m typecasting her.) The toughest of the main three to cast would be Doctor Mann, with few visible Asian actresses Stateside. I like to choose Lucy Liu for everything, but she may be a tad old for the role. Same with Maggie Q. Perhaps Grace Park, who I liked on Battlestar Galactica and could possibly pull it all off.
And that’s just the main protagonists, so maybe it’s these endless casting possibilities that are stalling the Hollywood hotshots from actually adapting Y: The Last Man. (Or maybe it’s the lesbian subplots, but I like to think we’re moving beyond that by now.) Either way, it’s time to finally take this brilliant series to the small screen — it’s been more than a decade, and it’s more than ready.