The classic comic Y: The Last Man is slated to head to television screens, courtesy of FX. Created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra, the comic, which ran for 60 issues from 2002 to 2008, follows Yorick Brown and his monkey as they traverse a world in which the male of every mammalian species has died. But while fans are excited, they could also be forgiven for wondering just why we need another post-apocalyptic drama on TV at a time when we have The Walking Dead, The 100, The Leftovers, and the like. Here’s how Y: The Last Man can stand out.
Keep Society Going
In The Walking Dead, by the time Rick wakes up, everything’s pretty much gone to hell. Most of the world is dead and trying to eat the small percentage that survived. Society is little more than tatters when it’s not warped by people like the Governor. There’s a reason the show’s title refers to its cast, not the zombies they have to fight.
But in Y: The Last Man, while society is dealt a hard blow on multiple levels, in the book it doesn’t collapse permanently. After the initial panic, the trains start running again, food starts getting delivered, and those left behind take a hard look at how they’re going to rebuild, or whether they even should. Everything doesn’t go to hell all at once, but certain parts of the world start heading in that direction. It’s a world where geopolitics, gender politics, and every -ism is alive and well, just rocked to its core.
For a TV series, keeping viewers engaged in a post-apocalyptic story sans the look of a typical apocalypse may prove challenging, but Brian K. Vaughan has experience with that on Under the Dome, and it’s vital that this show not go too far towards establishing a crushed Earth in the absence of men.
Focus On Life
The Walking Dead is mostly about the physical reality of death. At the show’s best moments, you can almost smell the stench coming off the zombies, and feel the desperation of the crew as they try to live just one more damn day.
Y: The Last Man, by contrast, was often at its most interesting when it asked what women would do in the absence of men — a question that took the comic some surprising places. Sometimes this would get a bit jokey; no points for guessing what the Washington Memorial becomes a memorial to. But as Yorick crosses the country, he comes across different communities and different ways people have adapted to the disaster. Some of these are healthy, others are … more practical in nature. But everybody is ultimately trying to get on with the business of living, and that’s a key distinction.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Different Genres
Finally, The Walking Dead is pretty much a horror drama. It can’t exactly shake things up too much simply because of the circumstances: It’s not like the zombies are going to let them yuk it up or play cowboy.
Y: The Last Man, though, made a habit of switching genres and riffing on story tropes, often ones imposed on our heroes as a form of inconvenience or societal breakdown. Yorick, Agent 355 and Alison get chased across the plains by cowboys, run into hack playwrights, fight female submariners, and the book actually has a running theme of ancient conspiracies and superspies running throughout all sixty issues. Pouring all of this into a show will also be a challenge, but it could ultimately make for a very interesting series. And that’s what everyone wants. So, with any luck, the show will find what makes the comic great, and translate it to the screen. If not, at least there’s a monkey. Everything is improved with a monkey.