Comic books have not had a long and proud history being adapted into movies. But it’s rare that they are actually adapted by the original creators, of see them making a significant impact on the finished work. Exceptions like Sin City and Persepolis, while not setting the box office on fire, have a consistency, voice and appeal denied to the likes of, say, Spider-Man.
I received a copy of a draft of the Y The Last Man screenplay written by Brian K Vaughan. It’s undated, but is draft version 1.2, which is four years old and seems to be the version he was working on around this time – . Since this point, the screenplay has been worked on by Carl Ellsworth and director DJ Caruso and the finished product, if we ever see it, with or without Shia La Beouf, will be different.
So whatever version hits the screen, it won’t be this one. For a start Caruso has talked about a trilogy and this is most definitely a done-in-one.
But it might give us a few signposts.
Y The Last Man is a long, rolling, sprawled out comic book, taking in much of the world, all sorts of tones and themes, exploring history, philosophy, human nature, love, desire, necessity and science as a world deals with losing all of its men in a brief period. That is, of course, aside from Yorick. And his monkey.
Brian K Vaughan wrote that when finishing Y he stayed with the same ending that his younger self had planned when he stated Y. But they were clearly two different people. When Brian started Y he was a relatively low-profile writer with an unsuccessful run on Swamp Thing under his belt that Heidi MacDonald, editor at Vertigo Comics, had taken a bit of a chance on. When he finished, he was one of the biggest name writer in comics, was picked as one of the main writers on Lost, and in demand by many. He was a different person and Y was a different book.
He’d also become a better writer.
A longform periodical comic like Y, Cerebus and Sandman has to be, by its nature, patchwork as the writer changes his/her mind through its publication. The screenplay can fix this and make things tighter, better, and more thoroughly designed – or it can just find some cool bits and then invent a new thread to join the dots. This script definitely does the former.
So this movie is not so much an adaption of the comic book, it’s certainly not anywhere near as faithful as Watchmen tried to be and failed. Instead it’s Ultimate Y The Last Man, taking all the things Brian had learned while writing the comic and applying them to its very beginning. It’s more focused. Characters who grow and develop, who we first met as the comic progressed are there right at the beginning, following their own parallel lives that we only get to understand in the comic in flashback or exposition. Basically there’s a whole whole lot of Lost-style foreshadowing that’s been re-engineered into the start, giving a multi-layered narrative. Which is handy, because I understand that it was this draft of the screenplay that got Brian his gig on Lost.
And it’s removed the comic book necessity to get an understandable chunk into that first 22 pages. The screenplay starts with the big death scene, on a much grander scale and in so much more detail than the comic, and then goes into a lot of Previously On Y The Last Man set up scenes with all sorts of characters that might have taken up the first one or two trade paperbacks.
So some bits are contracted, some bits and extended, and while a whole lot of plot and characters are lost, themes, characters and points are never betrayed or abandoned. We stay in one country rather than going on an international cruise. The Washington scenes, so extended in the comic are now a brief skip through. There are slightly less lesbians. Because this focuses much more on the journey. The ending is restructured in parts and the one element I really enjoyed in the comic but thought I was missing during the script, and was all ready to moan about, hits me between the eyes right at the very end. You did that on purpose, didn’t you Brian? Not so much an easter egg but an easter egg on my face.
It’s an accurate, clever, funny and intriguing adaptation of the comic into the film medium. As a movie it should delight, entertain and provoke as much as the original. It’s shorter, concentrated, and more punchy – but I was suprised how much I didn’t mind that it wasn’t the comic.
Oh and you’re going to love who the President is. I do so hope they keep that.