Review: Y: The Last Man script by Brian K Vaughan

By | February 26th, 2010
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

One of the big buzz things floating around the internet is the unused Brian K Vaughan script for Y: The Last Man. How this came about to reside on the internet is unknown to me. I’m not sure if it was “leaked” or given with permission to the site that originally hosted it. However, very quickly after it came online did it get pulled down by an unknown source. Mystery, oh mystery!

However, I did manage to get a copy of the script when I thought it was ok to have, being that I’m a sucker for Brian K Vaughan, and I couldn’t really resist the notion of being able to read an unused script for a movie I’m already against. That’s sort of the way I am! It’s akin to when I reviewed the script to Kick-Ass that seemingly is the one being used for the movie, which I generally frown upon. What really intrigued me, though, is the fact that the original writer was trying to adapt his storyline to a single film. This story, which is spread between ten volumes, is going to be condensed to a 2 hour movie by the guy that wrote it in the first place! How neat is that? And knowing that most writers frown upon changes to their original material, what liberties will Vaughan (who is an accomplished writer for screen, penning many a LOST episode) take with his own material? So I took it upon myself to read this 121 page script.

Before I get into the review, I should point out at least what little I know of the movie: I know that DJ Caruso is the director who is attached, and he is the man responsible for Suburbia (which I didn’t like) and Eagle Eye (which I didn’t see). For those familiar with those two films, Caruso is obviously a fan of the acting prowess of one Shia Lebouf (who I really dislike). He also plans to split up the story of the book into a trilogy, or so the rumor goes (which is something that I actually like). So already my expectations are relatively low, but I’m pretending I’m optimistic regardless.

It should also be noted that spoilers are heavily discussed, both for the book and the movie. If you haven’t read the book, don’t read this article. If you have read the book and haven’t read the script, you’re going to be alright.

So for those that don’t know, the premise behind Y is simple. The story focuses on Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand, a helper Capuchin that Yorick was training. One day, out of the blue, something happens and every male on the planet dies. That is, except for Yorick and his pet monkey. Instead, the two are left to wander in this post-apocalyptic world where women reigns supreme. Of course, being the last man means a certain amount of responsibilities, and the fact that a large group of female radicals out there only want him dead, another group want to use him as bait to restore a global political climate, and another group of women just want him doesn’t make it easy. Add to the fact that Yorick, the noble man that he is, simply wants to find his girlfriend who had just left on a plane, and you’re set up for a global adventure. Yorick seeks out his mother, a congresswoman who assigns the deadly Agent 355 to keep him safe as they seek out both his long lost beau Beth as well as Dr. Allison Mann, who may know what caused all of this as well as how to fix it.

Now – I’m pretty harsh when it comes to movie adaptations of comics. The only one I’ve had (almost) no complaint about is Sin City, because that directly used the panels of the book as the set-up. I loved the way that worked out. My big thing is that when you have a set story with a begin, a middle, and an end (i.e. not a superhero story that can be added to a thousand times over), you’re basically adapting any literary work and should treat it as such. Certain people believe that since they’re adapting a graphic novel, they can go any which way with it and try to attach whatever meaning to the story that they want (i.e. Watchmen) versus trying to create a faithful tribute to the original story, despite probably taking obvious liberties (i.e. V For Vendetta).*

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With that in mind, this is one of the first times that I know about where a writer has tried to squeeze his own 60 issue epic into a 121 page script for the average audience. What a task that must be, right? I mean, it was already a fool’s game to begin with, considering that Y: The Last Man works best as a literary piece due to all the intense literary references and styles within the pages. That is the point of the main character being called Yorick, and his father being a literary professor before the plague, right? Plus, there were a couple issues that diverged from the plot just a bit to illustrate certain points, such as the whole story where Ampersand gets lost. BKV wouldn’t be able to put all that into a single movie script, no matter how much faith I have in him. He also has to take into consideration that there are things fans of the book will put up with that an average movie-goer won’t (which I will get to), and the comic book allowed him to have much longer and more drawn out scenes than any movie will allow him to do ever.

So this is what BKV did – he cut out a lot of my favorite parts of the book and sort of condensed the rest of it down to fit within the length of the script. You see, unlike some, I’m of the belief that Y: The Last Man is an important comic to read, but it’s not one of the best. In fact, after about volume 4 of the trade, I think it jumps the shark a little bit. I’ll defend the fact that it’s a great series until the day I die obviously, but I’m not as fanatical about it as others that I know. With that in mind, BKV started right off the bat changing the things that I loved, so already I’m a tad bit perturbed. The first thing that I loved about the book is that Yorick is placed in this insane circumstance, and the radical group that is trying to kill him are not only a) so intensely radical that they cut off their own breasts but b) his sister is one of them. That’s SO important to the story in my mind (and I also believe she should’ve been an antagonist all the way through to the final chapter rather than before halfway). However, in the movie, she’s not even a character. In fact, Yorick’s mother – who was cruical in helping Yorick’s quest – is barely a part of the movie at all. She causes Yorick to go on the run from her instead of for her, and his meet up with Agent 355 is less believable because of it. Agent 355 simply tracks him down and says she is here to protect him. It doesn’t work as well.

It’s at this point that the plot really starts to diverge. We’re streamlined through a lot of the intense action and adventure the book had, and even some of the weirder parts that make one of the final pay-offs so important. Yorick doesn’t meet any other culper agents, but rather is placed right on the train, which leads to the fantastic train battle and him arriving in Morrisville way too early. Meanwhile, the whole Israeli army part comes in much quicker as an important threat, and Morrisville ends with a fight between the Israeli’s, the inmates, and the Amazons. So Yorick and Agent 355 hightail out of it, only to end up with Dr. Mann a little too late. But this is the biggest divergence from the original story that I believe really hurts the tale – the cause of the death is revealed and Yorick’s survival is changed. Now, the reason Yorick survives is inherently similar, and it’s still the “oh, REALLY?” vibe you have in the book, but flat out revealing the plague is probably the biggest thing Vaughan did wrong here. A lot of people, including myself, complained that by issue 60 there is no definitive reason, but that’s also one of the good things about the book. Vaughan has always stated that the real reason is in there (and I suppose the reason in the script is the “real” reason?), but the open ended mystery of the finale was always something I had a love/hate relationship with. Having a definitive answer about halfway through the story leaves me with a rather sour feeling in my mouth, because that kills off half of what the story was.

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And if you’re wondering, the reason is because of the culper ring. They designed a weaponized air-borne virus to kill only men with the intent to use it during battles with foreign countries (presumably China in the script), and they were trying to get Dr. Mann to work on it. When she said no, they decided to test it anyway, and it backfired and killed all the men on the planet versus some small group of men in Asia.

Of course, my biggest complaint with the script is the characterization of Yorick. Yorick Brown is easily one of the most likable heroes of comic books, and his saga is what really drives him home to the reader. He has his flaws, but he’s a creative and smart young lad. In the movie, he just kind of … is. In fact, having Shia Lebouf play the character would be just as perfect because they’re both pretty void of personality. That is probably to the fault of condensing the story, because now we don’t get as much exposition of the character. We don’t really get to learn to love him, and on top of that, he never grows to love 355. There are little things implied, but by the end of the book, they’re not “together” in any sense of the word. I won’t discuss the ending yet, though, because even Agent 355 is done “wrong.” It’s weird for me to say this, because it’s BKV adapting BKV, but the characters feel very two dimensional in the movie script versus how they feel in the book. Yorick and 355 carry the story between the two of them, so to have barely a dynamic as well as most of their coolest moments absent, I’m beginning to get really negative towards the script.

The biggest thing, though, is the ending. Obviously, instead of focusing on what caused the plague (since that was unfortunately “revealed”), we skip all the cool pirate stuff as well as Yorick overseas to instead deal with a giant fight scene at a mansion between the Amazons, the Israelis, and Yorick and company again. You see, the Israelis have taken Beth hostage (who did not end up going over seas, but rather to LA (and with no lesbian time either)), and a big showdown is set up. As the showdown ends, Yorick wakes up in the farmhouse from the book, having his semen taken away from him and being broken up with by Beth. Agent 355 is going to go investigate the mysterious goings-on by the culper ring, and Yorick decides to join as they drive off listening to Jay-Z (seriously). The ending of the book found Yorick FINALLY finding Beth after going through hell, realizing that he didn’t love her anymore after having some passionate nookie, then telling 355 his feelings for her before 355 is assassinated. After that, Yorick is merely cloned until the planet repopulates, and he grows old a sad and lonely man. I understand that this is a movie and has to be shortened down a bit, but you just can’t compare that. You can’t! 60 issues of Yorick searching for Beth, only to himself turn her down in favor of 355 (which in turn played back to something that happened back in volume 3 of the story) who then gets shot. I’m sorry, but the ending of the script pales in comparison.

Of course, the thing about the movie script is it obviously leaves the story incomplete with the idea that there would be a sequel. The ending of the book actually features the space crew getting ready to return to Earth as they did in volume 4 of the graphic novel. In fact, the film leaves a lot of people in odd places – specifically Victoria, the leader of the Amazons, who is now in Morrisville jail preaching her gospel. Of course, what makes THAT interesting is that the guards are now the previous inmates, and the guard we see (Sonia, who fans might remember from trying to bang Yorick after finding him (she does it in the movie too)) is appreciative of the gospel. The obvious set up is that the Amazons return as a villain, the two men of the space crew come to earth, and Agent 355 and Yorick investigate the culper ring. The thing is, this takes us in a brand new direction. So we’re not adapting Y: The Last Man anymore, we’re writing What If… Y: The Last Man. And frankly, I don’t care for it.

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It kind of pains me to rag on BKV like this, but the fact of the matter is that despite whatever problems I had with the comic book, Y: The Last Man was a great comic. Y: The Last Man is a pretty poor movie, with all the important events of the book sped up in order to get it out of the way so we can tell a new story. I don’t want a new story. I have my trades and I don’t need more than that. See, this gets back to what I was saying earlier: if you have a beginning, a middle, and an end to your story already, you don’t need to change it. Y: The Last Man already had a great set up, and you could easily cut it into three parts for a trilogy. To cut out some of the good parts and paste events in a weird order, we lose a whole part of the story. And for a book that lies so heavily on impressive literary tactics, to really strip it away from that hurts. It hurts a lot.

So I don’t approve of the Y script, despite the fact BKV wrote it. It’s not a terribly written script, but it’s poorly paced and kills out a lot of what I really liked about the comic. In fact, if anything, this makes me like the comic more. I would go so far as to say that all the things I didn’t like in the comic I now like because I see what the other side of the story could have been. Y: The Last Man has literally gone from a well paced, if not a little odd, adventure across the globe in the post-apocalypse to a story about one man’s travel across the country to find his girlfriend, with some mishaps along the way. And that’s just not the way I would’ve liked this to come out.

*As a footnote to this article, since I didn’t want to be overly verbose, I LOVE taking the piss out of Alan Moore movies. It’s not that I know Alan Moore hates the movies and will back anything that I say about them, but it’s so amusing to me that he is hailed as one of the most important creators of all time (not just in comic books), and yet NO one has given him the “respect he deserves.” I put that in quotes because I feel that’s more his view than mine because I actually liked V for Vendetta. All changes aside, I think it tried to accomplish what the graphic novel did and it didn’t do it nearly as bad as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, and Watchmen did.

But Alan Moore hates every adaptation of his work anyway, so that’s neither here nor there. I just think it’s amusing.

Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."