Tridaptation: Y: The Last Man

Y The Last Man
The Source Material

Today marks the inauguration of a brand new column here at Pop Modern, “Tridaptation.” It gives us three writers the chance to not just react to pop culture content, but also to dabble in role-play and wish-fulfillment. Every time this column rolls around, we’ll all focus on a common source material that we love dearly and outline how we’d adapt it to another medium. This week we’re taking a look at Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel series which focuses on what the world would look like if all men on the planet but one suddenly died. Stick with us as each of us takes a crack at turning this epic into a feature length film.

The Adaptations

Allen

Director: Rian Johnson
 
Writer: Joss Whedon
 
Main Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Yorick Brown (I’d actually prefer a relative unknown actor for this role, but JGL could play the character perfectly), Danai Gurira as Agent 355, Rinko Kikuchi as Dr. Mann.
 
Plot: So, here’s my issue with Y: The Last Man as a film adaptation: it’s composed almost entirely of characters traveling and meeting different people. Because of this, it would work perfectly as a TV series, with each season covering a volume of the comics, or branching out and taking the ideas further. Keep the Dr. Mann/355/Yorick/Amp relationship at the center, absolutely keep Altar and her crazy backstory, and for the love of God, just shoot that final scene exactly as it is in the comic. It could be one of the greatest adventure shows of all time, rivaling Lost with an intricate mystery behind it all, and a story that is actually about the characters from the start.
Pitch: If you tied my hands up and absolutely had to make into a film, stick to the first few issues or so. If you’re in it for the long haul, whoever writes/directs the picture needs to realize that years and years are passing by that aren’t covered in the comics. And most importantly, realize that Yorick was never and can never be a schlubby nerd learning to talk to girls and be a man. This is why I didn’t choose Jay Baruchel or someone younger for the character; Yorick has sexual experience, a gorgeous girlfriend, and decent people skills. The most interesting part of his character is his death wish and inability to lead well and make decisions, not his awkwardness. Levitt can play young, and Whedon can punch up the dialogue with the right amount of humor. Johnson knows how to shoot both action and quiet conversation, so I think this combo would make a perfect Y: The Last Man something, be it TV or film. I just want it to happen so badly, I’ll take anyone competent at this point. Nobody would choose anyone but Gurira for 355 if they’d seen her on The Walking Dead: those characters line up almost perfectly. And Kikuchi as Mann is not only culturally accurate, but I’d also really like to see the young actress get a chance to stretch her acting chops with two other strong presences for such a long journey.
James
Director: Christopher NolanWriter: Jonathan Nolan

Main Cast:  James McAvoy as Yorick, Jennifer Lawrence as Beth, Rashida Jones as Agent 13, & Ampersand as that one monkey from Pirates of the Caribbean

Plot: The plot would involve the main story points of the books, with only minor glimpses at the external plots. The “other Beth” and the astronauts would probably be cut in order to make time for the series. I think the movie could do a Batmanesque trilogy to really capture the series, as one movie might be a little too rushed for the exploration of the themes. We can have character development and still try and keep the last scene, ala Stanley Kubrik.

Pitch: The Nolans know how to work with comic books. Christopher is known for taking independent movie concepts, and turning them into great blockbusters. He and Jonathan could write a killer adaptation of Y:the Last Man, and make a really cool adaptation of the source material. Nolan is also known for humor within dark movies, which is really what Y:the Last Man is: a combination of terrible events with funny interludes.

James McAvoy would be a great Yorick, as he has the right balance of cool guy and loser, which would play into the movie. Plus he isn’t the most beautiful movie actor, which makes him more suitable for the role. Jennifer Lawrence would be a great Beth, as an unexpected non-heroine role would be a revelation for most of the audience. The character is supposed to be somewhat air-headed, which I think Jennifer could play quite well.  Rashida Jones is radically under-appreciated, but I think she could make a great Agent 13, as she proved that she could play a decent action star, even in the movie Wanted.

Magellan

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Main Cast: Andrew Garfield as Yorick Brown, Nicole Beharie as Agent 355, and Rinko Kikuchi as Dr. Allison MannPlot: Open in medias res on the group’s confrontation aboard their train to the Midwest. Tell the events of the first days of the plague and Yorick’s escape from Washington D.C. in flashbacks. Keep everything limited to Yorick’s perspective, finding another way to establish the Israeli stuff. From there, pick the most interesting vignettes to tell (the male astronauts arc, Yorick killing someone for the first time, the Japan arc, and maybe one or two more sequences depending on time constraints).
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Pitch: As my cohorts here have pointed out, Y: The Last Man would be tricky to adapt into a single film. It’s a series and a concept that begs detailed exploration. Admittedly, the property isn’t nearly popular enough to sustain a series of films, but it would thrive on television (even as a Netflix series or something like that). Still, let’s pretend for a minute (as we’ve already been pretending for several minutes) that we have to stick to feature length. That means the plot is going to have to be truncated to the vignettes that matter most to the overarching plot. Luckily, Y: The Last Man is built to be modular in that way. It’s best to start somewhere in the story where all the characters are together already so as to not waste time in exposition, letting the D.C. and Boston arcs get filled in with dialogue and flashbacks.
As for the cast, I think we here at Pop Modern are all agreed that you need an everyman who plays dopey and charismatic equally well. Ideally every role would be filled in by relative unknowns, but if we’re aiming for a rising star then Andrew Garfield would be perfect. The other two roles were a little harder for me to fill, since there really aren’t enough African-American or Asian-American women working in the industry right now. Still, Beharie and Kikuchi have respectable resumes and would do well. In terms of the writing-directing team, I figure Vaughn may be the best to re-frame his story. He doesn’t even have to script it, necessarily, just offer a plot outline. I picked Trevorrow as director for his work on Safety Not Guaranteed,  a movie which has a similar tonal blend to Y. Plus, the guy’s directing Jurassic World, so he has to have something going for him.
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Frames of Preference: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim comicOne of the best things about Bryan Lee O’ Malley’s writing and art style is how they compliment each other seamlessly. You can’t have one without the other, and it’s evident in this large dialogue scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The narrator isn’t some omniscient overlord; they’re in on the story just as the viewer is, and the comic is able to poke fun at itself on numerous occasions like this one.

Panel Discussion: Hitting the Mark

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By James

There is something about the show Arrow that really appeals to me. The dialogue is cheesy, the plot predictable, the stakes too low. And yet, there is something fairly addictive about the show that gets me to watch and rewatch episodes. I went through the same sort of fascination with the show The Cape, but in the end, that intrigue faded when the show was canceled. There is something about the concept of a superhero story told through television that I really enjoy. The concept of a serialized story medium appeals to my sensibilities and schedule. The format is conducive to that of comics themselves, complete with the one villain per story and the cliffhanger endings. And I think that that’s underrated.

Recently, there have been quite a few superhero films in theaters. Captain America, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, Thor, the list goes on and on. It has become an imperative to release superhero movies on almost a bimonthly basis now. In television, the number of comic adaptations is surprisingly low. Arrow and Smallville are among a very small list of non-animated shows adapted from comics. Rather than focusing on a particular chapter of a character’s life, a movie chooses to focus on the growth and development over the course of a particular chapter of that character’s life. With a television series, the story that we see is more clear and complete. Although it takes more time for a television series to start and stop, and to remind the audience of the previous adventures, the result is closer to the comic format that I have come to know and love. The subtle references to characters and events within the larger DC continuum are huge reasons why I continue to watch Arrow. The self-referential characters, the small links to the larger universe, everything else adds to the comic book style that it borrows so heavily from.

Even though I don’t particularly enjoy origin stories, Arrow does the job properly. Starting with the relatively unknown hero Oliver Queen, the show even explains how he developed his archery skills brilliantly. In much the same way that the Christopher Nolan Batman series started a gritty take on that particular franchise, Arrow creates a strong new take on a character, albeit a less popular one than Batman. The result is a movement into a brand new type of story. Relatively unknown characters are given a new life. This is a trait that I would love to see with Ant-Man, Marvel’s size-changing super hero. To serialize such a witty, real character gives the franchise a chance to appeal to a new audience. Although I am sure that director Edgar Wright will do a fantastic job with this movie, I think that the best medium for comics has now emerged.

 

Panel Discussion: What If…I Read More Comics?

What If...I Read More ComicsBy Magellan

It was tough, this week, to come up with an article to write. If I can pull back the mysterious Pop Modern curtain and ask you to pay a little mind to the man behind it, this wasn’t a week where I simply started with a lightbulb idea and ran with it. In fact, this was the opposite of that; I wanted to revitalize a column that hasn’t been given a lot of play. Eventually, I settled on our comic-book-centric column, Panel Discussion. What made it tough was that I haven’t read any comics in a while. In fact, I rarely read many comics to begin with. At most, I’ll pick up a standalone trade paperback that a friend or a podcast host says is worth it, but even then I don’t always have the time or the means to finish an entire graphic novel. Sure, I’ve read a handful of classics, like Watchmen or Y: The Last Man, what have you, but I’m still a comics novice at best.

Picking up individual issues won’t help, either. Not only are they an expensive proposition for anyone who wants more than twenty minutes of entertainment, it’s also nearly impossible to figure out where to start. And I know that’s a pretty hackneyed complaint, the image of a man with a Droopy Dog look on his face standing in front of some shelves and sighing “Oh gee, I’m lost!” But you know what? I am lost! And I’m the kind of guy that loves complicated continuity, that’s not a consumer turn-off for me. What is a turn-off is that I have a desire for completism when I consume something. If I watch a movie, I’m sticking through from minute one to closing credits. If I watch a television show, the creators pretty much have me on the hook for seven seasons. If I’m reading a comic book, I’d like to get a complete story from start to finish. And sure, there are plenty of self-contained stories in comic books, but not if you just jump head-first into what’s being released now. It’s nearly impossible to make heads or tails of how a person should start reading Marvel Comics. It would be easy enough to point to a great Iron Man story here, or a fantastic Fantastic Four arc there, but getting a comprehensive scope of the universe as a whole is a Herculean feat.

This kind of paralyzing fear of picking the wrong entry point into the continuity is what occupied me on those rare occasions when I had enough petty cash as a kid to traipse on down to the bookstore and pick up a trade paperback. I remember the first time this happened to me I thumbed through some Captain America collections, but those were full of black-and-white versions of early, text-box-dominated issues. Beyond that, pretty much everything on the shelf was a “Volume 3” or a “Chapter 6.” That is, until I stumbled upon a Marvel book called What If?: Event Horizon. Unlike the other books, this was something I could pick up and read right away. And it had all of the characters I’d heard about: Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Avengers crew, all of those guys. This seemed like a dream come true to me; it was a book that brought together all of the characters I wanted to read about and told a handful of one-off, self-contained stories about them. I didn’t have to know anything except their names, and even those were easy to pick up after a page or two. After I burned through the book, I felt a real sense of completion, but I still was tantalized enough to want to read wiki page after wiki page of convoluted continuity.

And, not only were the stories short and easy to digest, some of them were memorable and compelling. The one that sticks in my mind the most is the first one in that collection I mentioned, “What If Xavier’s Secret Second Team Had Survived?” I’m not going to bore you with a point-for-point summary of this story, but basically it concerns Vulcan, the mutant younger brother of X-Men frontman Cyclops. In the main continuity, Vulcan was the leader of a little-known team of young mutants that Professor Xavier sent to their untimely death. In this story, however, Vulcan survived and became the most important and heroic mutant on the planet. His hypothetical survival completely alters the face of human-mutant relations, and the ultimate revelation that Vulcan murdered the mutants he was supposed to save in a bout of sociopathic calculation makes the situation all the more interesting. Since he’s such a beloved public figure, Xavier can’t simply out him as a murderer, so Vulcan is forced to disseminate the cover story that he’s flying off into the sunset to fight aliens. In reality, he’s sequestered on a floating space rock, with nothing to keep him company but a DVD of his television biography and forced psychic visions of the crimes he has committed. As if that weren’t enough of a fascinating character study, the issue ends with Vulcan coolly reflecting “I’ve watched them die two hundred and seventy-three times. How many times do you have to see someone die before you feel nothing at all?”

The first time I read that story, I was floored. Granted, I was a pre-teen, but I was floored. The idea that a single issue could give me not only an interesting character to follow but also such a broad sense of universal implications made me ravenous for more. Now, I’m not saying that all comics should be one-and-done stories, or that every one should be some outlandish “What If?” scenario. What I am saying is that there’s something that comics at large can learn from the appeal of “What If?” stories. The advantage of writing within a detailed universe like that of Marvel or DC Comics is that there are plenty of existing characters to play with and any number of ways to go with the plot. The problem is that every story is weighed down by this mountain of continuity. Part of my problem is that I need to read more comics if I want to be up-to-date, but the other part of it is that the universe itself is fighting against me, when it should be working for the benefit of the story. The universe is a backdrop, and should never outweigh the priorities or the message of the story being told. And if that means that every comic book ends up as some outlandish “What If?” issue where Wolverine and Cyclops are melded into a single mutant life-form that wanders pre-WWII Australia and decimates super-powered, dingo-riding aborigines, that still sounds pretty rad to me.

Frames of Preference: Batman: Year One

Batman Year OneI’m not usually a fan of origin stories, but the 1987 classic Batman: Year One is the rare exception. Frank Miller’s writing manages to stay away from the cheesiness of the 60s Batman series, while also staying away from the grim seriousness of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. David Mazzuchelli’s art is absolutely stunning to behold, and the stylistic choice to write Batman’s dialogue on scrawled paper and Commisioner Gordon’s on noir-style notebook paper reinforces the juxtaposition of the hunter and his prey in this intense graphic novel.

Panel Discussion: Cliffhangers and Nocturnes

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By Allen

Panel Discussion is a brand new column on Pop Modern, where we’re going to discuss and dissect all types of graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and comic books. If you’re a devoted Superman evangelist, a big fan of Y: The Last Man, or somewhere in between, Panel Discussion is for you.

What better way to kick off our new column on comic books and graphic novels than with the Neil Gaiman classic, Sandman? Equal parts horror, dark comedy, and traditional fantasy, it set the bar for more mature graphic novels in the 80s and 90s. I just finished the first volume recently, “Preludes and Nocturnes”, and I absolutely loved it. However, I don’t know if I’m as excited to read on. Of course I’m going to read on in the future, because there’s nine more volumes of great stories to be told in that universe, but I feel like I got everything I needed to out of what was, in retrospect, a fairly small piece of an overall story.

I found it appropriate to read Sandman before bed every night. The story focuses on the life of the God of Dreams after he is released from a spherical prison that held him for almost half a century. An issue a night meant I had time to appreciate the art, coloring, and writing of each chapter, and immediately going to sleep after reading about the lord of sleep felt right. Every chapter deals with Dream (who goes by several names) recovering one of his stolen tools of the trade. In one chapter, he wins his dream helmet from a demon in Hell after a storytelling battle. In another, he battles through the dreams of all of humanity against a demented doctor who plans to use Dream’s magical amulet to bring about the apocalypse. The unique blend of surreal art and Gaiman’s trademark fantasy wit are what carry the story along.

So if it is so good, why don’t I want to read more? It’s for the same reason I stopped reading Bill Willingham’s Fables after one volume, and the same reason that I prefer collected paperbacks to purchasing individual issues. The way that we read comics directly contributes to a feeling of being lead on. As my eyes dart from panel to panel, word balloon to word balloon, I don’t stop progressing until the story is over. There’s always another bit of story and another frame of art just an eye flicker away. That immediate, hyperactive nature of comics makes appreciating the art very difficult. How can comics creators expect the reader to stop and appreciate the combination of art and visuals if there’s constantly new material to read a few inches to the right? This problem has been slightly alleviated with the introduction of splash pages, which are massive two-page spreads of art that force the reader to stop for a moment and absorb that moment in time. The idea is explored in detail in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which I highly recommend to anyone looking to learn about the techniques creators use to tell stories in comics. But all the splash pages in the world couldn’t get me to keep up with more than a few comics every week. I like to feel like there’s a definitive end to what I’m reading. An open-ended, ambiguous climax like that of Sandman serves the purpose of tying up all loose ends, while also enticing some readers to follow up with the other nine volumes.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reading an incomplete story. I recently finished George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, which is the fifth of seven planned novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. That’s a perfect example of an incomplete story, but I can wait a few years for that story’s end because of the scope of the series. With such a grand narrative, it takes time to flesh out the world, characters, and do all of that while telling a cohesive story with a beginning, middle, and end. The focus on a single character gives Sandman a much smaller scale, and as I finished the final issue of “Preludes and Nocturnes”, I felt like I read enough about that world. Dream finds all of his tools, and his sister Death takes him on a trip as she does her job all around the world. That feels like an ending to me. There are nine more volumes of Sandman that I could read, but why should I? There are countless issues of Fables for me to read, but why should I if all I wanted to know was who the murderer was? The universe interested me enough to consider reading more, but it was the struggles of the characters in that specific scenario that had me hooked. One of my biggest problems with comic books today is the feeling of being lead on by individual issues. Very few of the average superhero comic issues end definitively, opting to set up a larger story. The bad guy was still alive, the hero suffered a mortal wound, or the giant monster was way bigger than expected. This was the way of things for a while, and although the industry is slowly shifting away from that, it’s still a problem. Some would argue that this is to entice readers to keep reading a series, but it ultimately devalues the individual issues. Instead of making each issue a standalone story, why not deliver a complete slice of a grander universe? Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga does this well, with each issue developing the universe, continuing the story of previous issues, and setting up the next issue without feeling incomplete.

Some of the best stories of all time ended on ambiguous notes, be they films like Chinatown or The Thing, two films whose ambiguous endings actually provided better closure than more explicit climaxes. This applies to all mediums of storytelling, but the shorter form, easily-consumed nature of comics leads to a lot of what I call “carrot on a stick” endings, where closure is replaced with a dramatic end, and the reader is supposed to want to follow up on that end in future issues. No matter how good the art is, no matter how beautiful the writing is, there’s another issue that you have to buy. And for an industry that has been struggling with sales for so long, it’s refreshing to read comics like Sandman that can establish a world, give it depth, and tell a definitive, standalone story. Don’t make the reader feel like they HAVE to keep reading, make them want to.

Incidental Insights: What I Found in the Longbox

What I Found in the Longbox
By Magellan

I wouldn’t consider myself much of a convention-goer. Large crowds make me nervous, merchandise is often too overpriced for my taste, and autographs have never made much sense to me. The whole thing just adds up to a sweaty, cramped ball of things that I don’t want to do or be near. In fact, I’ve only ever been to two pop culture conventions: PAX East in 2012 and Boston Comic Con earlier today.

And (sorry to spoil the ending for you) I had a fun time at both. It’s a fault of mine, I guess, that I find all the reasons not to like something before I bother to go experience it. Sure, both conventions featured their fair share of unpleasantness, be that in the form of physical discomfort or frustration with overly excitable fellow con-goers. But that’s a hell of a thing to get worked up about, people enjoying themselves. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I’ve found surprisingly enjoyable about the convention experience, both at a bigger, games-oriented con like PAX, and a smaller, comics-oriented con like Boston Comic Con.

Obviously, the fun of any convention is in the convening itself. It’s all about being able to share a space with a group of like-minded people to celebrate culture, to celebrate things that you enjoy and are fond of. Whether you express that feeling of inclusion and positivity in the form of dressing up, or filling a backpack full of T-shirts and posters, or just pacing around and ogling the scenery, you’re welcome to it. You’re welcome to experience the event how you want to, and (at least in principle) it’s a place free from judgment, juvenility, and jockish posturing. This isn’t some new phenomenon that I’m discovering; anybody who’s been part of a group of friends will tell you that it feels good to be included.

What I find interesting is that a pop culture convention, be it about video games or comic books, can make so many different people feel like they’re part of the same thing. The guy in the Iron Man duds feels a kinship with the genius who came up with a costume that’s half Batman, half Deadpool, and all because those two happen to be standing in the same building and are fans of products that are distributed via the same medium. Hell, we all know that it’s not canon for Iron Man to get along with Batpool, they’re just too different. But it doesn’t matter, because the uniting factor here isn’t personality, or opinion, or taste. It’s passion.

The ways that different conventions encourage fraternizing and camaraderie is interesting as well. When I went to PAX, I wandered around the show floor and was dazzled by all the flashy new games and the gargantuan booths, but it was all a bit daunting and intimidating. And yeah, I’ve never been to San Diego Comic Con or anything on that level, so maybe I’m speaking out of turn, but it was my first convention and I was humbled by it all. Yet, even among all that, I was able to carve out small, fun moments with my friends. There were rooms set aside specifically for people to play video games with one another, away from the hustle and bustle of the showroom floor. The game of Super Smash Bros. we had there was one of the best I’ve ever played. Not because I did particularly well, but because it felt special just to play, just to be able to call myself a “gamer,” even for a minute.

You can tell, I’m sure, that I went to PAX back in my more melodramatic days. But I went to the Boston Comic Con today, as my silly, jaded college-age self, with my silly, jaded college-age friends. I woke up this morning groaning, dreading the cramped convention center, the hours of walking, the general awkwardness and discomfort of it all. But let me tell you something: I stepped foot in that big hall with Allen and James, turned to the right, walked for a bit, and saw a guy dressed up as Darth Nihilus, a character from Knights of the Old Republic II. I nearly melted with excitement. I love that game! I love that character! I love this convention!

Once again, I felt that wonderful feeling of humility and inclusion that PAX had given me over a year ago. The three of us roamed around the floor for a while, admiring the action figures, the artwork, and the longboxes after longboxes of comic books. We soaked the event in for about an hour before breaking it down and creating a plan of attack. But that first hour, that hour when we didn’t know what we were looking for, we couldn’t help feeling that we had already found it.

And, just as at PAX I was given greater respect for the most basic form of the gaming hobby, so too did Boston Comic Con give me a greater respect for the most basic form of the comic book hobby: collecting. Pacing through Artists’ Alley, scoping out the prints for something cool to tack up on the wall, thumbing through stacks of books looking for just the right one, it all had the air of an archeological excavation, like I was going to find Tut hiding under a volume of Locke & Key. I was struck by how fun, especially in the age of digital distribution and the Internet, purchasing something physical can be. Going home with a bad-ass Gambit poster and the 2nd volume of Astonishing X-Men brings with it a special brand of satisfaction that image searches and PDFs never could.

There was one moment when I was flipping through a box of trade paperbacks that really got to me, really cinched the whole convention experience. I had finished with this particular box, and glanced at the one to my right, which a man was just finishing to peruse. He looked up almost absent-mindedly, more at the next set of books than at me. “Switch?” he asked. We were equals, collectors, archeologists both. He was going to find a mummy behind the ten copies of some Batman spin-off bullshit, and I was going to score a shiny new ankh.

“Yeah,” I said. “Of course.”