Why Not Y?

I’m not an avid comic reader, not like I was back in the early 90’s, but I keep a close watch on all manner of pop culture so I usually have a handle on What’s Hot and What’s Not in most forums – be it movies, books, television, music, comics, name your poison. And, given a few exceptions, I’ll usually take someone’s advice and give a tune a listen, catch a flick or page through a comic or novel if they tell me it’s the equivalent of Must See TV.

That said, I probably went a healthy decade without reading the ‘funny books’ before my 36 year-old Bad Self descended upon 2008. As you Constant Readers know, earlier this year I went under the knife to correct my inner schnoz. The one-hour septoplasty called for a one-week recovery during which there was very little I could do but watch TV and try not to bleed out.

At the start of that week, my best bud Sean (aka OB1) showed up and dropped the graphic novels/comic collections V for Vendetta and Watchmen on me. Both are by Alan Moore and are considered absolute classics of the form. V was the basis for one of my favorite comic book flicks of all time and Watchmen is currently being essayed by 300’s Zack Snyder for release next March. I thought it would be prudent to read through them and see where it all began. And it helped that week go by rather quickly.

With those books paged through and promptly returned to my friendly neighborhood librarian, Sean dropped two more titles on me. The first was Mark Millar’s Wanted – which recently hit theaters this weekend in a loose adaptation. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, the film remedied some of the elements in the book that came off as a little too unsavory for me. Now, I’m not a man of delicate disposition and I can take most anything pop culture throws my way but the Wanted book went a little too far and I found the whole thing intriguing but ultimately too depressing and unpleasant. The movie is as over-the-top but it remedies my complaints of the comic with a nice darkly comic streak. More importantly, it never takes itself too seriously and it really does show you some action scenes you’ve never seen before. If you’re a fan of Fight Club or The Matrix, this flick is their love child.

The other book he dropped on me was Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man. I’d heard quite a bit about Y in paging through Entertainment Weekly – which is one of the few mainstream entertainment mags to devote attention to all forms of entertainment including comics. For the past few years, they have had little featurettes expounding upon the virtues of Y as world class entertainment. One quote that jumped out of me, and I’m paraphrasing, was that it read like a really great television show on the scale of Lost.

Well, y’all know what a big Lost fan I am. I was sold. OK – poor choice of words as I haven’t dropped dime one to line Vaughn’s pockets but I did make a pledge to check it out at some point. And when Vaughn joined the writer’s stable at Lost and started to pump out the scripts to some of the more compelling hours of television told in the last few years (including the excellent Confirmed Dead), I knew this was a guy to watch (and read).

That Lost comparison couldn’t be more appropriate. Vaughn has a style that really breathes life to his characters. As I poured through his cleverly crafted tale, I found his avatars achieved a vibrant passion that I hadn’t really experienced in the art form before. It became very easy to suspend disbelief – that this was all really happening and I just had to know what was coming next.

Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll dispense with a very high level flyover of the plot.

Y: The Last Man recounts a true apocalypse, where some mysterious event causes the death of every man on Earth with one exception – wise ass huckster and English Major Yorick Brown. Aside from Yorick and his male companion monkey, every dude on the planet is deceased, leaving behind one mother of a matriarchy. Yorick finds himself sought by all manner of factions intent on laying claim to the sole remaining Y chromosome. Some want to study him and find a way to clone his DNA while others want him dead – looking towards the eradication of man as a sign that women were meant to inherit the Earth.

Essentially, Vaughn takes the I Am Legend imprint and replaces vampires with real-life bloodsuckers (I kid, I kid!!!).

What makes the tale so compelling is Vaughn’s breezy, episodic style. He has a real gift for scribing living, breathing characters that really develop into full flesh through the course of the tale. Yorick Brown is funny the whole way through but it’s heartening to see a maturity glom onto his soul as he makes his way through this post-apocalyptic America. Over the course of several years (and beyond), he grows in leaps and bounds even as he still maintains a handy escape hatch through his irreverent take on his situation.

Also, Vaughn’s plotting is equal to some of the best episodic television we’ve been graced with. The Lost comparisons are apt (as is the X-Files) and it’s easy to see what showrunners’ Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse saw in Vaughn when they brought him aboard. Vaughn is able to juggle the wide sweeping mythological arc with the oh-so important character movements and definition to give us a sprawling epic that never loses site of the most important key to all great tales – its character.

It’s the news that Y: The Last Man is being adapted into a film that prompted this post. Early reports have director D.J. Caruso (Suburbia, Eagle Eye) directing a film adaptation of the first 14 installment (in the 60 issue arc) as the first installment of a planned trilogy. The books are so cinematic that a lot of Caruso’s homework has been done for him and this should be a slam dunk at theaters. I really think Vaughn’s vision will open some eyes.

That said, I think this could be better served as a television series. With 60 issues to work with, a network would have a nice 4 – 5 year run ahead of them. This would bridge the gap nicely when Lost shuffles off our dial after the next two seasons. In fact, you could keep much of the same creative talent and have them run Y.

Either way – trilogy of films, television series or simply grabbing the books, this is a series that is worth exploring. For those removed from the mainstream, comics have not been child’s play for a long, long time. Y: The Last Man is as mature a title as I’ve encountered (and I’m not referring to the smattering of violence, language and nudity that pepper the pages but rather the overall themes that add texture to the work). This is a legitimate work of literature that deserves to be studied and pondered… and savored and enjoyed.

I opened with a reference to my brief dalliance with the comic art form back in the early 90’s. Back then, it was the era of the artist – with the comic geeks rallying behind the silky smooth pencil and inks of rock star auteurs Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee and my personal fave, Todd McFarlane. Still, the pictures were pretty but there wasn’t much under the hood when you peered in for a closer look.

If my encounter with Vaughn (and others like Jeph Loeb) have taught me anything, this decade is the sole province of the writer. Over the last few years, there has been a real shared brain trust with various arms of the entertainment industry intermingling. Big name TV scribes like Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Damon Lindelof (Lost) have hit the comics scene and left their imprint and the genre television shows have courted the up-and-coming writers like Vaughn and Loeb to work their magic on the small and silver screen. And both sides have benefited from a wealth of wild imagination.

Irregardless of the format, I urge you to pick up this title. It’s a good one and it grabbed me hard.

Y not give it a chance?