In 2002, I’m not sure audiences would have been ready for a TV adaptation of Y: The Last Man. Almost 20 years later, society has changed. Its attitudes towards gender and sexuality have vastly matured, and continue to do so. And so FX have braved adapting the triple Eisner Award-winning comic for the screen in a 10-part first season.
If you’ve never read a comic before, you could do a lot worse than starting with Y: The Last Man. Brian K. Vaughan is one of my favourite comic book writers. Y poses a great ‘what if’ scenario; and the whole series has finished, so you can start by knowing you won’t be left waiting for the ending (unlike another of Vaughan’s series, Saga – nudge, nudge, Brian).
Back to Y … The comic is based on the idea that one day all the men on earth die, except one man, Yorick, and his monkey. Accompanied by the brooding but kick-ass Agent 355 and geneticist Dr. Allison Mann, the group try to find a way to save humankind, and then re-unite Yorick with his girlfriend. Along the way, they meet various groups of women coping with the apocalypse in different ways – from politicians struggling to keep the country in motion, to a community of ex-convicts who have things pretty figured out.
A Man’s World
In the comic, Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra are brave enough to portray a world almost completely without men. But rather than taking the opportunity to fully explore those female stories, the main character and driver of the plot is still a man. Don’t get me wrong – as Yorick and co. tour the States and then the world, we see snapshots of multiple, diverse groups of women; but these are fleeting glimpses.
The Women’s World
Unlike the comic, the TV adaptation embraces the opportunity to explore moral and ethical dilemmas facing the female survivors. Yorick’s journey becomes one of many. His sister, Hero (Olivia Thirlby), is promoted from side-character in the comic to main character onscreen. She faces moral turmoil – getting away with murder scot-free – having killed her lover hours before the apocalypse. Yorick’s mother, President Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane), navigates a web of secrecy, hiding her son’s existence and the resources she uses to protect him. The comics glance over this decision, but in the series, it costs the President her integrity and more.
The adaptation also breathes life into new characters. One of my favourites is Christine (Jess Salguiero), a political operative working for Brown who discovers she is pregnant. Given her career and the circumstances of conception (one-night stand), it seems likely that pre-apocalypse Christine would have had an abortion. Post-apocalypse, the decision is not so simple.
A Non-Binary World
The series stays true to the fact that the story takes place ‘Now’. But whilst ‘Now’ in the comics is 2002, ‘Now’ in the series is 2021. This decision highlights a big difference in attitudes towards one part of the population in particular – the trans community. The comic only mentions trans people in passing and in a derogatory way. Yorick wears a gas-mask to hide his masculinity and there’s uproar every time he is caught without it. In the TV series, when Yorick walks maskless, people just assume and accept that he is trans. It’s not a big deal, and that is both refreshing and reassuring.
The series goes further, introducing a new trans character with a compelling storyline. Sam Jordan (Elliot Fletcher) is a trans man and friend of Hero. Post-apocalypse, the two travel together and are reluctantly given refuge amongst a colony of previously abused women. While Hero is quickly accepted, Sam faces prejudice and alienation as a symbol of the womens’ late oppressors.
Page or Screen?
If you’re after something really character driven, the series wins hands down. There is a fantastic cast of characters (I’ve only mentioned a handful here). Their personal, moral and ethical dilemmas make the post-apocalyptic world a lot more grey than the comic, so there are a lot more opportunities to shift uncomfortably in your seat, questioning the decisions people make.
However, if you want to get to the end of the story, go for the comic. Sadly, three episodes before the end of the TV series, FX announced that they would not be making a second season. Even Stephen King has called for the show to be continued but, as yet, the future is uncertain.
Finally, if you’re interested in how societal attitudes towards gender and sexuality have changed, I recommend exploring both. The changes from page to screen are fascinating, particularly around attitudes towards sexuality. This is deftly dealt with. It shows how far we’ve come and also how far we’ve still yet to go.
If you’re wondering what else to watch on Disney+, read my review of Free Guy or Andrew Campbell’s review of Encanto. More of a PageMuse fan? Check out Alice Henderson’s article on an evening with the highly acclaimed author and creative Bernadine Evaristo.