The latest in our occasional series, UNBINGED: Comic book adaptations are plentiful on the small screen, and as more comics get their chance to shine, more unconventional stories get to take center stage, with superheroes taking a backseat.
Y: The Last Man (Hulu, Season 1)
Debuting in 2002, Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man was a post-apocalyptic comic book by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, hailed as one hell of an achievement in its debut run. But as a Hulu series, it pulls off even more: it transcends the source material, creating a superior story perfect for the small screen.
The series follows Yorick, a young man of infinite jest and limited life skills thrust into a world where he is the only cis man left on Earth after a virus destroys every being with a Y chromosome. His struggles and survival were the focus of the comic, but in the series, the story directs the audience’s attention to other threats to humanity, including conspiracy theories, political factions, and worst of all, former mommy bloggers with an agenda.
Themes such as politics and gender identity were purposely left vague in the print form, leaving certain implications to the audience. But in the series, small moments and passing references have been expanded into full storylines, while characters have been bolstered or created to help give depth to the narrative. For example, Amber Tamblyn’s character Kimberly, the former First Daughter, doesn’t exist in the comic, but it would be hard to envision the TV series without her. She’s a mother and wife who built a career on traditional values and her entire identity is wiped out in a matter of seconds.
The show also includes a number of trans and nonbinary characters as well as cis women to make its point about society and labels. Mother, wife, girlfriend…for some, these identity markers are dependent on sex, while others reject or redefine the designations that were imposed at birth. With the loss of an entire gender, some face the loss of identity, while others lose their ability to hide who they are. This isn’t just about the decimation of a gender, but a statement on the roles imposed by society.
Y: The Last Man isn’t just a notable adaptation of the original comic, it surpasses its source material by bringing in relevance to a modern audience. From sexual identity to political discourse, the story tackles many issues that are applicable today, and foreshadows what the future might be, something only the best sci-fi can do.
What If…? (Disney+, Season 1)
What if Doctor Strange was an evil Sorcerer Supreme? Or what if T’Challa was Star-Lord? What if a zombie virus took down the Avengers? And what if it was all a bit boring?
Advancing Disney’s agenda to educate viewers about the multiverse (and prepping them to return to theaters), Disney+’s What If…? sets the scene for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by exploring the infinite possibilities of hundreds of storylines. As a comic, this was a fun offshoot that pushed Marvel and its characters to the edge, exploring the very limits of the multiverse with any and every possibility. But the show flounders.
Despite its access to A-listers for cameo voices (including Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, and Paul Bettany) and its use of cel-shading animation techniques to create the appearance of 3D comic panels, the anthology series is haphazard in its storytelling. While some episodes are fine and dandy (evil Doctor Strange is a highlight), others are completely forgettable and somewhat bland. Somewhere between the page and the screen, something got lost in translation. The fun in the comics came from the risks taken by the stories, but the TV version is almost completely devoid of humor and the clever writing we’ve come to expect from Marvel.
For an animated Marvel project that had the ability to go anywhere and do anything, What If…? can be tedious at times. Disney took more chances with WandaVision and Loki then they did here, which is a shame considering that the series includes a flesh-eating Iron Man.
Clumsy, uneven execution and subpar writing leaves it trying to bask in the novelty of the premise. But its a dull affair that comes no where near the potential of the comic or its title.
The Walking Dead (AMC, Season 11)
After eleven seasons of undead horror, The Walking Dead takes one final lap as the long-running AMC show lumbers towards the end of its run. But is it a victory lap? Despite all the Walkers, the Whisperers, the Reapers, and the Saviors, the show—based on the post-apocalyptic comic book series created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore—has been in a little bit of a rut. The pattern of “discover, destroy, and repeat” has been used so much it’s like a ghoulish version of Groundhog Day. In addition to the recurring story arcs, most of the original cast went AWOL as the Walkers took a back seat to the real threat– humanity. However, showrunner Angela Kang and her merry band of hellraisers are throwing everything they’ve got into this final season, attempting to re-ignite interest for fans with zombie fatigue, or at least build some interest in the upcoming movies.
What keeps diehards glued to the show—and why former fans should return—isn’t the over-the-top violence or the incredible effects, but well-written and evolving characters. Take Negan, for example. He is far from the cruel antagonist he once was, while Maggie has grown tough as nails since her days on the farm. Each character revitalizes the show through their personal growth, making for something more interesting than the flesh-eating threat that surrounds them.
It’s important to remember that The Walking Dead is a decisive series with a massive impact on pop culture. It not only created an entertaining and dynamic series filled with great performances and writing, but it brought horror to the forefront of pop culture after years of being treated like the red-headed stepchild of the entertainment industry. That’s the real legacy of the show and why it will live forever, even if the zombies don’t.