Last year in October, we got a taste of a new superhero-themed series soon to be appearing on Amazon Prime, featuring Karl Urban (of Star Trek and Judge Dredd fame) as Billy Butcher in this subversion of the superhero comic genre, The Boys.
In this darker superhero-themed series originally published by Wildstorm, corporate-sponsored heroes, whose image is scrupulously managed, enjoy fame, popularity, wealth and cultural cache, appear to hide deeper secrets of perversion, cruelty and corruption.
While these heroes are worshiped like celebrities today, they become the target of a group seeking to reveal just how corrupt these corporate-sponsored heroes have become. This series appears to take on the tone of famed comic stories where the heroes become the villains; its not a new idea and as the era of the superhero in film progresses, the subversion is enjoying a degree of increasing popularity with modern readers and movie-going audiences.
Yes, You Have Seen This Before…
Some of the most popular movies of this type include Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 where the idea of urban, supportive, but non-powered heroes interested in protecting their community through supportive humanitarian effort crashes into the potential mega-violence of armed costume villainy.
The “villains” choose to use costumes fused to real criminal activity as a mask for their operations. The non-powered heroes are helpless in the face of such deadly violence. It is only through the extreme actions of two heroes, Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who take on a role as violent as the criminals themselves, can these new “supervillains” can be neutralized.
In the comics, this is the core of one of the greatest graphic novels ever created, Kingdom Come. A generation after the heroes of our modern age Justice League retire, the next generation of metahumans runs amok, less concerned with heroic activity and more with using their powers without consideration of the more fragile world and Humans around them. When the Old Guard return to the battle, all hell breaks loose as Humans, who live in fear of these supers decide there is only one way to resolve this problem, permanently, and there are no cookies involved.
‘The Boys’ Wasn’t Your Ordinary Comic Fare
Let me preface this analysis with a warning: The Boys is not your average superheroic fare. Neither is this analysis. If you hate violence, couldn’t kick a puppy that annoyed you, are unable to tell your mum to sit down and give you the remote, you aren’t tough enough to read this book or probably watch the series.
Get the hell out of this review right now and find some Justice League to read. For everyone whose left, you’re right bastards and your mum is spot on to tell you to get bent when you come asking for money. With that warm welcome out of the way…
‘The Boys” are what would happen if you crossed the morality of our modern world with the superhuman capacity of your favorite comic.
In The Boys, we are exposed to a world of metahuman capacity, insanely self-centered narcissism, extravagant cruelty, and the worst of Human nature dialed up to 11, now with superpowers. It features a world where the supers have no moral fiber, their acts of selflessness are promotional, sales of figures go to the heroes, who secretly argue over who should get more money; sexual abuse is rampant, violence the very air that we breathe from the moment we enter Garth Ennis’ dark fun house of supers.
To make it worse, the world governments recognize they are becoming obsolete but haven’t figured out how to take on this growing superheroic menace which has been firmly entrenched for decades. While superheroes were fostered in the early years and acted as an asset to the government, they seemed to feel, for a generation, at least, an obligation to do good. As time passed and the Golden Age heroes started aging or dying, the next generation of heroes are far less shiny. More mortal. More inclined to want and expect something from the world in return.
Unsure what to do, the world capitulated and a new arms race began, the acquisition of metahuman potential. The world governments and their intelligence agencies began tracking and monitoring their metahuman populations, which were constantly in flux and capricious as hell.
There are many hero groups with the most prestigious being a Justice League pastiche, the Seven, who are the most powerful and most reprehensible. But they are also the smartest and most business savvy. They have the government in their pocket, and a corporation promoting their “good works” to the public.
Billy Butcher is in the Building…
Enter the stars of our little drama, the Boys. A CIA-backed intelligence gathering operation with a license to maim. They kill too, but enjoy maiming more. Run by Butcher, feared to be one of the most dangerous men on the planet, Butcher does what he wants, when he wants but gets bored easily. His life is most full when he is “teaching those wankers in tights, they aren’t the damn masters of the Earth.” (His words, not mine…)
You see, Butcher hates supers. Not all of them. Not all equally. But his contempt for them appears limitless. He is a patient man. He has a particular super in mind. And he won’t rest until he gets him. Back from a self imposed sabbatical, Butcher wants to resurrect The Boys, because he has an itch he can’t scratch and its name is… The Seven. And in particular, he wants a piece of this guy: The Homelander. Imagine Superman, minus the morality, ethics, humanity and general good feelings toward humanity in general; a right bastard by any stretch of the imagination.
This book (and likely the Amazon series) will not be for children. Hell, if you are a kind and gentle soul whose proximity to sainthood is imminent, it isn’t for you either. With the writing credits going to Garth Ennis, Evan Goldberg, Eric Kripke (showrunner) and Seth Rogen (developed by), we can expect both the language and the violence to reach and possibly exceed what we have seen in the comics thus far.
Jack Quaid is going to be the Human element in this story as Wee Hughie, a man who has lost the love of his life and wants revenge on the superhuman populace who has no time to be concerned about the little people in the way of their antics.
For the rest of you soul-less wankers, read the fucking comic and marvel over its revelation of a world of superheroes who don’t give a damn about you, its willingness to throw the entire superhero meme under the goddamn bus, run it over and then back the fuck up.
Since I suspect there will be at least one more trailer before the show airs this summer, I will probably write some bios on the biggest players in this story since the comic hasn’t had the penetration of most mainstream books read by the non-comic reading audience.
If you can handle the idea of superheroes run amok and the best the world has to offer is a team bent on teaching them a lesson they’ll never forget, then prepare to let the mega-violence of The Boys wash over you. Garth Ennis has a gift for showing the worst of the Human condition and keep you wanting to understand how we got there. Remember to shower throughly after each session. There is liable to be some spray…
The Boys are messy genius, often like the innocent bystanders in Ennis’ work, splattered all over the goddamn room. Bring a tarp! Enjoy the trailer.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.