Posted on June 15, 2010 by GRIM
Available at Amazon.com
Who can’t love a comic book about a vengeful Brit taking the piss out of and then beating the living crap out of arrogant Americans? You just know with Garth Ennis involved it’s going to be gloriously juvenile, violent and grotesque with more serious undertones for those who choose to look for them. Of course, this kind of subversion of the superhero genre has been done before by Millar, Ennis, Moore and many others. Those others haven’t been quite so… explicit or crude, more intellectual but they’ve also tended to tackle it head on, on equal terms. In this case we’re backing the underdog, the cunning, vicious, nasty, squalid little underdog and – as a Brit – that’s how we like it.
The Boys drags us into an alternative universe where superheroes exist and they’re arseholes. Womanising, drug using, paedophile, perverted arseholes – absolute power having corrupted absolutely. There’s little or nothing to keep them in check and they’re also responsible, indirectly, for a 9/11 style disaster having failed, utterly, to prevent it despite being engineered into a situation where they should have been able to.
Enter The Boys, a covert black ops team, given low-powered superheroic abilities through a powerful drug and organized by Butcher, a very pissed off and brutal Brit who is screwing the director of the CIA, their sponsors. The other Boys are Mother’s Milk – a huge, calm black guy with some dark secret – The Female, a tiny, oriental killing machine, The Frenchman, a sadistic killer and Wee Hughie, their newest intake, an immigrant to New York from Scotland, where his girlfriend was killed during a superhero tussle.
We’re drawn into this dark world and the truth about the superheroes of the world and the company backing them (Voight American) through the eyes of Wee Hughie. He gets injected, drawn into The Boys and put immediately to work, conflicted between his easygoing nature and the demands of the job, along with the desire for revenge he has over his dead girlfriend. While the rest of The Boys are all committed killers, Hughie is inexperienced and a good soul and it’s his difference to the rest of the cynical Boys that makes the comedy work and operates as our way of being introduced to all the elements of the world.
Through the books – so far – it’s revealed that the whole superhero world is little but fakery, they’re useless at anything other than selling products, posing and appearing in comic books. Worse than that, their power and the backing of the powerful Voight American company means that they can, and do, get away with anything and everything that they want to. When that gets out of hand The Boys are there to keep them in check and that’s what they do, beating down on a teen superhero team, infiltrating an ‘X-men’ frathouse (and witnessing a purge of those same superheroes) even infiltrating Herocon. Things are building up to an inevitable confrontation with The Seven, this world’s Justice League analogue, who are both the most powerful and the biggest shits of the superhero world and whom are beginning to get ambitions beyond Voight American’s plans for profit and eyes on the White House.
The company, The Boys and The Seven are all set for a violent confrontation, complicated by the fact that Wee Hughie’s new girlfriend is the newest member of The Seven…
The Boys starts out strong in the first couple of books but has begun to tail off a little, losing a little of the shock and outrage value and replacing it with plotting and allusion to 9/11 and Iraq that’s begun to get a little hackneyed. The real sting seems to be the portrayal of American arrogance and corporatism which doesn’t need the more heavy handed elements to come across. I haven’t read the newest book yet, but I think the series still has great promise and it’s worth reading just for the shit-eating grin on Butcher’s face as he contemplates doing something nasty to the next superhero on its list.
The Boys is the natural outgrowth of predecessors like Marshal Law, Planetary or The Authority and, while it doesn’t quite rate classic status as these have in the past, it may yet get there depending on how the series concludes.
Review by James “Grim” Desborough