As superhero satires go, The Boys is not really saying much that is new, not even for writer Garth Ennis, a man who has long let it be known he didn’t care much for the genre. He’s covered superheroes acting like idiots and jerks before, especially when he wrote his Punisher stories for Marvel.
But as a potential political thriller and character study, The Boys may be a far better work after all. And here, with the penultimate of the various Boys Omnibuses, we get to finally see the one thing that has been something of a mystery so far: where Billy Butcher came from.
We’ve had some information doled out over time on where Butcher came from. We knew about his wife and why he hates superheroes so much. We knew a handful of other things, and we know he’s both very sneaky, very good at his job, and someone that at least one other longstanding member of The Boys (Mother’s Milk) doesn’t entirely like or trust. As for the others, we have and haven’t met the group’s original leader Colonel Mallory yet, and the Frenchman and the Female keep their thoughts to themselves–though one issue reprinted here says they are well aware Butcher sees them as disposable idiots enough for at least one of them to consider quitting. And before this volume is over, Butcher’s way of doing things is about to get on Hughie’s last nerve, enough to have the wee Scotsman talk back and challenge his boss.
Hughie also asks that a murder victim be talked about like a person and not a weapon against the most despicable member of the Seven. This comes while he acknowledges that he himself still isn’t comfortable with trans people and homosexuals, showing some genuine character growth.
Much of Hughie’s sudden backbone may come from what Hughie learns when he finally sits down with Mallory to find out where Mallory came from, what happened with the first superheroes (a precursor to the Payback team), and how Mallory recruited Butcher and started the Boys. Heck, it even tells the reader where the name “the Boys” came from.
Yes, it was Butcher’s idea.
Butcher has always been a charismatic schemer, someone who is far smarter and craftier than his working class British accent might suggest and someone who, even if you know he’s dangerous, you never quite realize how dangerous he is. That’s brought home here as the volume ends with a six part mini-series that finally details Butcher’s life before he met Mallory and joined the Boys, and even a bit after it. The reader gets to meet his late wife Becca, his abusive father, and sweet mother and brother. It’s Butcher narrating it to his father’s corpse at an open casket viewing as he sits alone with the body, and this is both Ennis and Butcher so it ends in the crudest way possible. But we can see where Butcher came from. The rage Butcher seemed to live with most of his life was always there. The only thing now is he needs someone to aim it at, and he doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as he brings his enemies down in the process. If anything, this does reinforce something that has perhaps been hidden in plain sight for the reader all along: Butcher is as much a villain in the series as any of the supes he hates.
Inbetween all this, there’s also an escalation, caused by others, between the Boys and the Seven. Cooler heads prevail for the time being, just as Hughie and Annie try to figure out where to take their respective relationships, but blood spills for both groups, and since the next one is the last Omnibus, the endgame is happening whether the Boys or the Seven are ready for it or not.
Now if only Becca Butcher didn’t feel like a woman shoved into a refrigerator…
8.5 out of 10 Hughie trying to stand up for himself moments.