I have mentioned on multiple occasions that I wanted to finally finish three comic series this calendar year, and it sure does look like I will finish those three before this month is out let alone this year at the rate I am going. That said, I was talking to my brother recently, and he mentioned that he had a similar interest in finishing the original comic series The Boys since he saw the Amazon version.
As it is, I had accumulated a number of reward points for platelet donations. I had planned to replace my laptop, but then my coronavirus stimulus check covered that expense. So, I figured, I could get the complete set of The Boys omnibuses because, well, I’m rather curious how it turned out too, plus I’m curious whether or not I’ve outgrown Garth Ennis’s sense of humor. With that in mind, here’s a review for the first of those six volumes that I hope to finish before 2021 rolls around.
Set in a world where superheroes are real, and mostly a bunch of hedonistic sociopaths, The Boys follows the title group, a CIA-funded bunch that monitors superheroes and keeps them in check as needed. Led by Billy Butcher, a foul-mouthed Englishman who outright hates superheroes (with good reason up to a point), the series follows newest recruit Wee Hughie, a down-on-his-luck Scotsman who finds himself in a similar position when his girlfriend, the first really good thing to go down in his life, is suddenly killed when a superspeedster runs through her without a second look. Much of this first volume, covering the first 14 issues, shows Hughie signing on, going on a few missions, and trying to decide whether he wants to stay or not.
It certainly looks as if he will.
Now, as I suspected, I have largely outgrown Ennis’s sense of dark humor. It seems very much like something a teenage boy would dig, but not me so much. That said, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I was enjoying this book. Even if the jokes were no longer all that funny, and the shock value doesn’t work so well because, well, I had read these issues before, Ennis does excel at giving each of these characters a distinct voice and personality. Butcher comes across as a good friend, but he’s clearly sneaky and not above an act of mass murder against a warehouse full of booby-trapped Supes. By contrast, Hughie is a sweet-natured young man who isn’t comfortable with violence but likewise does want to see justice done when the supes do wrong. If there’s a difference between the two, it’s that Butcher would just assume see all supes “taken care of,” but Hughie only cares about it for the ones who’ve done things to deserve it. As for the others on the team, Mother’s Milk is a moral backbone for the bunch, situated somewhere between Hughie and Butcher when it comes to using violence, while the Frenchman is a genial cartoon caricature of Gallic stereotypes while the Female, when she isn’t executed acts of shocking violence, she’s almost childlike in her manners.
And over on the Seven, there’s Starlight, a character Ennis originally intended as a punching bag before he thought better of it (thank God, she’s a better character as a result) as someone who clearly doesn’t deserve what’s happening to her while the Homelander is an out-and-out authoritarian psychopath. That Ennis gives each of these characters, and many more, distinct personalities make the series more fun to read.
Now, supposedly, The Boys is Ennis’s “last word” on superheroes, but anyone who read his pre-MAX Punisher or DC’s Hitman series will have seen all this before, and the “out Preacher-Preacher” sentiment is not really a selling point. I read Preacher for the story and the characters, not the weird violence and dark humor. Ennis has been writing most superheroes as fools and buffoons for ages. That’s not surprising, and many of these characters are thinly disguised versions of recognizable DC and Marvel characters anyway. The fact DC published the first six issues as a Wildstorm book before the series moved to Dynamite says enough there. This wasn’t really a DC book. It’s openly mocking a lot of DC characters, starting with the Seven being obvious stand-ins for the Justice League, while “Payback” member Tek Knight is a combination of Batman and Iron Man.
One last plus to the series is artist Darick Robertson, a guy who cut his teeth on superhero books before drawing Transmetropolitan. I like the man’s style, and his facial expressions are often great. He doesn’t draw every issue here, but what he does, it’s some high quality stuff.
All things being equal, this isn’t Ennis’s best (that’s probably still Preacher though admittedly I haven’t read that one in years), but I do like where the story is going so far, and I’m hoping when I get beyond the point I read before, I enjoy the ending as much as I did this beginning.
9 out of 10 aptly named Soviet hero allies.