Well, I wanted originally to finish a few comic series that I had started and, in some cases, abandoned during the calendar year 2020. Being stuck inside during a pandemic helped quite a bit there, but after Chew, 100 Bullets, and Locke & Key, a chance conversation with my brother and the popularity of the Amazon Prime TV version prompted me to add The Boys to that list. Now, I am terrible at avoiding spoilers and actually more or less knew what was coming and didn’t much mind. But I do try to avoid giving too many away when I write reviews.
I don’t think I can do that with this final volume of the various The Boys Omnibus editions, so there will be some SPOILERS for the end of this story from here. You’ve been warned.
The Boys has, for the most part, been setting up the entire series as a showdown between the Boys and the Seven. Billy Butcher really has it in for the Homelander, and Homelander may be plotting some kind of world domination, or at least a take-over of the United States.
But then something happens. Two somethings actually. One long hinted at, the other hiding in plain sight. Writer Garth Ennis has often, rather credibly, been accused of having a juvenile sense of humor full of rather disgusting jokes that oftentimes end with someone dead. That’s still happening here, as Hughie’s revelation of what Black Noir did to him during Herogasm, an event that left Hughie a bit traumatized, elicits nothing but laughter from the other Boys. As Butcher points out, they aren’t a sensitive bunch. But then Hughie towards the end suggests that the real problem is they are a bunch of Boys and not Men. Granted, similar lines were used at the end of Preacher, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The Boys, as a group, were just as juvenile and immature as the heroes they were constantly clashing with.
But I do seem to recall Ennis once said that when he writes a villain, he wants no one mistaking who the villain is by making said villain as despicable as possible. He did that for Preacher, and that was a good sign for me that Cassidy was not really the series villain (it was always God and Herr Starr) because Cassidy did a lot of despicable things, but he also did some helpful things and seemed ashamed of himself more often than not. Real villains in the Ennis mode didn’t feel shame or guilt. Contrast that with any number of mobsters for Frank Castle to mow down, whether the ones based on real world crime as seen in the MAX series or the more cartoonish ones from the series set inside the MCU, and you can see more of what I mean. Cassidy can change and opt to finally be a man and not a boy; Ma Gnocci will still be as cartoonishly evil and nasty in her final moments as she was when we first laid eyes on her,
And, for much of this series, Homelander really is that despicable villain. Photos showing a deranged Homelander killing people, his sexual assault of both Annie and Butcher’s wife, and a host of other crimes showed he was a true Ennis villain. And then it came out he wasn’t responsible for some of the worst of those incidents, including the rape of Becca Butcher and the incidents in the photos that included taking a bite out of a live baby, incidents that sent the Homelander into the fetal position because he had no recollection of those things. No, it was Black Noir, a Homelander clone designed to take Homelander out should the Superman knock-off go too far, who was responsible for all of that. Homelander may have been many awful things, but even Butcher seemed to realize that Homelander wouldn’t have done many of the things he did do if he wasn’t convinced he already did, that Black Noir was the real villain, and that Homelander didn’t so much step into psychotic behavior as have someone push him.
So, that’s it, right? Not really. For one thing, Vought-American was always the real evil in background, and it’s bland-faced executive, finally given the name of James Stillwell, who perhaps does the most damage and more or less gets away scot free. But that’s more of a real world evil without an obvious solution. Instead, we learn the awful truth that Butcher had plans to cause anyone with Compound V in their systems to die of a sudden exploding head with a series of bombs he’d built. That wouldn’t just be the supes, but also the various members of the Boys and loads of innocent people who just plain didn’t know that stuff was in their systems (such as M.M.s fast-aging daughter). And to get that done, Butcher first has to take out anyone who might stop him, starting with Vas the Love Sausage, and continuing with the Legend and then Mother’s Milk, the Frenchman, and the Female until only Wee Hughie, a man who can’t fight, who hates violence, and who can’t even bring himself to look Butcher in the eye or say the boss’s name, to stop him.
That “won’t say his name” part was something I never noticed until Butcher pointed it out.
It’s easy, in retrospect, to see how Butcher could fly under the radar for so long. He seems to be a rather charismatic fellow, rough around the edges and more than willing to put people like Hughie in harm’s way to “toughen them up,” but it is still another step entirely to see him as a man plotting what amounts to perhaps millions of deaths around the world. Hughie was always the moral man in the Boys. M.M. was all-business, Frenchie and the Female were mostly there to hurt people (something Frenchie starts to greatly regret as the series comes to a close), but why was Hughie there at all? Even he’s not sure, and it’s easy to forget, as much as he could be distracted or uneasy about what was happening around him, that Hughie actually was a good investigator, and it’s a nice touch when he and M.M. come to the same conclusions from separate directions about what Butcher is doing.
So, that’s how the story ends, with Hughie still there to do the job from the looks of things and Annie by his side. If anyone deserves a happy ending, it would be those two.
Was the series worth it? Yes. It evolved over time, becoming less about the supes and more about the intrigue, but I am glad I finally finished the whole thing off. The bait-and-switch aspects of the series actually suggested some growth from Ennis as a writer, so that’s actually something I hope he carries forward, even if nothing he said here about superheroes didn’t feel like something he’s said many times before.
9.5 out of 10 Empire State Building confrontations for this volume and 9 out of 10 knock-off heroes being manhandled badly for the series.