Quality TV Speed Round

The Boys

Image: Amazon Prime

Garth Ennis isn’t the easiest person’s work to adapt. He loves pushing the envelope in terms of sex, violence, language, and politics. And when he created The Boys, he set out to do all of that, and tackle his one great issue with comic books as a medium…

He really doesn’t like superheroes. He hates the stranglehold they have on the comics industry. I’m not saying he’s happy Green Book won best picture or anything else I can’t take back, but… he was definitely not rooting for Black Panther.

So in The Boys he posed the question… what if superheroes were just assholes given powers for corporate synergy?

In a world where the top superheroes are all run by lowest-bidder weapon makers Vought-American, as an attempt to get back in the game after some disastrous product lines during WWII and Vietnam, the Boys are a CIA black ops group in charge of, shall we say, disciplining “supes” who get out of line. Team leader Billy Butcher, alongside his squad of Mother’s Milk (don’t ask), Frenchie, and the Female (a Japanese test subject never given a name), indoctrinates naive new recruit Wee Hughie into the rogue supe-killing business, while setting his sights on Vought’s top heroes, the Seven, led by the increasingly unhinged Homelander.

I once said that nobody would or could ever televise this, and I am very happy to be wrong. While the showrunner is Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, he’s aided by executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who already adapted (to great success, if one were to ask my opinion) Ennis’ previous work, Preacher. So they know a thing or two about adapting Ennis’ work… what to keep, what to omit, what to invent, how to keep the story familiar while still being a fresh take.

In this case, they appear to be skipping most of the “investigating and ultimately killing twisted versions of recognizable superteams” and settling into four major plots… Billy’s vendetta against Homelander, causing him to reassemble his old team (with some new recruits) to go after them; Vought’s attempts to get their superheroes into the military, so they can grab some sweet no-bid Pentagon contracts, aided by the seemingly soulless Homelander; and the hero’s journeys of Hughie and Annie January.

Hughie’s girlfriend is suddenly and horrifically killed when Seven member A-Train, high as a paper kite, accidentally runs through her at superspeed. In the wake of this loss, Billy Butcher lures him into investigating and sometimes killing the supes and their backers. Meanwhile, Annie January, the aspiring hero known as Starlight, gets the opportunity she’s always dreamed of… a chance to join the Seven. Which becomes just the worst-case scenario of “Never meet your heroes,” as she learns that they’re far from the world-protecting icons everyone thinks. Both have some life lessons headed their way, as well as a star-crossed romance.

Sure I miss some aspects of the books… the Boys being officially sanctioned, say, or fighting their way through some super-powered mini-bosses to get their shot at the Seven. If we never see the G-Men, for example, aka “the X-Men with a horrible secret,” that’ll be a disappointment. But on the other hand, some things work so much better here.

Starlight’s arc starts out just as dark as it did in the books, with an… initiation that technically isn’t as bad as it was in the comic, yet is still very and realistically horrifying. However, she finds her strength much faster than she did in the comic, since it took Ennis a while to decide to take her that way. The non-Billy/Hughie Boys members get more development off the top through a far more gradual introduction, and the Seven get any development at all. Well, six of them… one doesn’t make it that long. But Queen Maeve, the Deep, and A-Train all come closer to being flawed, possibly terrible people than the one-dimensional beings they tended to be in the comic.

The cast is basically perfect, from Karl Urban as Butcher, to Jack “son of Dennis” Quaid as the no-longer-Scottish Hughie, to Erin Moriarty as the increasingly conflicted and tormented Starlight, to Elizabeth Shue as the oh-so-hatable Vought VP pushing the military bid, to Antony Starr as a truly terrifying Homelander. And they don’t skimp on Ennis’ envelope-pushing, either… pretty much every episode had a “What the hell did they just do” moment, and in all sorts of contexts… amused, stunned, horrified, this show is a rollercoaster.

But one I definitely feel worth taking. I’m gonna spend a long time trying to figure out where the hell they’re going next season. Well, we know they’re introducing a gender-flipped take on Ennis’ worst “hero,” Stormfront, which… yeah, that’s going where you think it’s going. Maybe the Boys will be knocking some super heads after all.

Next page: Agents of SH– no, you know what, they just had their worst Big Bad, they took too long setting up a weak plot, and nobody’s explained “diminishing returns” to the writers because they think they can split up Fitz and Simmons at least once per year then have yet another big emotional reunion without it losing impact. But it did. I am past bored with the “can they find each other again” merry-go-round. So not their best season. Not their worst, but far from their best. Nothing else to say at this point. Moving on.

Next page, for real: The pure joy at the end of the world

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