• James

"The Boys": Subverting the Superhero Genre

New member Starlight prepares herself for her first meeting with The Seven.

Let’s get this out of the way quick: I adore comics that subvert the genre. I love deconstruction of the tropes we find in most comics. Whether it's taking a good hard look at Batman’s actual psychology, which, if you’ll pardon the pun, is batty, or looking at the world when Captain America gave up the flag over politics. That’s the real world creeping into, for all intents and purposes, a very colorful sitcom. One that I personally enjoy with every fiber of my being, but one that I know, in the end, will always work out for the hero in question. Unless we’re on Earth 2. Then all bets are off.

While The Dark Knight Returns was really the catalyst for what would ultimately become a genre trope itself, Watchmen contributed more to the idea of taking “super” heroes and setting it in a more familiar world. Since both are masterpieces in comics, many have looked to imitate or immolate the idea of what would happen if our very real world had actual super powers in it. The answer is usually not very nice.

Enter The Boys. Originally published by Wildstorm, who, in my humble opinion, was well known for deconstruction of comics, before moving to Dynamite Comics, The Boys took a very hard look both the humanity of fame and what it takes to fight true injustice. Where other books showed villainy in obvious ways, The Boys had bad guys hiding behind a veneer of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. In all these things, writer Garth Ennis and illustrator Darick Robertson, took aim and fired. This comic wasn’t just looking to take Super Heroes to task, but corporate greed as well. The book is bloody, foul mouthed, and covered in bodily gore. The show is much the same.

While it doesn’t strictly follow the comics, I feel that it’s in keeping with Ennis’ vision of power and corruption that comes with it. The most glaring difference is the nationality of Wee Hughie, having gone from a Scotsman to an American. Still, I don’t think that really takes away from the tone, in fact, it adds to it. Rather than being an outsider coming to the states, Hughie is aware of the state of the union, though, he is just as naive as the book portrays him. And Butcher is as much of a bastard. These are the core of the characters. Starlight, played by Erin Moriarty, is innocence lost, and Antony Starr’s Homelander is what happens when the strain of absolute power comes up against the allure of corporate seduction. The timing and characters have changed but, again, this is slight when compared to the philosophy The Boys kept. In a way, it’s almost a dichotomy as it is a production of Amazon Prime, a huge company, yet kept its soul.

Some of the best moments, however, never appear in the comic. Simon Pegg is the obvious model for poor Hughie in the comics, but he’s a bit long in the tooth to play the role today. Jack Quaid does an excellent job playing the often-put-upon protagonist, but Pegg does make a cameo and that alone was worth it. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher is no slouch either, and he’s a perfect casting choice for a man with more darkness than is first let on. Together, these two form the backbone of the show, but, I gotta say, the music in this is perfect. The timing, the lyrics, all of it, and that’s not something, obviously, you’d get in a comic. Well, outside of those old records Stan the Man used to hawk way back in the day, but that’s just showing my age.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this isn’t a show to watch with the kids. It’s graphic in a way that may be disturbing to even older viewers, and I’m not just referencing the gore. There are very mature themes that are explored in the program that may cause issues, so this is your warning from me, though the show does go out of its way to give its own warnings up front. Having said that, I really do feel like there are elements of our world that are painful and dirty and mean. In that regard, The Boys does not shy away. If you’ve had any contact with the comic, all the things you didn’t think they could film, they did.

The Boys isn’t for everyone. If you’d like to keep your innocence when it comes to implications of what “heroes” would look like in our modern world, maybe you should stay away from this. However, if you’ve found that the cookie cutter "Supers" fare is a bit lacking, a bit too four-color and by the book for your tastes, then this is absolutely the show for you. Just don’t go into it expecting Marvel-like quipping, or the hopeful nature of shows like The Flash. Those are all well and good, but The Boys sees the dirt beneath the nails of the beauty in spandex and doesn’t turn away. It sharpens its knives, loads its clip and brings out the crowbar. Someone’s got to teach these Supers they can’t do whatever they like, after all, and The Boys are just the people for the job.

The Boys season one is available on Amazon Prime TV.

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