I remember a few years ago when a friend recommended Garth Ennis’ The Boys to me. He told me that it was about a CIA group that polices superheroes which, to be fair, is a good logline for the series, but there’s so much more to The Boys than simply beating the crap out of people in capes. The Boys is one of the best political thrillers of the 21st Century disguised as an anti-super hero comic book. The team of Billy Butcher, Wee Hughie, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman, and the Female is one of the most diverse and brutal comic book teams in history and it touches on themes and threads that make it one of the best responses to the post-9/11 world.
There’s nothing like reading a comic for the first time, especially a comic book that has a big impact on your life. When I first opened volume one of The Boys (‘The Name of the Game’), I knew that I had just been thrown onto a roller coaster the likes of which I had never experienced. Characters get holes punched through their chests, legs broken, ripped apart by jet engines, dropped from the sky – any ridiculous maiming or death you can think of probably happens within one of its 90 issues.
Since we read comic,s we know a thing or two about superheroes, but even we want to see them with black eyes, broken arms, or even their heads blown off sometimes. Unfortunately as long as they’re cash cows, the big two aren’t going to do that to them, at least not permanently. The Boys dared to go to places that Marvel and DC never will go. This is no more obvious than the initial cancellation of the series when it was with the DC imprint Wildstorm. It was brought back to life at Dynamite and has remained there ever since and of course it took a shot at Batman with its first issue back.
I love The Boys because it’s dark. It’s the kind of darkness that you don’t get in very many stories, especially comic books. Sure, the Joker killing an entire police station to get his face back might seem dark, but with the kind of stories that are told in Batman this darkness is quickly forgotten once another equally dark thing happens. The Boys features the kind of darkness that sticks with you throughout each issue. Not every comic can keep plots going that began in the first issue, but when they do it’s clearly plotted to a T with a master at the helm.
The themes of The Boys are very powerful. Revenge, manipulation, power, police, they all make up the entirety of the comic’s run and they give us a glimpse at what could go wrong with all of these things. There is one theme for the comic that is the most important though – don’t lose your humanity. This is the pinnacle of the series for me and a strong ideal we shouldn’t lose sight of. If you lose who you are along your journey, then was it really worth it? The transformation of some of the characters in The Boys happens right under your nose (literally) and you don’t even see it coming until it’s too late. What happens to Wee Hughie’s girlfriend in issue one is a catalyst throughout the series. It’s a truly grotesque act that he never fully recovers from and when he has a chance to rectify it, he sees what being a part of the ‘hero police’ has done to him. In that moment, he thinks about what Robin would think of him and as a reader you can’t help but feel awful for this fictional character. That’s powerful storytelling and you don’t get that a lot in superhero comics.
Because of what I do for a living, people always ask me for comic book recommendations and I always point to The Boys. I explain the premise of the comic and more often than not, people are really excited to try it out. The problem though is some people that want to get into comics don’t want that . They want Spider-Man, Superman and Batman. These are great comics, of course, but there are so many others that have borrowed from them and many that are still recycling old stories from the past that it might seem new but it never really is. The Boys still feels fresh to me every time I read it and as long as we have superhero comics it will still be relevant.
The Boys is exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s funny, it’s gruesome, it’s disgusting, it’s a bloodbath. Some of the best times I’ve ever had reading comics came from Garth Ennis’ twisted words with Darick Robertson’s equally repulsive art. I will never forget buying my comics and having to read The Boys in my car in the parking lot before I left because I couldn’t wait to see what happened. Though it’s easily the most adult comic book I’ve read, it made me a kid again. I’ll always love The Boys. It was there for me when I needed something and it has provided me countless hours of entertainment and influence.
Thanks for everything Garth and Derrick. Thanks for Butcher, Hughie, MM, The Frenchman, the Female, the Legend, the Homelander, Tek-Knight, The G-Men, and Dakota Bob. It will take a while before I’m used to a month coming and going without a new issue of The Boys, but they’ll always be on my shelf waiting for me to pick them up again.