The title really says it all. I don’t think I have much else to say on the subject.
Garth Ennis is one of the most messed up, disturbed individuals writing today. And you don’t have to look any further than his comic book serieses… er series’… um… series? I think that’s both the singular and plural form… Erm, anyway, they’re entitled Preacher and The Boys. And we’re starting this off with The Boys.
The first thing you should know about The Boys is that it began as a Wildstorm comic. Wildstorm, subsidiary of DC Comics, let the comic go because they were uncomfortable with how anti-superhero is was. Dynamite picked it up and… it has continued with its anti-superhero bent for almost seventy issues now.
The Boys is a superhero story told from the level of us normal human beings. Think Marvels, or Kingdom Come, but with a whole megashitton more blood, cursing, and a liberal sprinkling of “cunt” and various other fun bits of British terminology.
In The Boys we follow “Wee” Hughie Campbell, a man whose life has been tinged with tragedy at the hands of a superhero named A-Train. At this point, he is recruited by a man named Billy Butcher to join a CIA-backed group known only as “The Boys.”
The group is made up of five members: Butcher, Hughie, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman, and The Female (as in Kipling’s poem, “the female of the species in more deadly than the male”). Butcher has recruited this team for one reason: to fight back against the superhuman community when one of the “supes” goes too far.
Their world is much like ours. Well, y’know, except for the superheroes. In their world, superheroes exist and they’re mostly massive jerks, at least in their private lives. Their public personas are created in the typical way: through comic books. The public generally doesn’t see the darker side of their favorite heroes because most of their exposure to the costumed bunch is through carefully crafted media events, and their individual (and group) comic books.
The heroes also make a lot of money off of their various products… Comics, action figures, etc. And the biggest, most lucrative group of all is known as The Seven. The Seven, led by The Homelander (the comic’s version of Superman), is basically The Avengers, or the Justice League. The best of the best, the most powerful, and (not surprisingly) the most corrupt.
The Seven is the main target of The Boys through much of the story. Butcher has a grudge against The Homelander, though we don’t know exactly why. Hughie is looking for revenge on A-Train (also a member of The Seven), and the rest of The Boys simply follow Butcher’s example.
I can’t talk much about the plot without getting into heavy spoilers, but I will say this: despite all the violence, all the cursing, and the buckets and buckets of blood that pour off of every page… Ennis is such a crafty writer that he manages to stick you with surprising moments of genuine tenderness with his treatment of Wee Hughie.
Hughie, as the main character, is the moral compass of the story. He frets over the violence he’s asked to commit (or even that he only witnesses), and is constantly questioning Butcher over either his methods, or the level of extremity he’ll take a situation.
In the story arc titled “Innocents,” Hughie is sent to spy on the joke superhero group known as Superduper. They’re initially so incredibly silly and lame, but as Hughie spends time observing them (and how they’re treated by their new leader Malchemical, who has been put in charge as a punishment) pity starts to override the desire to laugh.
Most impressive is the emotional impact of the love story between Hughie and a woman named Annie. Their relationship starts early in the series (16 or 17, I think… but don’t quote me) and from the beginning… we know that she’s really Starlight, the newest member of The Seven.
Speaking for myself… I knew from when they got together that the fact that they were on opposing sides of a war was probably going to come along and cock up everything, but… I went in denial. And when all the secrets start coming out… Ennis writes with enough skill to make it truly heartbreaking.
As I finish this post, The Boys is counting down its last five issues. Number 68 sits next to me on the couch and I can’t wait to read it. Before the year is done, the series will be over. They way it’s been going, I imagine it’ll be really satisfying.
As good as Preacher? Well… Not yet. The Boys is a very entertaining read. It is a subtle satire of government and war (as well as a not-so-subtle satire on superhero comics), and there’s a lot of good messages within the pages of the comic. But Preacher… Preacher was so incredibly brilliant that I don’t know if Ennis can top it.
So next up? Preacher!