I’ve been wanting to write about The Boys for a while now, and with the recent rumors that a film version is in the works with either Adam “Anchorman” McKay or Samuel “Nightmare on Elm Street” Bayer as director, this seems like as good a time as any.
The Boys is a typically violent, anti-super-hero Garth Ennis tale that takes his predilections for cursing, crudeness, and violence to the extreme—sometimes to pornographic levels. The art, handled by the incredible Darick Robertson, is equally fearless, and it shows up particularly well in the giant-sized hardcover collections of the first 30 issues. What it’s about, basically, is a group of guys (“The Boys”) who have been hired as a black op team to control and monitor the United States’ superhuman population. It’s like Ennis’ classic Hitman title, without the mainstream DC editorial policy as a filter. Without giving too much away, superheroes in this universe are without exception obnoxious abusers of their own power, who use humans like chattel. The difference between these heroes and the hero-turned-villain of Mark Waid’s brilliant “Irredeemable” book is that these heroes operate with the blessing of the government, and rely heavily on public opinion and support. The heroes make their money, ironically, through comic books written and published by a small, foul-mouthed Stan Lee lookalike who hates them.
The book isn’t perfect. For one thing, the dialogue is heavy with Scottish slang and is actually phonetically written with a Scottish accent, so it can be difficult sometimes to understand. For another, some of the conspiracy-heavy story arcs involving The Boys’ versions of September 11 and Haliburton are not just far-fetched, but far-flung and hard to follow. Ennis goes a long way to establish an X-Files agenda, and it can feel strained. And the over-the-top vulgarity can be exhausting, too, if you take it too seriously. But at these moments, I usually just accept it all and ride along. Because the payoff is terrific. The book is funny, intense, and dense. I’ll say that again: Dense. You won’t be reading a full story arc in one sitting. (And speaking of arcs, it’s very ironic that a book like this, which is clearly attacking all of the conventions of superhero comics, is told in conventional, 5-issue arcs.)
But I want to focus again on the unflinching art. It can’t be easy to be asked to draw some of the depraved and disgusting events in the series, including gang rapes, gruesome deaths, and a so-gross-it’s-funny sexual moment involving redwings (look it up if you don’t know what they are). Robertson recently said he was leaving the series to do a spin-off that will focus on Butcher (The Boys’ answer to Nick Fury). His work is nothing short of brilliant. I’d follow him anywhere.
In short, the hardbound volumes may be a little pricey, but they’re a fine addition to any collection.