I’m going to try and start up a weekly column highlighting a particular comic series I’m enjoying at the time. For the inaugural entry, I’ll be looking at Garth Ennis’ The Boys.
Ennis is a polarizing figure in comics. You either love how messed up his work is, taking it as a kind of dark satire on conventional comics, or you hate him because you see him being sick for sickness’ sake. You either saw his Preacher as a moasterwork, or too crude for your liking. Same goes for his MAX run with The Punisher. With The Boys, I wouldn’t be surprised if you somehow felt both. This is one grotesque book, and an argument can be made that there’s very little that is morally redeemable.
And I just love it.
This is Ennis’ take on a world of superheroes. Where masked men walk freely about, are adored, and don’t give a damn about the mortals they tower over. Whoops, did I just demolish that woman accidentally? Eh, whatever. Shit happens.
It’s in this world that Ennis introduces a government group consisting of the sadistic Brit Billy Butcher, the calm African-American Mother’s Milk, the psychotic Frenchman, and the even more psychotic Female. Taking the role as the readers’ eyes and ears in this anarchy is Wee Hughie Campbell. He’s thrown into the fray after his girlfriend is literally ripped away from him by a careless speedster while fighting a criminal, plastering her corpse all over a brick wall. It’s from this grief that Hughie is enlisted by Butcher into a secret war with the world’s Supes. After all, when the superpowered of the world won’t take accountability, someones gotta be around to put them in line.
Hughie does an admirable job at being our avatar into this craziness. He questions the same things we question, is disgusted the same way we’re disgusted with what is seen. And plus, he looks like Simon Pegg, which is what Ennis was aiming for, so that adds another layer of amusement.
If there’s one thing Ennis reveals wholeheartedly, it’s his obvious distaste at the notion of costumed heroes. It seems excessive how far he goes in portraying essentially every hero as either homosexual, rapists, perverts or mass murderers. The only well adjusted group are the titular Boys, and even then you have two mad killing machines and a profane Englishman. But by doing all of this, Ennis does paint a clear picture of who you’re supposed to be rooting for, and it’s not the Superman of this world, the Homelander. Leader of The Seven, a sort of Justice League run by a corporation, Homelander has a tendency to cause mass carnage and, well, other unseemly things. Although I won’t spoil anything, Butcher and Homelander’s inferred history with one another really does set the groundwork for a rather epic battle when all is said and done.
The Boys is most definitely not for everyone. A lot of really nasty shit happens to people in this comic. If you have the fortitude to witness some of the sickest content mainstream comics can offer, then by all means pick this up. Darick Robertson’s art is consistent (though you can argue it’s just as much an acquired taste as Ennis’ writing) and the storylines are wildly outrageous. You’re almost guaranteed to find something offensive every issue. It’s not exactly high art, but when you’re reading Garth Ennis do you expect it to be?