16. A book you’ve seen adapted: The Boys: Omnibus Vol. 1 by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Darick Robertson
List Progress: 29/30
The television show The Boys is an occasionally-flawed but nuanced, complex and engaging meditation on fame, power, and fascism, told through the device of superheroes as the literal ubermensch. It is not perfect, but the show was clearly made with care and attention, and it has something to say.
The comic The Boys, as compiled in this Omnibus Vol. 1, written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Darick Robertson, is trash. It is a collection of sexist, racist, and astonishingly homophobic gore and splatter, seemingly written by a thirteen-year-old boy stringing together his first slur about how Superman is kind of faggy.
The very, very basics of the premise, shared between comic and show, are that there is a group called The Boys, who have made it their mission to monitor and punish superheroes who cause casual destruction while going about “saving the world”. Newcomer Hughie joins their ranks when his girlfriend is killed as collateral damage by a speedster right in front of him, and he is recruited by Billy Butcher, the macho leader of The Boys. The comic feels the need to illustrate how cool Butcher is at all times, introducing him having graphic power-play sex with the female head of the CIA. He is a manly man who has manly sex, unlike all of those perverted superheroes. The main tool of The Boys is to dig up dirt on “supes” and blackmail them with it, and most of that “dirt” is the fact that they are gay. The comic tries to awkwardly save face, saying they’re not evil because they’re gay, they just are evil and therefore their gayness can and should be weaponized against them. But when Ennis tries to steer out of a skid and claim that his characters aren’t homophobic, they’re just jerks to everyone, it becomes downright embarrassing, like the aforementioned thirteen-year-old having to give a book report on tolerance. This is a comic that mollifies Hughie for accidentally killing a young man by showing that he was a sexual deviant with a live hamster shoved up his ass. There is no good way to come back from that.
Robertson and Ennis parade a line of paper-thin racial and sexual stereotypes across the pages, and seem to get particular glee out of having women maimed and killed through sex. Prostitutes who service superheroes are mangled, and in one of the later, more-serialized issues, a female mob boss is taken down when Butcher plants a bomb in her comically huge vibrator. The only recurring female character is a small, silent, insane Japanese woman who is literally named “The Female of the Species”, and acts as The Boys’ rabid dog, along with fellow muscle The Frenchman. Minor characters from the comic, like up-and-coming superhero Starlight, had to wait until they got into a TV writer’s hands to get any dignity or basic respect.
Lest one think that the only criticisms of the comic are for “woke” reasons, it should also be clear that the plot itself is drivel. The main gang stumble from plot to plot with little-to-no intelligent opposition or challenge, lest they seem less than cool in a moment of defeat. Any criticisms they and Ennis have to make about superheroes are muddled by the fact that all of The Boys also take the chemical Compound V and have super powers; they are not against superheroes, they are just government-sponsored superheroes. Characters and plot points are introduced and dropped at random, and long detours are taken to follow complete nobodies to the depths of their depravities, just for a “laugh”.
Garth Ennis has nothing to say other than that he hates superheroes (and that gay people are gross and women are fuck toys). The far and away best thing that can be said about the show version of The Boys is that it takes an intriguing central premise out of this child’s hands and does something worthwhile with it. As for the comic, you should not read this with your worst enemy’s eyes.
Would I Recommend It: A giant, bloody, gore-dripping NO.