The Boys Volume 1: The Name of the Game trade paperback & The Boys #7
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist/Cover artist: Darick Robertson
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Greg Thompson & Simon Bowland
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $14.99 US (TPB) / $2.99 US (comic)
When this property debuted under DC’s Wildstorm Productions banner, I made a point of checking it out. After all, I’m a fan of both writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, and their gritty, extreme sensibilities are a good match. Ultimately, the first couple of issues failed to really grab me, as I felt I had seen this sort of over-the-top satire of the super-hero genre many times before from Ennis. With Dynamite Entertainment’s decision to publish the property in the wake of some skittishness over content at DC Comics, The Boys is receiving a second promotional push, and I’m pleased I took a second look at the title. Had I stuck with the first story arc, I would have discovered that Ennis tries to balance the more extremist tendencies in his plotting with some moments of vulnerability and actual optimism. Those brief instances of grounded characterization were welcome, but ultimately, The Boys is still defined by its typically Ennis-ian characters. The disdain for unchecked authority, a common theme in Ennis’s work, remains entertaining, but at this point in this career, it’s becoming cliched.
Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… it’s… It’s coming this way! [Splat!] Those skies are filled with super-heroes, and with their use of seemingly limitless powers comes collateral damage… a lot of collateral damage. Hughie Campbell learns that lesson the hard way, as he’s lost the love of his life thanks the carelessness of a super-hero. His loss, grief and anger bring him to the attention of Billy Butcher, the utter bastard the U.S. government has tasked with keeping superhumans in line. Wee Hughie is recruited to join Butcher and his colleagues — Mother’s Milk, the Frenchman and the Female — to police the secret lives of super-heroes.
Robertson clearly aims for a realistic look here, as is apparent by his use of real-world “models” for some of the characters. The introduction for the trade paperback is penned by Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame; Wee Hughie is unmistakably the spitting image of Pegg. That realistic bent strengthens the revolting nature of the superhumans acts of depravity throughout the series; Robertson’s gritty, convincing artwork brings an appropriately harsh tone to those scenes in which the bright colors of super-heroes come into conflict with the darkness of absolute power corrupting absolutely. The designs for the super-hero characters are rather boring and uninspired, but I think the lackluster costumes are meant to look generic. Ennis is taking aim at icons of the genre, and Robertson’s spandex-clad figures are meant to serve as multipurpose standins. Colorist Tony Avina faces the daunting task of a story featuring both the garish, gaudy colors of super-heroes with the dark, ugly, hidden side that Ennis wants to explore here. He does so fairly capably, but those two conflicting concepts don’t always work together visually.
Despite Butcher acting as the driving force behind the plot, Hughie is the real star of this series. It’s his everyman quality that’s most appealing and allows the reader to experience brief moments of connection with this impossible scenario. The scene in which he and Starlight happen to encounter one another in a park is a bit hard to accept in terms of logistics, but the contrasts and parallels in their stories and feelings are well done. Starlight’s plight is excruciating and difficult to take in, but Ennis’s presentation of that horror serves a purpose. That sort of sexual harassment and assault is still all to prevalent in everyday society, and the writer’s unflinching and brutal portrayal of just such a demeaning circumstance is a wake-up call to those who fool themselves into thinking it just doesn’t happen.
In my original review of the first issue, I wrote the following: “The Boys is classic Garth Ennis, and that’s this new title’s greatest selling point and its greatest liability. Like many of his other works (such as Preacher), this title is about keeping the arrogant establishment in check, about nasty people doing nasty things for the right reasons. If I was reading The Boys 10 years ago, I’d be blown away, shocked and entertained by the writer’s in-your-face send-up of the super-hero genre and collection of oddball characters. But this is 2006, and we’ve seen this sort of thing from this writer … so many times before, it just doesn’t come off as all that fresh.” Despite my newfound appreciation of the title’s aforementioned character-driven moments, the familiarity of the Ennis formula remains a problem. On the other hand, the book’s new status as a Dynamite title might be just what’s needed to bring the work to the attention of readers who are unfamiliar with Ennis’s work.
Despite the more grounded elements that pop up from time to time, the shock-and-awe approach of Ennis’s super-hero satire is so loud that it drowns out those quieter, more compelling moments. Furthermore, I find it impossible to accept Ennis’s depiction of Butcher as a brotherly figure to Hughie. It seems obvious to me that he’s manipulating, and I’m sure that’s the point. However, if it’s obvious to the reader, then it seems to me it should be obvious to Hughie. On the other hand, that character isn’t privy to the depths of Butcher’s sadism as the reader is. Still, Butcher’s softer side doesn’t ring true, and the potential for Hughie to be hurt even more than he has been already is a gut-wrenching notion that the audience probably won’t want to witness either. 6/10