Last night, I was scanning YouTube (actually I was looking at videos on applying epoxy to concrete floors) and I caught an advertisement for Amazon Prime, who appear to be adopting the comic series The Boys for a series. (Link to the preview trailer here.)
The Boys might be the best deconstruction of the superhero genre I’ve ever read–better than Sanderson’s Reckoners series, in my opinion. It builds on what Moore did in Watchmen and takes it to the next level.
The central plot of The Boys revolves around the titular group of … well, I can’t call them heroes, so I’ll say “enhanced” beings who have an unofficial role acting for the government in dealing with rogue superheroes. When I say unofficial, I mean they are loosely sanctioned by agencies such as the CIA to discreetly kill off heroes who step out of bounds. The leader of the group, Billy Butcher (here played by Karl Urban, a guy I always liked) is a tragic hero, whose wife was raped by a superhero and died when the subsequent super-powered baby tore its way out of the mother’s womb. It’s that kind of story. The other main focus of the group is named Hughie, a young man whose girlfriend is killed by accident by a careless hero and becomes a reluctant member of the Boys.
As for the heroes themselves, they are pretty much all unremitting bastards–at least, in private. The main group of them is called The Seven and they are a thinly-veiled take on DC’s Justice League. The leader of The Seven, Homelander, is an amoral Superman-type widely regarded as the most powerful cape on the planet but is a sadistic power-hungry asshole. Queen Maeve, the Wonder Woman stand-in, is a drunk and sarcastic viper. In public, beings like The Seven maintain a clean image at the behest of the corporation Vaught-American, who I believe is supposed to be a conglomerate of Blackwater, Raytheon, Nabisco, and pretty much every other evil corporate entity you can imagine. The only one of The Seven with any seeming morals or scruples is Starlight, a naive and idealistic young woman recruited to the group as the story opens. Her idealism is destroyed in an ugly inciden as she learns the heroes are not what they seem to be (which, of course, becomes important later on as the conflict between The Seven and The Boys escalates).
The thing is, this shouldn’t work. The writer of The Boys, Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher MAX, and other gritty titles) is a talented writer but he’s not subtle. The message is just as about as clear as a blinking neon sign shoved right in your face. And I’ve tried some of his other titles and they just didn’t click for me.
But here, the characterization is just superb. Each of the Boys, including the lone woman, simply called The Female (from the Kipling poem), has a distinct personality and voice. The supes do kind of blend together at times but the interactions between Hughie and Starlight, when they accidentally meet out of costume, without either knowing the other’s involvement or baggage, is the stuff of layered action-romance, and to me, provides one of the two compelling plot lines of the saga (the other being Butcher’s obsession with revenge).
I have no idea how well Amazon is going to translate this to the screen but I am willing to give it a shot.