The Boys #1–6 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson
When the first image in a comic is a DM boot squashing a superhero’s head in a graphic full-page spread, and the first words are ‘I’m gonna fucking have you. You cunts.’, you kind of get the sense of what sort of book you are reading. To use a cliché, these really aren’t your father’s comics.
Ennis can be a schizophrenic writer – he can write emotionally powerful stuff and cracking stories, yet he has the urge to indulge his adolescent side in Dicks or having Operation Bollock in Adventures of the Rifle Brigade. Here he starts with the above, but he then has a genuinely touching moment for Wee Hughie (before the awfulness that occurs to his girlfriend being killed accidentally in a superhero fight).
But, this is superheroes. Garth doesn’t like them. He’s fine with magic (Seven Brothers was essentially superheroes with mystical origins) but he is put out by spandex. This makes for an unusual mix here, because it is like he is doing his normal output (both this book and Chronicles of Wormwood have a protagonist shagging a woman doggy style while she enjoys degrading herself – issues at all?) but in the confines of traditional superhero comic book.
This first issue, called The Name of the Game, is the set-up: we are introduced to Butcher, the hero-hater of the first lines, who wants to do his old job of keeping the superheroes in line, and he is interested in Wee Hughie and his incident. Robertson brings his perfect dirty style to the book – he can do action, he can do talky scenes, he can do expressive faces and interesting characters. Strangely, his faces seem to be familiar: Butcher seems to be modelled on a young Robert Shaw, and Hughie is Simon Pegg. He also grounds the world in realism so that the story can breathe.
The second issue introduces us to the rest of The Boys: Frenchie, a violent, mad Frenchman (perhaps a young Vincent Cassiel?) – Robertson does some great visceral violence, and the hilarious face of pleasure on Butcher’s dog, Terror, as he watches his master having sex; The Female of the Species, who is also insanely violent, ripping off the faces of mobsters; and Mother’s Milk, an as yet non-violent black man with annoying daughter who is dealt with brilliantly by Butcher – destroying her tosser friend’s gun, ‘Glock’s a wanker’s gun, son.’ We also find out that Butcher wants Hughie because he wants someone who has felt the arrogance and disdain of the supers.
Issue 3 begins the story called Cherry, which is where Ennis sticks the boot into the Justice League by having the latest member of the Seven (thinly veiled version), a young wholesome Christian girl being told that she has to blow the men in the team in order to join – the ultimate casting couch. The juxtaposition is deliberately jarring and shocking, even if it is a logical extension of the abuse by the rich and powerful men of women (I was reminded of the scene in Casino where Joe Pesci’s character takes a statuesque blonde to his car and just forces her head down to fellate him.)
Hughie has moved to the US to meet the rest of The Boys (but not to touch The Female) in their office in the Flatiron Building, where Butcher outlines their next job – taking down Teenage Kix, the edgy teen team (in contrast to the wholesome and Christian Young Americans).
The next issue starts with Hughie (and therefore us) watching the members of Teenage Kix celebrating at a brothel catering for supes, indulging in all their sexual kinks. Meanwhile, the Seven are arguing over merchandising rights, and Highlander (the Superman equivalent) taking A-Train (Flash-alike) down a peg for joking about the new member, Starlight.
Butcher, after another graphic shagging scene with the self-loathing Director of the CIA (is this scene necessary or just testing the boundaries?), picks up some Compound V that he then injects into Hughie without asking permission – it is the formula that creates all the superheroes in Ennis’ spandex world – and obviously Hughie is not happy about it.
Under the dullest cover yet, the fifth issue starts with an amazing coincidence, as Hughie sits next to a girl in Central Park and talks about their problems (and Ennis’ love of America), and she turns out to be Starlight incognito.
The Boys have sent all the evidence to Teenage Kix to blackmail them into getting rid of one of their team – they decide on the black member to be gay as the best decision. However, Highlander recognises who is responsible, and informs the Kix, who find The Boys, and start threatening violence, much to Butcher’s delight: ‘Let’s give ‘em a fuckin’ spankin’.’ This issue is more about Ennis using Butcher and Hughie to big up USA and NY.
The sixth (and final DC issue) is the famous hamster issue. The Kix attack but The Boys kick the shit out of them. Only for Hughie to accidentally kill Blarney Cock by punching him, and for a hamster to come out of his arsehole when he is dead. This is a rather silly joke; as mentioned, Ennis does like his juvenile sense of humour. However, this was probably too much for Paul Levitz and the delicate sensibility of a corporate book, even if it does have the ‘Mature Readers’ label.
To counteract the hamster, Ennis brings out the reason for Butcher’s hero hate – his wife was raped by a supe and he had to kill the foetus after it had killed her and tried to kill him. There is more to this than simple revenge – Ennis has a plan (references to the Legend and Mallory’s previous role in The Boys). However, I’m just not sure exactly what it is yet. I am interested to find out more. Ennis doesn’t write bad comics, even the ones he seems to knock out on a wet weekend – they are just dull. Despite the outrageousness of some aspects of the book, there is a lot to enjoy and to intrigue. And, while the perfectly suited creative team of Ennis and Robertson are out to tell an interesting story, I’ll be there to find out more.