52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work. More Garth Ennis comes your way today, featuring an odd celebrity guest to boot!
My original intent was to actually review the first volume of Garth Ennis’s Punisher Max run for today’s article but alas, sometimes weird things happen and stuff doesn’t pan out the way you intend. Having read a good handful of that run just on my own time, rest assured that it’s not only awesome but it feels like a travesty that I’m not talking about it today. But that’s alright because today is all about another awesomely violent and over-the-top series, The Boys. It’s funny to think that this series almost didn’t even make it off the ground, being cancelled after six issues by Wildstorm, an old DC Comics imprint. The publisher didn’t feel comfortable with the overall tone of the book and shortly after being cancelled, The Boys was picked up by Dynamite and enjoyed a quite healthy 77 issue run. Looks like Dynamite got the last laugh at the end of the day. Oh also, one of the characters is based on Simon Pegg, which is pretty funny.
The Boys – Volume 1: The Name Of The Game
In a world where superheroes are becoming more and more common, who mediates these superhuman beings? Enter The Boys, a ragtag team of humans backed by the CIA who come together to knock the heroes of the world down a few pegs. Wee Hughie sparks the reconnection of the team when his girlfriend is killed as the result of a superhero battle. Distraught over the death of his girlfriend, Hughie is offered a spot amongst The Boys by Billy Butcher, the leader of the team. Assembling together the old team of Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman, and The Female, The Boys set out to show the heroes that regular humans can still take care of themselves
The classic comic question posed by Alan Moore many years ago was “Who watches the Watchmen?” and The Boys is Garth Ennis’ attempt at answering that question in his own twisted way. This first volume of The Boys has everything people love about Ennis’ style, all crammed neatly into just six chapters of a long running story. There’s gratuitous violence, sex, cursing, vulgarity, and weirdness that all comes on so thick throughout this collection. Every page seems to feature one jaw dropping moment to the next, just when you think Garth Ennis can’t get any more sick with what he’s doing he manages to come up with a way that makes you shake your head yet still have a sideways smile because it’s all so outrageous that you just can’t help but laugh.
The levels of depravity that Ennis displays on behalf of some of these heroes is more scandalous than next week’s celebrity headline from some gossip website. This book is all a parody of the superhero genre, making sure to never take itself too seriously. The young team of heroes featured in this collection, Teenage Kix, are just a spoof of the Teen Titans, throwing in lookalikes of popular superhero characters like Nightwing, Beast Boy, Kid Flash, Arsenal and even a randomly placed Cyclops. Ennis takes the idea of young heroes without true moral compasses and displays how these characters truly act outside of the spotlight after a big victory. He up plays the social oddities and quirks of these superhuman characters and how a celebration for them is like the craziest party you’ve ever been to multiplied by a millions. To an even further and more disturbing point, Ennis displays a group called The Seven, as your Justice League archetype, showcasing a chilling side to what being a super team is all about. The way this group interacts with its newest member is revolting but in some sick way makes sense because of the dominance these characters feel over people who are “below” them due to their powers. Ennis essentially plays around with the old saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely” but in a bit of a clever way as he shows how these characters only really show a lack of responsibility when they think that no one is watching.
Ennis juggles a solid core cast with some fun secondary characters that help to round out the entire ordeal. Your core five characters are the members of The Boys: Billy Butcher, Wee Hughie, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman, and The Female. Other characters like Starlight, Ms. Rayner, and even Homelander are all great additional characters that don’t play a huge role in this volume but will clearly have elevated roles going forward. Wee Hughie is the primary character that the reader follows along with for this story, as Ennis wisely uses him as a way to introduce us to most of the characters for the first time. For the most part, when Hughie first meets a character, it is also the reader’s first time meeting this character, allowing the reader to connect with Hughie on a more personal level due to the fact that you can relate with his new experiences. What’s great about the character of Hughie is how genuine he appears, he is so human and easy to relate to because of his indecisive nature. He’s a cowardly fellow who is wrapped up into something that is so much bigger than he is and isn’t even really sure if he wants to be a part of it. It’s a great deal of fun to watch how Hughie awkwardly adjusts to every problem thrown his way and still seems to stick around to see what boils up from the problems. Beyond Hughie not many other character gets fleshed out. There are hints of history between many of the characters and we get a small glimpse into the life of Billy Butcher but other than that there isn’t much occurring in the character development department. It’s obvious that Ennis is holding back some of his best stories for the later volumes, especially when it comes to establishing why the members of The Boys are the way they are.
Being that the story is set around several English characters, Ennis does a solid job of making them all speak as such. The way the words are written and broken down, it’s easy to see and understand how each character enunciates their words. There’s a clear language difference between the two different styles of English speaking characters, placing many characters who are from places like England into conversations with characters from New York. It’s a fun contrast that is easy enough to differentiate and makes the story more fun to read all because of simple minor details.
Collects: The Boys #1-6
Best Character: Wee Hughie
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “You don’t play with matches if you don’t want to start any fires.” – Billy Butcher
Best Scene/Moment: Wee Hughie and Robin at the carnival; Issue 1 – The Name Of The Game (Part 1)
Best Issue: Issue 2 – The Name Of The Game (Part 2). Issue 2 feels like the most solid issue of the lot as it brings the entire team of The Boys together. It’s a rather comedic outing that is low on action and high on talking but it never truly drags. There’s enough interesting things happening when it comes to introducing all the characters that the issue seems to fly by. It establishes many of the main characters as well as the story and truly sets off The Boys to be unlike any comic you’ll ever read.
Why You Should Read It: Garth Ennis crafts a different take on the anti-superhero movement that is bold, hilarious and chilling all at once. This isn’t your typical group of characters that are all out to cancel any heroes in action. Ennis delivers something that’s smarter than just constant gore, building up many of these characters to have larger roles going forward. It’s a brilliant example of how to set up the initial stages of a long form story.