(Welcome to Comics Rewind, a weekly column devoted to discovering – or re-discovering – great comics published some time in the past. Here you will find looks back at comics published in every era, from the Golden Age to the Modern Age, as well as retrospectives on the work of important comics writers, lists of “essential” comics, and evaluations of important works, as well as works worthy of a second look or a wider audience. Enjoy!)
I was thinking a lot this week about great comics writers that I haven’t yet featured here on COMICS REWIND. There are a lot of them, of course. There are so many that I feel like I’ve been writing this thing every week for half a year and I’ve barely covered any ground. And hey, I probably haven’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep chipping away at the annals of great comics in the hopes that this little section of NerdBastards will prove helpful and even inspiring to the comic book faithful. So this week to we turn to the great Garth Ennis and his visceral bloodfest, The Boys.
For the purposes of keeping this brief, I’m sticking to a discussion of the first two-issue arc of the series, “The Name of the Game,” which in terms of plot is just a team building (or re-building) exercise. But that still leaves room to talk about the nifty concept behind the series, which takes the theme of superheroes with too much power and pushes it into an intense new realm.
The universe of The Boys is one in which superheroes are seemingly running rampant. They fight crime, sure, but they do it with an arrogance and a disregard for collateral damage that makes them hard to stomach for some. Among those who’ve grown tired of the recklessness of the “Supes” is Billy Butcher, a super-powered being in his own right who once worked for the CIA to keep tabs on superheroes. He and his team have been out of commission for some time, but a new presidential directive to hone in on all “Supes” means he can get the band back together, and Billy’s happy to oblige.
Meanwhile, conspiracy enthusiast Wee Hughie is having a truly spectacular date with a great girl. That all changes when A-Train, a member of the superfamous superhero team The Seven, accidentally kills his girlfriend horribly while pursuing a villain. Hughie is both traumatized and enraged by the accident, and when Billy realizes he needs a new fifth member of The Boys, he turns to Hughie to join the team.
“The Name of the Game” is only a set-up for what’s to come in the universe of The Boys, but this is a set-up done by Garth Ennis, which means it’s oh so much more. The cover of the first issue bears the words “THIS IS GOING TO HURT,” like a warning, or a promise that you can’t help but see fulfilled. By the beginning of the second issue, when you begin to hear all the gruesome deeds The Boys did back in their heyday, you’re just itching for blood. Garth Ennis is better at that than perhaps anyone else in comics. Plus, he’s got Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson on his side to make it all so vivid that you can’t help but turn the page to see what other surprises await you.
But The Boys is more than just a parade of superhuman blood and guts. The 2000s have brought us a myriad of reactions to the dark, postmodern superheroes envisioned by Alan Moore and Frank Miller in the ’80s. The gritty heroes that re-invigorated superhero comics prompted a number of creative responses. Some are idealistic, filled with optimism and a return to Golden Age glory. Others are simply grittier and darker. The Boys falls close to the latter category, but it goes a step further. It’s a more literal reaction. The Boys are literally preparing to fight the superhero system that’s fallen into place in a world where morally loose men in tights are allowed to do whatever they want. And, as with Warren Ellis’ The Authority, Ennis is ready to go deep into the moral ambiguity of his characters. In fact, that may be an understatement. Much of the time The Boys are just plain nasty, but for me that just makes it more fun.
But all that aside, The Boys is just a perfect marriage of concept and writer. One of the most brutal and gifted comics writers around decided to write a series about superpowered beings who get a kick out of beating the hell out of other superpowered beings. That’s just…badass.