Based on the controversial comic series by writer Garth Ennis (Preacher) and artist Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan), The Boys is proving to be exactly the kind of iconoclastic, irreverent, satirical ass-kicking that cape culture needs right now. Earlier similar efforts, like 1999’s Mystery Men, face-planted because the broader culture of the time didn’t give a crap about superheroes; pop satire only works if everyone in the audience understands the joke. Now, with every movie goer and TV owner on the planet down with Marvel, DC, and all points in between, a show like The Boys works like a charm.
The gist is this: superheroes exist, but they’re all a) sociopathic bastards and b) under the control of the monolithic Vought Corporation, who stage-manage heroism in order to sell merchandise and hope to get a contract supplying super soldiers to the military.
Opposing this hellish compact are The Boys, an elite black ops squad led by the proudly profane Billy Butcher (Karl Urban having an absolute blast), who have taken it upon themselves to police the superhuman community with extreme prejudice. But as of last season’s finale, The Boys are on the run, with Butcher framed for murder and MIA to boot, and it turns out his wife, whose murder is his raison for violent d’etre, is not as dead as he once believed, having been knocked up by smarmily evil Superman expy Homelander (Antony Starr, picking up all the fun that Urban couldn’t carry). New recruit Hughie (Jack Quaid) struggles to maintain his Romeo & Juliet romance with his opposite number, Starlight (Erin Moriarty, a member of The Seven, which is basically the Justice League with the serial numbers filed off). She in turn must contend with the pressures of fame in her position as a member of the world’s premiere superhero team, and the knowledge that when the cameras are off, they’re all a pack of bastards.
“It’s not the only uncouth super satire doing the rounds at the moment…but there’s a seriousness of purpose here that puts it a cut above the rest.”
If Season 1 was largely place-setting (The Boys is not the only show guilty of too much exposition, but it’s better than most), Season 2 sees the series really get down to the business at hand, which is exploring the messy intersection of celebrity, politics, and commerce through the lens of a gleefully offensive superhero story. Really, the capes and the carnage are just there to get people to show up, and while driving a speedboat through a sperm whale is never not fun, the real meat of the matter is the hollow artifice of the celebrity circuit, the callous creation of acceptable enemies for ostensible heroes to obliterate for good ratings and the way that appalling authoritarian messages can be packaged as commodified rebellion (keep an eye on new Seven member Stormfront, played by Aya Cash – that name is not an accident).
Like its source material, The Boys is a very cynical work, finding hypocrisy and mendacity wherever it points its X-ray vision. It rings with righteous anger, though, and while the comics spread a wide net and tried to parody the entire history of the superhero genre, the series has proved to be a much more focused affair, which makes its satirical barbs all the more cutting. It’s not the only uncouth super satire doing the rounds at the moment (DC’s doing it in-house with the animated Harley Quinn), but there’s a seriousness of purpose here that puts it a cut above the rest.
Main Image: Amazon Prime Video