01/09/2009. Contributed by Ewan Angus
pub: Titan/Dynamite Entertainment. 192 page graphic novel. Price: £11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84576-924-6.
check out website: www.titanbooks.com and www.dynamiteentertainment.com
Garth Ennis, the writer of the 'Marvel Max Punisher' series, is renowned for his use of extreme violence, ridiculous swearing and gratuitous sexual themes and references. This has never been more obvious than in his creator owned series 'The Boys' which couples them all together with a nice big dose of black humour. Reverse strip poker anyone?
Following a black op's team charged with keeping super-heroes in check through extortion, violence and murder, The Boys are the atypical squad of anti-heroes. In a world where super-powers come from an injected drug known as Compound V and the 'heroes' are complete scumbags you really find yourself rooting for the titular team.
Comprising of five core members who each have, willingly and unwillingly, taken Compound V, The Boys consists of Billy Butcher, the team's leader and enigmatic Englishman who has a grudge against super-heroes and who will not hesitate in resorting to manipulation to get what he wants.
He comes across as a bigger, angrier Jamie Maddrox from X-Factor, minus the duplication powers. Wee Hughie, a Scotsman modelled on Simon Pegg, who finds himself roped into the world of The Boys after his girl-friend is murdered by one of the A-lister super-heroes. Mother's Milk or M.M., an African-American who seems to be the team's voice of reason.
The Frenchman, a psychotic French man who speaks only in his native tongue and is one of the squads two 'heavies'. The Female, is a tiny, silent, black haired sociopath and the second heavy who seems to kill purely because she can. When she's not working with The Boys, she moonlights as an assassin for the mob. The final unofficial member, Terror, is Butcher's bulldog who, on command, can have sex with anything.
Volume two, contains issues 7-14 in a storyline of approximately 60 issues, has the team of anti-heroes pitted against sexual depraved 'real' heroes and reads like the current Peter David run on X-Factor investigations. Although X-Factor is willing to deal with some of the subjects, mainly homosexuality, it does not nearly touch the subject or embrace it quite as much as this book does.
The first story arc of two involves a parody of Iron Man and Batman dealing with a sexual desire to do everything he sees, be it animate or inanimate and a Nightwing parody accused of murdering a young homosexual who declares his love for the character.
The art is handled by Darick Robertson, the DC exclusive, and there is very little I can find to fault with it. His detail in the sarcastic faces of Wee Hughie and the evil grins of Butcher almost make this worthwhile on its own. Switching between comical surprise and bloody mayhem seems like second nature by the end of the novel. My one qualm was that the Female does tend to blend in with the darkened backgrounds due to her height and clothing and I can't quite make up my mind if this is intentional. Either way, it works well and adds to the characters silent, brooding presence.
Now as I said above, this is Garth Ennis, also author of the renowned and disturbing series 'Preacher', so the deaths are bloody and the characters are insane. The bastardisation of the super-hero genre has Ennis taking a satirical look at the heroes and making them all seem like perverts, using their powers to their own selfish ends. It really takes an industry that thrives on characters wearing their pants outside their clothes originality and steps on it, laughing subtly as it does so.
It doesn't stop there, the book then seems to go on and poke fun at the whole comicbook industry. A conversation between Wee Hughie and the Butcher might be giving away Ennis opinion on the industry's current climate.
'This is absolute Sh*te.'
'Comics mate, they rot your brain.'
The second arc has The Boys shipped off to Russia to deal with 'supes' (short for super-heroes/villains) with exploding heads and a subsequent super-powered coup that brings back the idea of the villains really striving for world domination, except it points out that the villains are too impatient and stupid to do so. Again, it's Ennis look at politics that isn't exactly apparent straight away that completes this arc. The introduction of 'Love Sausage' the Russian communist super-hero who harkens back to the good old days of Mother Russia brings out a smile or too due to his over the top stereotyping. In relation to his giant member he states to Wee Hughie, 'Big T*tties are my Kryptonite.'
On top of his ridiculous size, his love of vodka is played up throughout, until shortly before the climax, it's announced that it's not vodka he's drinking, its brake fluid.
The end of this arc brings a brilliant bloody climax in which a little bit more about the Butcher's personality is revealed in a scintillatingly violent way. It then poses the question, who exactly are The Boys?
On first glance 'The Boys' leaves you thinking it's a hollow concept of insults, violence and sexual profanity with very little plot. This is not the case. Ennis has hidden a subtle social commentary that most comics will try extremely hard to emulate in an engrossing tale of conspiracy, perverse values and a lack of faith in human nature. A disturbing yet fun read.
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