For anyone who has read The Boys, you know just how shocking it can be. Beyond the sex and violence, the series turns the entire superhero genre right onto its super-powered ear. The individuals we are supposed to trust and rely upon are dangerous, morally bereft, and in some cases just horrible people. That’s where Billy Butcher and his team come in — to out-bad the bad. When I first picked up the book, I knew what I was getting into, but I wasn’t always prepared for what was on the page—which made the series even more exciting to read.
Writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson initially created the series for Wildstorm, but after a short time, the DC imprint dropped the series. From there, the book found a home at Dynamite Comics, where it was allowed to be as dirty, intense, and shocking as it wanted to be.
Ennis tells The Beat in an email, “There’s no denying that the Wildstorm debacle represented a rocky ten days or so, but once we got things sorted out at Dynamite and I could get back to work, I never looked back.”
He continues, “That really was one of the best moves I’ve made in my career—not just to Dynamite, where I’ve enjoyed long and happy relationships both personal and professional, but to a greater focus on independent companies in general. I still have friends at DC and Marvel, and so long as I do, I’ll consider working on their characters, but as far as creator-owned work goes there really is no alternative to the independents. Getting stuck into the scripts at Dynamite was a dream. It really was the ideal way of working, not having to look over my shoulder for trouble all the time. Darick and I could just focus on doing what we do.”
Robertson adds, “In many ways it started out right where it needed to be, with Ben Abernathy editing, and Wildstorm’s full support. But at the same time, staying there would have meant compromising where we wanted the story to go. Dynamite provided a home for us and let us create the book we wanted to create. The support they’ve continued to show the title is a cornerstone of its success.”
I’ve always loved superheroes. My first introduction into comics was the X-Men (and I’m still a huge fan), and even though I’ve expanded my library to include other genres from both large and small publishers, there is always a special place in my heart for a super-powered team of do-gooders. But reading The Boys makes you think a little more realistically about the whole concept of having powers. Would people with crazy abilities really be able to stay on track? Some, sure, but a whole team? Humans who come into piles of money can barely contain themselves. What would they do if they could lift buildings?!
“Determining that the superheroes would be a bunch of shits was a no-brainer, it was just a matter of temptation and corruption. The Boys, on the other hand, I saw more like actual people—flawed, uncertain, prone to certain excesses,” Ennis says. “The Female is damaged goods, Frenchie is mad as a snake. Mother’s Milk has made a kind of devil’s bargain in order to try to do what’s right. Hughie is essentially a decent wee guy with a couple of serious blind spots, but his total inability to change his nature, like most people in real life but very few characters in comics, is actually what Butcher’s counting on to save the day. It was always very important that try as he might, Hughie would never have a line-in-the-sand moment. As for Butcher, my all-time favorite character I’ve created, he exemplifies the main theme of the book. This is a bad world run by bad men, and it takes another bad man to oppose them.”
Robertson says, “[Ennis and I] approach superheroes from very different perspectives, but I’ve always loved Ennis’ sense of humor, and I have a dark sense of humor, too, so I could see what The Boys could be, even in its infancy. I loved the concept. For me, it wasn’t about tearing down existing superheroes through parody but to create a contrast, holding up a cracked mirror, to show why the superheroes we love are the characters that they are by showing how awful they might be if they didn’t have a moral center. Even the best characters in The Boys get seduced by that world of power and celebrity.”
Power and corruption often go hand-in-hand. We see it daily in our own society. How many stories of the rich and privileged do we read where all that attention has gone straight to their head, making them do things that the rest of the world would most likely be punished for? How many politicians and businessmen have dodged rape and assault charges simply because they have a position of power? Too many.
In the case of The Boys, there are teams of superheroes who on the surface do good things. They save people because they have the ability to do it. Behind closed doors, however, the scene isn’t pretty. The Seven, which bears a striking resemblance to many characters from DC’s main lineup (with some other references sprinkled in), has some of the best (worst?) examples of people abusing their powers yet pretending to be upstanding individuals doing heroic things. Starlight’s first day on the job says it all. Sometimes their questionable behavior does happen in public (poor Hughie and his girl), but they are never held accountable since collateral damage comes with the territory for protecting the greater good.
This summer, The Boys moves from the printed page to the small screen thanks to Amazon Prime Video. Trailers and early buzz promise that the show will give us that same gritty and, at times, unsettling vision of a world with superheroes. Just how far it will go is yet to be determined.
“Eric Kripke was very upfront with me about what could and couldn’t be done. There’s still some pretty impressive stuff in there, but even with the best will in the world you’re not going to be able to put the wilder parts of the book onto the screen,” Ennis tells The Beat.
Robertson seems giddy about the transition as well.
“It feels amazing. I stood on set surrounded by real life versions of these characters I’d only imagined and felt a deep sense of accomplishment. The cast are incredible people, all very talented actors and seeing the love, care, and respect that has gone into this show, with an eye towards honoring the source material it came from, is humbling and validating,” he says. “I can say that everything that is in the show is great. While they haven’t done a verbatim adaptation from the comics, it feels and looks like The Boys and packs a punch.”
The Boys premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 26. If you want to read the comics beforehand, you can buy directly from Dynamite’s website.