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Comic Book Review – The Boys

The-Boys_Volume_OneGarth Ennis has been writing comic books for a very long time, and he has almost always been completely messed up. Preacher had that one kid who blew off his face trying to emulate Kurt Cobain, but he didn’t die and so now he talks all wrong. One time Ennis wrote Batman punching a guy in the stomach so hard that the guy threw up on Batman’s shoes. There are frequent and disgusting deaths, occasional rapes and no small number of harsh profanities.

You would think, given my propensity for violence and sex in my entertainment, that Ennis would be one of my favorite writers. But to be honest, every time I read his stuff, I find myself disgusted. And yet, especially in the case of The Boys, I also find myself unable to stop reading.

The Boys is a seriously adult title about a team of normal people who keep superheroes in check. In the universe of The Boys, superheroes are nearly all douchebags. They’re mostly created by Vought American, a multinational conglomerate that capitalizes on the abilities of the supernaturally endowed to make bunches and bunches of money. The supes, in turn, make tons of money, do very little crime-fighting, and mostly just have vile orgies and drink far more than they should. A small team – five people – monitors the escapades of the amoral superhero population and keeps them honest, usually by punching them in the chest so hard that their hearts come out their rectums.

In order to allow normal people to go toe-to-toe with costumed assholes, The Boys are all given a focused, powerful injection of the same stuff that makes all those superheroes so super. The comic contains numerous scenes where these once-normal protectors of the populace rip off faces, break arms in painful configurations, tear off external genitalia and perform very painful eye-pokes. The irony of a team of people who hate superheroes but who are, by definition, also superheroes is not lost on Ennis – but it does sort of escape the notice of The Boys. They just figure they’re fighting fire with fire.

The Boys is a comic that combines amoral and untouchable ‘good guys,’ the commercialization of superpowers, and Garth Ennis’s own twisted take on every single thing, and the result is a book that you will wish you could stop reading. If you’re even remotely considering reading The Boys, let me warn you right now – very few Hollywood movies have ever been this disturbing. The dick jokes alone will make you shudder. The sex scenes will make you want to join the clergy and give up carnal pleasure for the rest of your life. Even the happy moments are marred by Ennis’s penchant for the grotesque. For the sake of any readers who have recently eaten, I will forego the list of gastrically offensive misadventures, and just say that if you want to read The Boys, be prepared for some severe levels of wrong.

On the other hand, The Boys is wicked smart. It asks the reader to take a serious look at what the world would really look like if all those mainstream comics were real. The book features parodies of the biggest names in comic books – Batman’s analog is prone to accidentally having sex with anything close by, Professor X is replaced by a pedophile who collects young children, and the Justice League is represented by a band of utter misanthropes who are seemingly incapable of human kindness. And if you think about it, the dark, pessimistic world of The Boys is depressingly believable. Show me a man who can stay true and honest when given unearned power and a complete absence of consequences, and I’ll show you Justin Bieber.

Which brings me to my second point about The Boys – while the unapologetically offensive take on comic-book heroes is intriguing, what really makes the book poignant is its examination of the world as it actually is. The Boys uses this larger-than-life, mythical world to hold a mirror up to reality. It shows us superheroes and lets us substitute politicians and celebrities. It points to Vought American and reminds us of Rupert Murdoch. It peeks behind the curtain at the men and women we idolize and reminds us that they are still human, and likely prone to corruption.

For me, though, the thing that keeps me reading The Boys is not the political statement or the dark take on four-color heroes. It’s the people in the story. From Butcher, the leader of the band, to the Frenchman and the female, these people are intriguing. Just when you think you understand how hard they are, they’ll do something unexpected and downright lovable (even if they do break an arm in the process). The main character of the comic, the humanizing element that keeps the entire book grounded, is Little Hughie, who is based almost completely on Simon Pegg. His innocence and his search for light in a world of darkness is endearing, even if he does occasionally wind up with blood on his hands. And feet. And beard.

Garth Ennis is definitely a skilled writer. I ran out the battery in my iPad reading the second volume, and the book is good enough that it’s worth dropping 40 bucks for the omnibus (of which there are several). He’s still really gross, though, which is why I got out of Preacher after the first three issues. The Boys is a great read, but you’ve got to be ready for it. The darkness in The Boys will stick to you like hot road tar, but the story and the characters are worth it.

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