Before you start reading The Boys you’ll probably know something of its reputation. Like Ennis’s Preacher before it, it comes with a certain amount of baggage based on its willingness to depict strong levels of sex and violence. But treat this as something of a smoke screen: The Boys isn’t about sex and violence, and it’s not pornography. It’s about a group of people who are employed by the CIA to keep superheroes in check – it just so happens that, in Ennis’s world, the superheroes most likely to fall under The Boys’ remit are the most violent and sexually perverse. This isn’t to suggest that Ennis isn’t out to shock, however. If he’d have wanted to play it straighter he undoubtedly could have. But there’s something delightfully depraved about Ennis at his rudest, made all the more thrilling because it rides on the back of a decent story. You just probably don’t want to let your kids read it.
The main thrust of this first volume is introducing us to The Boys, the team of superhero busters. This is done through the character of Wee Hughie, who is invited to join the group after his girlfriend is killed having got caught between two fighting superheroes. He gets involved and meets the rest of the team – as fine a collection of violent psychotics as you could ever want to meet. There’s a lot of history alluded to, in terms of their previous operations and their problematic relationship with their US government paymasters, which Wee Hughie is finding out about as we do.
The rest of the book examines the behind-closed-doors antics of the superheroes. The older, experienced super-teams are mostly interested in the money they can earn through merchandising themselves, while the younger ones are in it for the sex, the thrills and the celebrity status.
When it comes to the crunch there’s nothing new about this ‘deconstructed superheroes as messed up freaks’ type concept, but Ennis’s unfailing ability to take things to absolute extremes adds something of a different angle. Darick Robertson is more than capable of drawing anything Ennis seems prepared to throw at him with the kind of gusto we saw him operate in Transmetropolitan, so few complaints there either.
Yes it’s sick, depraved and totally over the top – another signature series from Garth Ennis. Not as inventive or poetic, perhaps, as Preacher, but something of a crowd pleaser nonetheless.
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