A fantastic adaptation of a comic series I couldn’t finish…
THE BOYS is an irreverent take on what happens when superheroes, who are as popular as celebrities, as influential as politicians and as revered as Gods, abuse their superpowers rather than use them for good. It’s the powerless against the super powerful as The Boys embark on a heroic quest to expose the truth about “The Seven,” and their formiddable Vought backing.
When I first heard that Amazon was adapting Garth Ennis’s The Boys into a TV series, I admit I was skeptical. Mainly, my reaction was, “But… how?” It is a series that by no means pulls its punches, is graphic to the point of being gratuitous, and doesn’t exactly come across as corporate-friendly. Nevertheless, I dipped in, and blitzed through it. The Boys is a fantastic show.
One of the first comics I read outside of the Marvel and DC universes was Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. Waid worked from the following premise: what if our greatest hero and protector went bad? Irredeemable and its companion series, Incorruptible remain among my favourite comic series. They are also the reason I gave Garth Ennis’s The Boys a try.
In the TV series, the Seven are the greatest superheroes on Earth. They are controlled, managed and deployed based on the whims of the Vought corporation. One thing they’ve managed to do, however, is keep the collateral damage on the QT — even those instances that can’t be hidden, we learn, the victims nevertheless come to see themselves as blessed for having entered into the heroes’ orbits.
Rather than just working from the premise of “super-heroes gone bad”, The Boys offers a more nuanced idea: the corporatization of heroes. Given America’s hero fetishism, not to mention its ever-more-powerful corporations, this is a very sharp satire of American culture and society. The politics from the books has been updated (albeit, only a bit, because we haven’t moved very far in the intervening years…), and it offers a nice riff on corporate manipulation of politics, contracts, and the military.
Ennis has carved himself a very specific niche in comic books: graphic, often gratuitous artwork and storylines that are designed to make readers uncomfortable and confront that which makes us feel content and safe. The Boys absolutely does this. I was very interested to see how the books could be adapted into a TV series — it was, after all, way more graphic than anything else superhero-related I’d read, and certainly more so than anything we’ve seen on screen (I believe) in this genre.
Turns out, the show runners and everyone else involved knew exactly how to do it. Despite its 18+ rating, it’s a rather restrained show from what I was expecting. Yes, there are some absolutely gribbily, gross depictions of injury and death, but they are few and quite far between. The pacing was slower than I was expecting, too, which served the story extremely well — there’s a fair bit that is left unsaid and unshown, which helped add nuance and also an occasional sinister air to certain scenes and revelations.
Also, it was a really nice touch casting Simon Pegg as Hughie’s father: in the books, I always thought Hughie looked like Pegg.
The cast were perfectly cast, too. Everyone brings their A-game, inhabits their character. It’s not hammy (despite Karl Urban’s… interesting accent), and the on screen chemistries are excellent. The show looks great, too: from the costumes, the sets, the locations, and the lighting — all of it makes for a great visual treat.