The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is a pretty rough book. I mean, I think it probably wins for most trigger warnings for a commercially released comic. Since Watchmen we’ve had a few different takes on super heroes being less noble than the DC and Marvel heroes we all know. Irredeemable, Vol. 1 has most of the heroes remain good, but their pettiness causes issues. Jupiter’s Legacy, Vol. 1 explores super heroes as a metaphor for pop stars who have a complete lack of accountability. What The Boys does differently (at least in Volume 1) is to provide a a check against the heroes by the group funded by the CIA.
To start off, the book provides us with many examples of what happens to those who are so powerful there is no check on their behavior. However, I found it interesting that Ennis decides to also show power dynamics within the super heroes. At first it seems they’re simply going to pick on the country bumpkin, but the main guy (the Superman analogue) also has a scene in which he shows his dominance over other super heroes.
Although I’ve mostly avoided spoilers to both the comics and the TV show, one thing I knew coming into to this book was that were was also a focus by Ennis on the impact of capitalism and super heroes. I think Marvel has done some slight exploration with this via Tony Stark (moreso in the movies, I think), but this book really pushes it to its most logical conclusion. In one meeting, the members of the equivalent of The Justice League fight over the percentage of money they get for action figures of their likenesses. There are also bands of lawyers that visit Wee Hughie early on to make sure that he’s not going to sue for the death of his girlfriend at super hero hands.
There’s a high level of misogyny running through the book and while it functions well as a metaphor for work sexual harassment and a commentary that even the most powerful have to live it it, it did drag on me a bit.
In fact while I’m generally a sucker for deconstructions and reconstructions of big cultural tropes (like super hero tropes), this book really had me wondering if maybe we’re not better off with the mostly selfless heroes of the DC and Marvel books. The pettiness and meanness of some of the characters in The Boys can be a lot. Of course, one of the huge ironies in those feelings is that many a gallon of ink (real or virtual) has been spilled about how super heroes are our modern mythology. But the gods of Greek and Roman mythology were just as petty and mean as real humans. So maybe it’s The Boys that’s a real return to mythology, not The Avengers.
Stray thought – I wonder if the meeting between Wee Hughie and the put-upon female hero will blossom into anything or if it was merely to allow them to echo their feelings to each other from opposite sides.
If I didn’t already own all these trades (from a Humble Bundle) I don’t think I’d keep going. It seems like it’s going to be too dark for too long. I guess we’ll see where things go from here.
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