An article by StephenWilds
If you’re a fan of violence, sex, and great characters then you owe it to yourself to pick up a comic book series written by Irish writer Garth Ennis. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of comics Ennis is far from traditional, and has openly voiced his hatred of American super-hero books. If you like that idea read his Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, where he has one of his favorite non-powered characters kill every person in the Marvel Universe.
The violence Ennis enjoys writing about comes from the war comics he grew up reading and he has written several. (War is Hell, Battlefields), Ennis is best known for his runs on Marvel Comics’ Punisher, 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd, and DC Comics’ Hitman. He has also worked on such titles as Hellblaizer, Midnighter, John Woo’s Seven Brothers, and several standalone issues for other high-end characters in both companies. Ennis is probably most known and spoken of in mentioning his sixty-six issue western epic Preacher, published through Vertigo comics. This story follows a Southern preacher who is possessed by a creature known as Genesis who gives him the ability to command people to do what he wanted as he now speaks with the word of God. On his search to find out why God has abandoned heaven, the journey leads the characters through vampires, odd religious sects, and a family history that would make Jerry Springer blush.
Avid readers will have heard of these books by Ennis before. Readers may not have heard about the project he is currently finishing up with though. With artist Darick Robertson, Ennis has forged a new seventy-two issue series from Dynamite Comics called The Boys. This is his attempt to “out-Preacher Preacher” Ennis was quoted as saying, in the levels of sex, violence, and general fucked up storylines. To show how well he’s doing at the job, the first six issues were published by Wildstorm, a division of DC Comics. After realizing what Ennis was doing with the books DC cancelled the series and it was immediately picked up by Dynamite and it continued from there.
The Boys exists in a world where a drug called compound-V has created super-heroes that have become corrupted and self-destructive in the light of their powers and celebrity-level status. A company called Vought-American uses comic books and press events to keep their heroes looking clean to the masses who think they are out to protect them. That’s where The Boys come in: A CIA-sanctioned group of compound V-empowered agents. They watch and study the movements and activities of those ‘heroes’ who cross the line in an attempt to bring down Vought-American and their prime super-team the Seven.
From issue one the brutality of the series is on full display, as the first six issues delve into the back stories of the different members of The Boys black-ops team. Billy Butcher is the leader of the squad—a British former military man has a personal grievance against the leader of the Seven, the Homelander. Standing alongside Butcher is the Scotsman and former conspiracy theorist Wee Hughie is the newest member of the team and is brought into the world of the empowered children abruptly when his girlfriend is killed by one of them moving at superhuman speeds. Rounding out the team are Mother’s Milk, Frenchie, and the Female who all have their own troubled pasts and reasons why they fight groups like the Seven. If these teams do cross the line, it’s up to The Boys to step in with extreme force.
As the series goes on the reader also gets a chance to see things from the other side of the fence through the character of Starlight, the newest recruit to the Seven. The young innocent Christian super-hero is forced to perform oral sex on members of the Seven to stay in the world’s most elite super-powered group. She is forced to change her costume to show more skin and even the other characters who have been wronged within the group that would have reason to side with Starlight want nothing to do with her. The two stories meet in full when Starlight and Wee Hughie meet each other in the park and form a relationship, unaware of who each other really is.
Through the seventy-two issues The Boys face multiple teams of so-called heroes, saving the few innocents they can while many die or become corrupted in front of them. They travel to Russia to try and stop the black market trade of compound-V before infiltrating the disgusting display of decadence known as Herogasm. These exploits build up to the coming final battle with the Seven and the globally dominant Vought-American.
This series is filled with sexually explicit content that will leave your jaw open when you read it. Ennis’ satire on the super-hero comic stretches into how he feels real people with super powers would act; how they would play, do drugs, and fuck. Women have to take meds just to be able to survive an encounter with a man who possesses enhanced strength and stamina. Sexuality is a big issue in the stories and is put to the test for many of the characters who find themselves in precarious situations that leave them scarred for life. The level of violence has no measurement here as it surpasses the simple idea of gore and breaks into a psychological near torture that is well written into the story. No character is safe from the backlash that comes.
The Boys world is dark and violent but what stands prominently, stitched not together but above the blood and sex are the in-depth characters that he builds over time. The main characters are well laid out and grow in their own rights over the multitude of issues but even side characters are granted an immense level of detail and emotion that sticks with the reader. Even those that are only in a few issues of the story line have an effect on the story and the team members who observe and interact with them. Though The Boys is a team book each individual feels like his own character and the villains are just as sympathetic and well crafted as their counterparts. Readers will find themselves sad to part with many of the characters that are not only a product of the world they inhabited but a rich texture that added to it.
With the series now approaching its end Ennis has given it his all to out-do himself. Time will tell whether or not The Boys will overshadow Preacher as his most influential work but there is no mistaking that it is one of his giants. Rights to a film version of the comic were picked up in 2008 by Columbia Pictures. There have also been several standalone story lines of the series that further explore the pasts of these complex characters. (Highland Laddie, Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker) Though Ennis is ending the main series there are rumors of further standalone series like these for the world he’s made. No matter what Ennis decides to do many fans wait patiently anticipating what this amazing and controversial writer will do next.