09 October 2019
The role of science fiction is to attract our attention to the actual ethical/political/societal issues of the world through presenting them in a fantastic, futuristic, perhaps post-apocalyptic setting. Superhero stories are, in a way, doing the very same thing, presenting the heroes as champions of virtue, and villains as the embodiment of various vices and destructive behaviours. Sometimes, the virtues and sins mix, creating a character that fights the righteous fight using the wrong methods – we call them antiheroes, and we tend to love them for having the guts to do what must be done.
Well, Amazon’s new superhero series called “The Boys” has quite a few antiheroes. Actually, they are the real heroes – and those wearing the capes and the costumes are not.
“The Boys” was a free-spoken medium even before it turned into a streaming series. Writer Garth Ennis wanted to “out-Preacher Preacher” with his comic book, as in making the comic violent, gory, and sexual. The story is set in contemporary America (it was released in 2006) in a parallel universe where superheroes exist – and they are controlled by a massive corporation, Vought. If you know about corporations, you probably know this is not the ideal way to do things. Vought “rents” superheroes to cities, pockets billions from merchandising, endorsements, social media, reality shows, and feature films… carefully planning the public image of its heroes to make the most of this collaboration.
The company successfully hides the real face of these “supes” but there are some people who know what’s behind their masks: Billy Butcher and “The Boys”, a rag-tag team of vigilantes working to expose the ugly truth.
The live-action series version of Ennis’s comic book has a great cast – Billy Butcher, the ex-CIA, supe-hating leader of “The Boys” is played by a Karl Urban hiding under his messiest facial hair to date, Hughie, the average boy turned vigilante is personified by Jack Quaid, Annie January, the starry-eyed superheroine and Hughie’s love interest is played by Erin Moriarty, Homelander – the personification of the American way of life, the backbone of society, and the protector of traditional values – is excellently portrayed by Antony Starr, and Madelyn Stillwell, the merciless VP of Vought who doesn’t shy away from blackmail and bribery, is played by Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue.
The setting and the visuals of the show are almost depressingly familiar – take away the superheroes, and it would look and feel like a series that happens in modern-day America. The rag-tag team of vigilantes tries to expose the villainy and hypocrisy of the Supes by all means necessary – this makes them the perfect antiheroes – but at the same time, each of them has something personal against them. The series itself is a satire of modern-day America, pointing fingers at everything from celebrity worship to bigotry.
“The Boys” is an incredibly bingeable series – you can’t stop at just one episode, you have to watch them all. It has its moments of romance, it has its moments of lighthearted fun… but it has moments exposing the dark side of human nature. And it has enough gore and profanity (the F-bomb is dropped more than 400 times in its first season alone) to warrant its “17+” rating. The genre may be fantasy but these are the characters perhaps closest to real humans, that say a few select words when stubbing their toe on furniture and waste time playing slots at Euro Palace Canada on the weekend, but at the end of the day they do what must be done, not just for themselves but for the betterment of the world.