In 1986, writer Alan Moore famously pondered the question ‘who watches the Watchmen?’ in his superhero magnum opus, Watchmen. Twenty years later, Preacher creator Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson would answer that question (and then-some) with The Boys, a cynical yet entertaining, gore-soaked explosion of insanity and political commentary decked out with capes and colourful costumes.
Set in a world where superheroes are treated as A-list celebrities (each complete with their own public persona, endorsement deals, merchandise, and a team of publicists to make them look good in the public eye) and where major corporations use ‘supes’ for their own political agendas, The Boys re-imagines super-powered characters similar to those depicted in Marvel and DC Comics as conceited, entitled, arrogant and dangerous liabilities. Enter the titular gang known as the Boys – a vigilante force who aim to use covert operations, dirty tactics and bloody violence to keep these ‘heroes’ in check.
With the superhero genre alive and kicking more so then ever across various mediums, Amazon Prime‘s TV adaptation of The Boys couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Boasting a creative team including Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg and longtime Ennis super fan Seth Rogen in the producer’s chair, this small-screen version of the comic series beautifully sends up the modern state of superhero media saturation from its opening moments, ultimately offering something unique and new for those tired of your standard superhero smackdowns.
Kripke‘s scripts are a perfect adaptation of the comics, retaining the black comedy and burning satire that made the original stories so much fun to read. Taking barbed stabs at everything from corporatocracy and post-Weinstein workplace harassment to sports doping and media propaganda, The Boys swiftly builds a wholly believable yet fantastical world whilst holding up a terrifying mirror to our own. The end result is incredibly cynical and dark, but not without charm.
The dark comedic touches throughout are perfectly pitched, whilst the show develops a touch more genuine heart then the comics ever did, most notably with its main characters. Jack Quaid as our every-man Hughie, a far cry from the image of the character in the comics, is nevertheless a perfectly sympathetic and relatable lead, driven by a traumatic encounter with a superhero to join up with the Boys, whilst Erin Moriarty as Annie January (AKA rookie superhero Starlight) lends the more fantastical flights-and-tights material plenty of dramatic weight as the naive but spirited newbie hero. Both story-lines run parallel to each other and complement each other perfectly, with the performers themselves developing a nice rapport together that is tantalising in its relation to the main plot’s development.
The real treat throughout though is Karl Urban as the Boy’s maverick leader, Billy Butcher. Equal parts charming and dangerous, Urban lights up every scene he’s in with understated menace and a sense of humour so dark, it’s opaque. A real anti-hero with a love for the C-word and the sort of ultra violence that would make Batman blush, the character remains the most intriguing throughout the three episodes previewed, with plenty of dramatic promise as events in the season are set in motion.
Of said-episodes, the pilot episode is easily the best, albeit a slow one at first. Carefully introducing us to the world and its lore, the details (both big and small) are fascinating and provoking, whilst the final 15 minutes are the definition of tremendous, literally shocking television. Key moments from the books are lovingly recreated, but new sequences and characters are on hand to bolster the existing material and provide a bit more balance to the comic’s more jaded, hard-boiled aspects. Trachtenberg‘s direction is a triumph, evoking the spectacle of the best superhero movies with uncanny ease, yet equally finding its own flavour when it comes to the more grittier, down-to-earth aspects.
Despite all this, episodes 2 and 3 are less successful, both taking a pedestrian pace in terms of story and incident, yet rushing the introduction of major characters with little-to-no fanfare. Whereas some characters from the comics are flawlessly bought to life on screen (warts-and-all), other major players like Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) and Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) are rendered somewhat diluted and dull, whilst key characters like Karen Fukuhara‘s Female are yet to make an appearance. The focus on the superheroes and their paymasters is welcome, but the lessening of screen-time for Butcher, Hughie and the Boys themselves is occasionally frustrating. That said, events transpire so as to hopefully address this minor issue by the end of Episode 3.
An unashamed, uncompromising take on superhero mythology with a darkly satirical spin, The Boys may stumble occasionally as it takes its first steps, but all signs here point to what may be one of the most insightful, intelligent and insane comic-book properties to make its way onto the screen. Those who like their super-heroics clean-cut and admirable will be best to steer clear, but for those who desire something near-knuckle and loaded with originality, The Boys may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.