Issues 1 – 6
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson
Published by DC/Wildstorm Comics
Price: $2.99

We live in a time of entrenched cynicism about our institutions. Where we are distrustful of government, distrustful of churches/religion, and distrustful of (super) heroes. Why? Because they have given us plenty of reasons to be cynical about them. It’s no wonder we’ve grown uncomfortable with the idea of unchecked (super) powers moving about at will, no matter their stated good intentions. This theme continues to unfold in many of the most popular comics today.

The events of Identity Crisis, Civil War, Powers, to Squadron Supreme, we see this unifying thread of “who watches the watchmen?” Which brings us to Garth Ennis’ latest opus, The Boys.

The Boys are a team of five super-powered individuals, recruited by Butcher, the kind of “alpha dog holding [the pack] together.” He’s the brutal sort of barely redeemable bastard character Ennis loves to write who we’re to believe is two steps ahead of everyone around him. His sidekick is his dog, Terror, with the power to hump anything on command. The Boys work for one of those shadow departments that seem so prevalent in the U.S. government with their job requiring them to monitor and keep in check superhero behavior. The Boys are the government’s tool to keep superheroes on a tight rein, or put down as need be.

You pretty much know what you’re going to get with a Garth Ennis (Ghost Rider) project. Other than Preacher, Hitman, War Stories, Constantine, and arguably Punisher (I get that a lot of fans love his run on Punisher, I simply got bored of it), he tends to mine the same territory with his standard bag of “look how shocking I can be” moments. Unchecked Ennis, reminds me of “extreme” horror writers: crude, crass, visceral, over the top. Because it seems easy to do (and much more difficult to do well), things done in the name of extreme too often lead to all effect without much substance. Sure it allows more freedom, but sometimes complete freedom to push the boundaries allows some folks to give into their excesses. Back to Ennis, even with Preacher, he was relatively reigned in. There was a sense of his excesses not wanting to overshadow his story. With The Boys, and an insatiable need to keep pushing the envelope, he teeters on distracting us from what he’s trying to say.

“I can’t decide if its worth staying to find out whether or not it was all worth it.” –Hughie

After putting the band back together, Butcher directs The Boys to go after the sidekick supergroup, Teenage Kix (analogous to The New Warriors group whose actions precipitated the events of Civil War). Another group of out of control amateurs putting on spandex and running amuck with the power of a weapon of mass destruction in their hands. The story feels artificially bloated (to fill out the magical six issue initial story arc in order to make a tradepaper back from).

Actually, I wish more of the story was told through the eyes of Hughie (a bystander who’s fiancé was killed when a super hero runs into/through her; he is the last recruit to The Boys) or Starlight (the newest addition to the Seven, an institution of super heroes similar to the JLA or the Avengers). Through their eyes, yes, everything would be shocking, but it wouldn’t feel so forced, as much of Butcher’s antics seem to be.

“They’re all so scared of losin’ whatever little fortune it is they thing they’ve got …” –The Butcher

The Boys boils down to an examination of institutions. Sometimes, even institutions we need or hold dear degenerate into hotbeds of corruption, from illicit sexual scandals to squabbling over money. They become self-satisfied, full of pride, bloated, or over confident. They could become irresponsible with their actions (such as the superheroes acting without concern for innocents) with others, the faithful, allowing or making excuses for them (such as the government giving the heroes a casualty allowance of 60%). In other words, they lose their sense of mission.

Whenever an institution has lost its way, the Spirit behind the need for them, the work of the mission remains. Other organizations may spring up to do their job or otherwise leave the original organization behind. If the organization is paying attention and sees an erosion of some sort, it might be spurred into reform and a renewed sense of mission.

“I’m over here about a job. Only I don’t know if I’m gonna take it … I think I might enjoy it quite a lot. It’s just … some of the people …” –Hughie

Advertised as out-Preacher-ing Preacher, The Boys has to live in the shadow of raised expectations. Considering that it lacks Preacher’s scope and complexity, it barely out-Hitmans Hitman. The Boys lacks the intimacy, the emotional depth of his best work, instead it goes for the crass laugh. There is a casual disregard, disrespect for women and a trading on homophobia that serves as a springboard for a lot of the humor, which makes it kind of hard to “laugh along with the boys” about. So while it treads the line of being smothered by its own excesses, one can see the emerging threads of stories to be told, such as the background stories of Mother’s Milk, the Frenchman, and the Female (of the species). Plus, The Seven need to be taken down.

However, the book is already cancelled. Rumor has it that it is too rough for DC/Wildstorm, even though it stood among the top-selling of Wildstorm books. However, like Fallen Angel, it is sure to find a new lease on life with someone else.

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