When the first issue of THE BOYS comic book debuted back in 2006, it became an instant favorite. Written by Garth Ennis, who wrote PREACHER, with art from Darrick Robertson (the artist behind the amazing Transmetropolitan series), it was a take on superheroes that many people have joked about, but few had tried to make a reality.
People with superpowers, the book taught us, are not automatically made better when they develop abilities. They have the same penchant for living within shades of gray as the rest of us. Yes, they may save people from a disaster, but they can still get mad and take out a jetliner or act on urges that could hurt someone.
People with superpowers are just people. And that means they can be assholes.
In the world of Ennis’ and Robertson’s THE BOYS, this idea comes to fruition, and these heroes who are adored the world over have a billion-dollar corporation backing them up when things go poorly, ensuring the world only hears the story they are supposed to hear, not what actually happened.
THE BOYS had all the makings of a classic Garth Ennis comic book – it was crude, it was violent and, most importantly, it had a message covered by blood and guts. Originally published by DC Comics under its Wildstorm imprint, the company got cold feet and cancelled it after 6 issues. DC Comics allowed Ennis and Robertson to shop the book around, though, and it landed at Dynamite, where it ran for 72 issues plus three 6-issue miniseries.
Despite many flirtations with live-action adaptations, I never imagined I would see THE BOYS actually developed, but comic book properties are still getting picked up everywhere. And after Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg had success with Ennis’ PREACHER on AMC, adapting THE BOYS into a series seemed like a no-brainer. Last week, the 8-episode first season debuted on Amazon Prime, just days after it was announced that there would be a second season!
After binging all 8 episodes, I can see why the streaming service was so quick to renew the series. THE BOYS stays true to the feel of the source material, while adapting it for a more modern era, with strong performances from its lead cast.
The series, like the comics from which it’s based, follows Hugh Campbell (Jack Quaid), an ordinary guy whose life gets sent askew when speedster hero A Train accidentally runs through his girlfriend right in front of him. Watching the love of his life explode in front of him is a pretty traumatic experience, and he wants revenge against the hero who caused it. But going up against a billion-dollar multinational corporation that happens to sponsor superpowered sociopaths makes revenge a little tough.
But when he meets Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a guy with an axe of his own to grind with the supes, Hughie’s ability to cause problems for The Seven – the series’ analog for superhero groups like the Avengers and the Justice League – becomes more attainable. But Butcher’s own thirst for revenge against the world’s biggest hero – The Homelander – causes problems for his ragtag group, putting them all in danger.
I wasn’t expecting a straight-from-the-page adaptation of the comic book, so the character and story changes didn’t bother me. I think THE BOYS stays much truer to the spirit of the comic book series that inspired it than the PREACHER series, though. The Amazon series explores the shades of gray inherent in the characters. The good guys aren’t always the ones you suspect, and even the bad guys have a sense of decency to them at times.
The first eight episodes of the series covers a lot of the comics’ story between Hughie and the supe with whom he falls in love, Starlight (Erin Moriarty). The hero from the midwest is a fish out of water when she becomes the newest member of The Seven, struggling with what she thinks is right and the expectations of her peers and her handlers. When she meets Hughie, she’s looking for a friend. Opening herself up to him means that the betrayal when she discovers he’s part of a group going after her teammates stings that much more. Quaid and Moriarty have great chemistry together as the young, naive members of their respective teams, bringing a bit of Romeo and Juliet to a series that is much more representative of Macbeth.
One of my favorite characters in the first season was Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), the Wonder Woman stand-in who has become brutally jaded to the misogyny and abuse from her teammates. Much like her comic book counterpart, this version of Maeve is more of a side character, but it feels like there’s a lot of potential to explore her history and motivations. I enjoyed every scene McElligott was in, and I hope she’s earned some more prominence for the show’s second season.
Another inspired choice was casting Simon Pegg as Hughie’s dad. Pegg was the visual inspiration for the character of Wee Hughie in the comic book series, but the series took too long to be developed to live action, taking him out of contention to play the role himself. It’s great, though, that the series found a way to include him.
The first season burned through a lot of the comic book’s main story, while introducing some original twists that could bring the series through a few more seasons. The final reveal of the fate of Billy Butcher’s wife was an amazing way to end the last episode, leaving us to imagine where Rogan and Goldberg would take the story next.
I think THE BOYS is one of the better TV adaptations we’ve had over the last decade. It shows a lot of potential for growth and could become a classic series for Amazon Prime.