The Garth Ennis Interview: Bringing an End To ‘The Boys’

There are only six issues left of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys, and according to the long-running series’ writer, it won’t be pretty. Ennis brought the series to Dynamite a few years back after its brutal, perverse spin on superheroes didn’t go over so well with then-publisher DC/Wildstorm. Since the move, Ennis has been hammering out one continuous story about the the titular group that monitors the capes, charting their inevitable, likely final conflict with the entirely corrupt Justice League stand-in, the Seven.

And it’s been a long time coming: each of the Boys, led by the very dangerous Butcher, has a reason to hate the supers and the company that manufactured them, the military-industrial conglomerate Vought-American. While the Seven–not so much led, as terrorized–by the likely psychopathic Homelander have been embarrassed, thwarted, (and in one case) maimed by Butcher’s people. There’s a tense game here as both sides wait to make their move. The current arc, “The Big Ride” sees some unseen player orchestrating a confrontation between both sides, setting up a murder and waiting for the big clash.

It might not go down this arc, but it’s coming.

MTV Geek: When you start reaching the end of a series like this—on your own terms—do you feel more relief that it’s almost over or regret that it’s time to move on?

Garth Ennis: With this one it’s very much a sense of regret. I finished the last script about 6 weeks back and I’ve been missing Butcher and Hughie in particular ever since; writing in their voices was a real pleasure. I don’t miss the Preacher characters, partly because everyone involved got a happy ending. The Boys—not so much.

Geek: How close is the book as it nears its conclusion to the one you initially set out to write?

Ennis: It’s longer, certainly, by about 20-30 issues. But it has very nearly the exact conclusion I had in mind when I started, and the characters have all gone through the arcs I imagined for them. That said, there’s been plenty of pleasant surprises along the way.

Geek: At the start of the current arc, Hugie’s kind of brushing up against the big question: why does he continue to stick around Butcher? Could you tell our readers why he can’t just walk away and have a life—a future—with Annie?

Ennis: His conversation with Annie in #57 should answer both those questions. Hughie’s separate problems with Butcher and Annie will stay with him almost to the end of the book.

Geek: So much of the structure of the book is tied up with the past. When you were initially plotting out the book, was it a conscious decision to have most of the characters come from screwed up places?

Ennis: Absolutely. Except Hughie, he’s the normal one. He likes to think he has a gruesome past, but as Annie points out in the final issue of Highland Laddie, he’s been very lucky indeed. Compared to the rest of them, he’s Joe Average.

Geek: And a lot of the series is characters telling stories, creating a history—both the fiction of Vought-American and the “real” history Butcher and the Boys uncover. What appealed to you about this structure?

Ennis: I’ve always enjoyed historical stories. I like peeling back the layers, showing what makes characters tick. And I like capturing the way people tell their stories; for example the habit some people have of changing tenses during their recollections. “So I walk into the bar, I get a pint, I walk to the back room- and he was sitting right there, facing me, like he knew I was coming all along.” etc.

Geek: A good chunk of the motivation for Butcher is 9/11. You get the sense he wants to pay back atrocity with atrocity. Where do you stand? In real life we “got” Bin Laden, but I don’t know if that’s actually made any kind of difference or how many people it’s allowed to move on.

Ennis: Butcher’s motivation has almost nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with what happened to his wife. We’ve seen him use the events of the day to motivate Mallory and even The Legend, but to him it was just an unusually bad supe f***-up, the kind of thing he’s always warning people about.

Regarding real life, killing Bin Laden won’t bring his victims back to life and it won’t change the mess Afghanistan and Irag are in—at least in the short term. But events like this can play a subtle role in fighting terrorist organizations: you can’t defeat them militarily, but you can kill off the hard-liners, and then when the inevitable negotiations start you’ll find yourself talking to slightly less unreasonable people (as seen in Northern Ireland, for example).

As for Bin Laden in particular, I’m glad they got the f****r. It gave a lot of people a bit of a kick in terms of morale, and morale is something that doesn’t get mentioned enough. Sometimes you have to slay the dragon, storm the castle, drive a stake through the monster’s heart. And finally there’s the simple notion of payback: this is a man who set events in motion that he knew—and knew very well—would cause the deaths of thousands of Americans, and many thousands more Muslims as a result. The thought of him walking away from that was always hard to stomach.

Geek: You don’t seem like the hero worship type. But do you have someone you look up to (or did look up to) as a hero? (I promise, I’m going somewhere with this)

Ennis: Almost anyone in the British and American armed forces, 1939-45.

Geek: I ask because I thought the conversation between MM and Hughie about how good and bad don’t enter into what they do kind of defines a lot of your best characters. What was the last noble cause you can think of—that you could get behind?

Ennis: Nothing immediately springs to mind.

Geek: I feel like a jerk for asking you to play “what if” but what do you ever think about what kind of trajectory the book would have taken if it had remained at Wildstorm/DC?

Ennis: I think we’d have been dead inside a couple of years, staggering from conflict to conflict with the DC hierarchy. We had good editors in Scott Dunbier and Ben Abernathy, but there was only ever so much they could do to defend us. The book would have been crippled, neutered, killed. The decision to give it back to us was a wise one on DC’s part, and one I’ll always appreciate.

Geek: How do you think being at Dynamite has shaped the book?

Ennis: It’s let me shape it exactly the way I wanted to, without compromise of any kind. The right team, the right artists, the right publishing/marketing strategy. I couldn’t have asked for better.

Geek: Finally, can you talk at all about how the Crossed movie is coming along? Why was this the movie you decided to take the leap into screenwriting with?

Ennis: No news on that front. As usual, could happen tomorrow, could happen never. I did the screenplay because they offered me the job, no more to it than that.

The Boys #58 is on shelves now.

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