By Steven Smith
I got into the works of Garth Ennis in a very common way. I saw a trade paperback for "Preacher" and said, “What the hell is that?” To which the comic book store clerk replied, “Uh, doy, awesomeness.” And after clubbing and skinning Mr. Smart Mouth, I must agree with their assessment: "Preacher" IS awesome. This lead to a lengthy, yet not altogether committed, relationship with the Irish writer Garth. Though I devoured every "Hellblazer" and "Preacher" I could get my hands on, I never really delved into "Hitman" nor his "War Stories." I did of course read "Welcome Back, Frank" and love, LOVED "Chronicles of Wormwood." I tried "Crossed" but it scared the bejeesus out of me. Garth has an extensive catalog and I enjoy how I have a lot to catch up on, but I feel like I’ve nailed the greatest hits. Also, "The Pro" is an amazing comic but why are there so many different print versions? Just curious.
This leads us to "The Boys." Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson: I mean seriously, how could this not be amazing? Again, I went for the trade paperback -- which I know, "trade waiter" can be such a derogatory term but really, it amps up the anticipation more as sometimes trades take many months to come out (or if it’s "Planetary," a hundred years; just kidding Warren, don’t put a hex on me). "The Boys" is some of Garth Ennis’ strongest material since "Preacher" but it is also it’s wordiest. When it kicks ass, it kicks the ass and most of the lower intestine right off -- but when it gets ensconced in plot and exposition it goes all Hamlety.
"The Boys" centers around a group of powered trenchcoat-wearing super agents whose job is to keep unfettered super heroes in check. The world they live in is encumbered by capes -- all of which have ties to a Haliburton type military-industrial complex, Vought American, who had a hand in developing the chemicals which created the supes. This is a breeding ground for common Ennis themes such as "the good guy who is really bad," the misunderstood deviant or deviants, redemption, -- oh, and crap loads of bloodshed. CRAP-LOADS.
"The Boys" are lead by the unscrupulous Billy Butcher, whose ruthlessness is only matched by his cunning, Mother’s Milk, an investigatory wizard harboring the most groin-clenching power source, the Frenchman & the Female, the Boys’ “muscle” as it were with their own set of proclivities (bad French and face ripping), and newest recruit Wee Hughie (hey it’s Simon Pegg!) who begins and ends as the Boy’s moral compass and conscience. There are a slew of other characters who of course how all have their own flaws, deviant tendencies, and pathos -- very typical of a Garth Ennis story, but it’s really the yin and yang of Butcher and Hughie which give the story it’s power.
There are deviations, such as the Herogasm storyline which is really just Ennis having fun; it contains the most plot points to fulfilling the main storyline, but it’s just that Garth likes to do so with tons of nudity and creepy, crass dialogue. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, cuz there isn't. It’s really one of his best in "The Boys" canon, as its use of panels and word balloons is fairly equal yet it gets the most across. Sometimes with "The Boys," I felt I missed a bit or it got too exposition-y, but then some stories the writers like to use as many words as they can.
What I enjoy most about "The Boys" is how it took its sweet time to tell the tale -- layered though it might be in deep government shenanigans plus a whole other scheme -- and is truly a finite series. I LOVE it when comics end, never to return. Self-contained series don’t get the chance to screw up, or when they do it's more of an ebb than a flow for the whole story. I would have liked a little more development on the end-game of "The Boys," a longer reveal of the true machination behind their creation, but it ended well with loose ends tied (or tied with a tourniquet).
Steven Smith believes it a travesty if the Adam McKay helmed Boys movie doesn’t pan out, Paul Delaney of metal band Black Anvil is on his Going Off Track podcast this week talking about Satanism and performing covered in pigs blood – how ennis?!”, and yes, Crossed really, really scared him – don’t judge!