Creators: Garth Ennis, Derrick Robertson (comic book)
Developed by: Eric Kripke
Cast: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr
Seasons: 1 (2019)
The superhero story seems to have found a new home in online streaming platforms after the conclusion of the first cycle of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The longer format allows more complex stories to be told; often these are deconstructions of the genre’s various tropes. Good examples include Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, the upcoming adaption of Alan Moore’s iconic Watchmen series coming to Hotstar and now The Boys on Amazon Prime.
Based on Garth Ennis’s comic series of the same name, The Boys is set in a world where superheroes are corporate cash-flow-generating celebrities who exploit their power and influence to do some very un-heroic things. Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) is an average employee at at an electronics store until his girlfriend is accidentally turned into a pile of blood and guts by a speeding superhero. He joins a group of non-super vigilantes lead by mercenary Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) bent on keeping superheroes in line (often by killing or maiming them or exploiting their personal vulnerabilities).
It’s easy to expect just an action-packed superhero romp from this show, but it actually has a lot more to offer. While the series serves up the expected violence and insanity, it’s also topical. It presents some cutting satire and a remarkably believable picture of what a world with superheroes would look like in the age of social media. Heroes have PR and social media teams to carefully craft their public personas. Corporations manufacture disaster interventions and team-ups between heroes to drive public engagement.
The heroes themselves, while paragons of virtue and justice in the public eye, are monsters in private. They turn invisible to spy on women in the bathroom, offer advancement opportunities in exchange for sexual favours and kill and injure ordinary humans in their pursuit of pleasure. The violence is shown unflinchingly and some viewers could find certain scenes disturbing. It’s up to a group of ordinary humans to stop all the madness. In it’s own dark and cynical way, the show suggests that ordinary people can truly make a difference.
There are plenty of hilarious gags that will delight fans of the superhero genre. For instance, there is a scene in which The Deep (this story’s Aquaman) buys a live lobster at a grocery store in an attempt to liberate it. He chooses the lobster and it’s promptly killed by the man behind the counter before he can protest.
Karl Urban deserves special mention for his portrayal of Billy Butcher, the gruff, irreverent and charismatic leader of The Boys, as does Erin Moriarty, who plays Starlight, the wide eyed do-gooder vigilante. Dreaming of saving the world, she joins the world’s most famous super-team and is surprised to find herself partnered with a group of corrupt, sexually deviant “heroes”.
A refreshing take on the superhero genre, The Boys shows how power can drive people to become monsters and how ordinary people can stand up to the most powerful.