Trade Secrets - Review of The Boys Volume 1 & 2

Welcome to the first edition of Trade Secrets - A comic book trade paperback review from the folks at Event Fatigue. I'm going to be reviewing the first two volumes of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's hyper-violent and graphic comic book series, The Boys. Hit the jump for my review of The Name of the Game and Get Some.
The Boys: The Name of the Game / Get Some


The Boys is a comic book originally from DC's Wildstorm imprint before it moved over to Dynamite Entertainment. The Boys stars a CIA black-ops team named the Boys that is responsible for digging up dirt on the superheroes of this universe in order to keep them in line, and also to stop them from hurting innocent people. The leader of the group, and one of the main leads of the comic, Billy Butcher is an incredibly charming and manipulative character who pulls people's strings mostly for the good of humanity. The other main lead is Hughie, or Wee Hughie as he is most often called, and Hughie is brand new to the world of monitoring and manipulating supers and is our window into this world.

The main antagonists of the comic are The Seven, a direct analogue for DC's Justice League, and the primary reason that The Boys is no longer published at any DC comic company. In fact, The Name of the Game features the Superman, Batman, and Flash analogues forcing their newest member to perfrom oral sex on them in order to become a part of The Seven. Which is honestly the first thing that people will probably notice about this comic, is the over-the-top and almost gratuitious use of sex and sex related perversions by Ennis. But honestly, if that's all you notice about The Boys, then you are an idiot and should read even more into the comic. Because Garth Ennis may be many things, but most of all he is an extremely talented writer who here crafts some of his most engageing characters out of all the great comics he's done in his career. I'm going to run this review a little differently and instead of running through the plot of the two volumes, I'm going to just focus on the characters and what Ennis is saying about the world through this comic. I really don't want to harp on about the violence and sex, mostly because it doesn't bother me and I only mentioned it so that people who want to read these trades after this post should know what they are getting into.

The Supporting Cast

In the first volume we are primarily introduced to The Boys and The Seven, as well as various other super-"heroes" most of which are all depraved individuals who are careless with their powers to the point of killing innocent bystanders in their fights with "supervillains". Honestly one of the biggest draws for me to the book was this idea that almost none of the superpowered individuals are heroic, and in fact the main reason why The Boys are formed because of the supers's carelessness or outright cruelty towards ordinary human beings, which is the primary reason why most of the team is on The Boys. The team consists of five people, in addition to Wee Hughie and Billy Butcher there's Mother's Milk, The Frenchman, and The Female (of the Species).

Mother's Milk seems like an interesting character even though almost nothing is known about him except for the fact that he and Butcher risked their lives to save his daughter her crack-addicted mother. M.M, as he's called is a neat freak and plays mother hen to this team of mostly sociopaths, as the Female and the Frenchman are both insane, violent, and insanely violent, while Butcher is an enigma but also incredibly dangerous. The Female and the Frenchman are both on the team primarily as muscle, but also according to M.M "because it's better they're with us then off in the world on their own" implying that they are too dangerous to not be kept under control by Butcher. The Female is interesting because she doesn't talk at all and never allows anyone to touch her, but she is incredibly dangerous and works as an enforcer for the mob when she is not with the Boys. The Frenchman, on the other hand talks too much and has a short temper where he will savagely beat someone for no reason, but he shows so much tenderness towards the Female and Hughie that he avoids being a one-dimensional character.

Outside of the team you have their CIA handler Rayner and her flunky nicknamed Monkey by Butcher. Neither of these characters are all that interesting, typical double crosses and the like. The Boys real allies, on the other hand, are far more fascinating characters, The Legend and Vas. Vas is a giant Russian man who used to be a superhero but has since retired but is good friends with Butcher and forms an instant friendship with Hughie when the Boys go to Russia. Vas was a superhero called "Love Sausage" (yes, for the reason that you think) which forms an interesting dichotomy with the Boys since it's obvious that Butcher hates all supers and is on a vendetta against all of them but particularly the Seven and their leader the Homelander, yet he treats Vas with respect and seems to be friends with him. Butcher, however, is described as someone who is always manipulating and doesn't waste so much as a smile, so the whole thing could be Butcher using Vas to get what he needs and when they're done he'll eliminate Vas too. The Legend, on the other hand, is an angry old man who knows all the dirt on the superheroes because he wrote their comics, so therefore he knows all their secrets and covered them up for years before working with Butcher and the Boys. The Legend is fascinating because in his introductory storyarc, he lies to Hughie about why he wants a murder investigated, but he only lies to cover up the fact that he is not connected to the victim at all and just wants to see justice done. So the Legend is manipulating people, but only in order to do good without making him seem like too good of a person. He's almost a mirror image of Butcher in that regard.

The Antagonists

The Seven are interesting villains, but the real enemies of the story are the people who run the Halliburton-esque company Vought-American which funds all of the superhero teams and created the compound that gives people superpowers. The only one of the Seven who really stands out as being truly villainous is the Superman analogue the Homelander, who is also the one who caused Butcher's vendetta against supers (or so we're led to believe). Homelander is obviously pursuing his own agenda and seems to have a history with the Boys, who have been operating for years before Hughie joins at the beginning of the series. With all of the dissimilar threads, I'm most interested in seeing the big throwdown between Butcher and the Homelander. The series is a finite one, and it is now set to end at issue #70 (the most recent issue released was #35) so at the halfway point we probably still have quite a while before that showdown. But I'm patient.

The Leads

Hughie acts as the readers gateway into the story, and he is of course the character that most of the stories are built around as he learns the ropes of dealing with superheroes and having superpowers himself. See, in order to do their job correctly and not get crushed like ants anytime they go up against supers, the Boys have all been injected with Compound V, the thing that gives people superpowers in this universe. Hughie gets injected in volume 1 and has to deal with controling his new strength pretty quickly when they get into a fight with a Teen Titans knockoff group, and Hughie's reaction to everything shows perfectly why he is so necesarry to this book and why it wouldn't be anywhere near as good as it is without him. Bottom line, Hughie could possibly be not only the best person morally out of any character in the book, but he might just be the only good person in the entire story. He has so much humanity for others, despite what happened to him. See, in the beginning of Volume 1 Hughie is a normal guy who is in love with his girlfriend, but she gets killed because of A-Train (the Flash essentially) and his carelessness fighting a supervillain. Hughie didn't want money, he just wanted to know how anyone could have let this happen, which draws the attention of Butcher who sees a lot of himself in Hughie, especially since they are both from the British Isles (Hughie is Scotish and Butcher is English). The fact is that bad things have happened to Hughie, but he still goes out does the right things and at the end of the day he doesn't really want to hurt anyone who doesn't have it coming to them. That can't be said for Butcher.

Butcher is my favorite character in the story, because he is not a clear-cut good guy at all. If anything, his actions in both volumes would more likely classify him as a villain, but he does the things that he does in order to protect people from suffering as he's suffered, so in that regard how could you consider him a villain? Butcher tricks, deceives, and outright lies to his friends and people he consider to be on his side and he does so to serve his own ends, but at the end of the day his ends are to make sure that no one else dies because of superheroes. Butcher had an intense personal tragedy because of something that one of The Seven did, and since then he has gone to great lengths and done bad things we're told to prevent it from happening to anyone else. But here's the thing, if Butcher is a man who plans everything out, that doesn't even waste a smile that doesn't serve his own ends, how do we know that what he says happened to his wife even happened? What if it is all a lie to trick Hughie into working for him for some as yet unseen reason, simply because he hates superheroes and he wants them wiped out. With Butcher, anything is possible and that's what makes him so fascinating, since he doesn't even bat an eye killing hundreds of supers, even though they are also human beings. Another interesting thing is that he has this vendetta, and yet his entire team has superpowers too, so it's one of those things where even if they eliminate all the superheroes, there will still be five of them left. Is Butcher willing to go all the way even if it means killing his own team? This is why I love Butcher as a character, he doesn't just live in shades of grey but the man himself is a grey area.

Again, I rate this as an OWN THIS BOOK. I have the third volume and I will probably post a review of that later after I read it, and will probably stick to just a straight forward review next time, but I really wanted to write about the interesting elements of the book and not focus on the sex and violence. I hope you do get a chance to read The Boys, because it is great. and will continue to be.

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