What I'm Watching: The Boys

So, The Boys comic by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson is my 3rd favorite comic of all time (right behind Transmetropolitan and The Invisibles ). It carries on in Garth's inimitable tradition of showing how rotten everything is from The Pro.

A band of CIA-funded wankers based in the scenic Flatiron building, led by appropriately-named psychopath Billy Butcher, recruits conspiracy freak and recently bereaved Simon Pegg, er, "Wee Hughie", an organized freak NCO Mother's Milk, and two insane killers, The Frenchman and The Female. They power Hughie up like they are, and go fuck up superheroes who deserve it.

Wee Hughie knows nothing about superheroes or comics, so he goes on a Heart of Darkness style voyage of discovery into deep dark shit. The comics are heavily about the nature of comics and the superheroes they "report" on; they're from an age when superhero movies were pretty crap and nobody cared. Stan Lee is The Legend, now a useless old man in a comics shop basement, but he knows shit. Vought-American is very clearly doing the same Nazi-science-for-America thing we did with rockets, but there's supes all over the world, and everyone (well, anyone in "the industry") knows how they're made. And the supes are all insane with power, as they would be. The Seven live in a flying citadel full of awesome tech and everyone's flunkies and whores, because of course they do.

The Boys comics cured me of superheroes as a serious genre, and they can cure you, too. I can enjoy one for a laugh now, like Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy, but any serious preaching and I wonder who they're literally fucking to death. I know how they got that way.

But now we're in a more vapid, useless age, full of shitty superhero movies worth literally billions of dollars, comics conventions bigger than religious revivals, fucking jocks pretending they're superhero fans instead of nerds, bobbleheads, and social media. Especially social fucking media.

The Boys on Amazon Prime reflects this shittiest of all Human eras, the final death throes of the Anthropocene. It's not even terrible, just all the mediocrity of this decade shat into streaming.

So here, the Boys are vigilantes on the run; this reduces the number of sets enormously to just a few shitty warehouses and abandoned diners, no need for on-the-street shots of New York City, they can use shitty parts of Toronto instead, and boy do they. The Seven get an even worse downgrade, being in a mid-size skyscraper in a CGI "matte painting" (nobody paints them anymore) background, with only the Seven's conference room, one corridor, and a bathroom; we never see their lounges and bedrooms full of sluts, or the hangar for the plane Black Noir can't fly. Doesn't matter, you can't see anything because the cameras are permanently tinted dark orange/dark cyan. For shots with chipper superheroine Starlight, they go back to bright colors, because that's real subtle filmmaking.

Wee Hughie instead becomes a 6' tall Billy Joel-listening douchebag "l33t haxxor"/mom-and-pop electronics store guy (most implausible background of anyone: There are no mom-and-pop electronics stores anymore), who's madly into superheroes, especially A-Train. I think the vapid video producers thought this would provide "pathos", but it's just stupid. Lives at home with his Dad (actual Simon Pegg), not in the shittiest transient hotel in New York like Wee Hughie does. Does not rescue a gerbil. I suppose Richard Gere is tired of that story, but I never will be.

Billy Butcher is just a confused loser here. And short. No dog. Doesn't fuck. A couple references to Guinness and tea from other people, but he never brings it up. He's useless. I didn't like Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, either, he was more like Judge Mediocre Honky Cop on a Talking Dirt Bike in Generic Skyscraper "The Raid" Rip-Off, but that title was too long for them; in any case here he shows the same lack of menace, talent, or ability to enunciate; he mostly stands around while actors read their lines. Decent beard and trenchcoat; he's the only one who gets a trenchcoat in the show.

Mother's Milk gets some of the NCO personality, but he doesn't have his namesake's background, no powers, and still has a wife and a tiny daughter, not a junkie ex-wife and a teenage skank daughter; the point in the comic was he has all his shit together for everyone else, but his life's a disaster. No, here he's just good and professional. Whitewashed.

The Frenchman is… he's fine. Not quite enough insanity about France, but he's a violent, passionate lunatic anyway, and close enough that I won't complain.

The Female looks and works great, and the actress does a good job with the "behave like a mad dog" role, but in the comics she's independent, she's perfectly capable of taking jobs on her own and will if they don't have a supe for her to kill.

The supes are a mixed bag. Homelander came out OK; he has more of a plan this time, he's less overtly rapey, but on a scale of 1 to Genocidal Superman, he's pretty far up there.

Black Noir is more useful and less creepy silent stalker than the original; I doubt his backstory's been left intact. But he does nothing; I actually forgot he was there when I started writing this, "wait that's six, where's… OH!"

Starlight's great, she's as perky and stupid as possible, and seems like a decent girl-next-door in her sorta romantic scenes.

A-Train's great, an A-grade asshole murderer with no conscience; but he has a "reason" for being that out of control, which somewhat dampens it.

The Deep is changed from a probably-crazy black man in a diving helmet who can fly, to a white hormonally-bitchy rapist low-rent low-IQ Aquaman who can actually talk to fish (uh, including dolphins and lobsters… so he has general telepathy, he's just insane and only uses it with aquatic creatures?). He's useless and offensive to rapists, and they half write him off the team by the end. Every scene with him in it could be deleted and this would be a marginally less shit show.

Jack from Jupiter is replaced with "Translucent" the naked invisible man with diamond skin; it's such a stupid name that even the show tells him how stupid a name partially-transparent is for invisibility. I loathed Jack, so this is a good change, but then they just use it to have characters talk to empty air and an occasionally CGI shot of him fading in and out.

Queen Maeve gets hosed. From being the queen bitch of the Seven's station, with a harem of naked men, who literally cares about nothing except her next drink or fuck but can kill anything short of Homelander, to a mopey bi woman doing Xena cosplay, in therapy and AA, who's just kinda strong and tough. Just appalling writing, losing the whole point: What does absolute power do to someone that damaged?

James Stillwell ("The Man from Vought American") is replaced with Madelyn Stillwell (played by Elisabeth Shue, "Replacement Jennifer" from Back to the Future II-III; she's never the original). James is a cold, stoic, perfectly rational machine for optimizing profits and killing anything that gets in the way, the one mere Human the Homelander is wary of. Madelyn is a mommy-figure for sad broken little Homelander (and by extension all the Millennials who made incest porn so popular), and a doormat for Starlight (though if she wasn't a doormat, Starlight would have to act like she could plan and be sneaky… which she can't). Her arc is terrible, she's stupid and fallible, the writers are idiots. She's a goddamned catastrophe.

All the secondary stuff falls down bad. Popclaw goes from an active party girl (girl, maybe 18-20) to a middle-aged sad has-been kicked out of a team. She does have one of the more spectacular kills, but her story is garbage. A fat Doogie Hauser wanker not from the comics is introduced to provide exposition that shouldn't be provided. Tek-Knight is mentioned but never seen. The mad scientist just has a cinderblock room, probably filmed in Jeff Bezos' basement sex dungeon, not a silo and a nuke.

No other teams are seen or really mentioned; that ecosystem of D-grade teams feeding C-grade teams feeding B-grade teams feeding The Seven isn't touched on at all, when that's the pyramid scam behind the entire setting. In the show there's just a few villains planning everything, not an entire industry of scumbags using superpowers.

The Jesus freak event is sad, a tent show which cost them nothing to make and it shows. I can't imagine these cheap Amazon assholes making Herogasm, the annual party for supes, look good.

The politics show up and then vanish. In the comics, there's a pro-supes VP "Vic the Veep", like Ahnold Shwazzanagga crossed with Rain Main crossed with George W. Bush, with less IQ than any of them, and he's involved. Here, there's a governor and a senator seen at various times, we're told but not shown anything about a vote on military supes. Cheap and lazy and bad writing.

★½☆☆☆

I'm beyond disappointed. I had a real hard-on for this, but now I'm utterly flaccid. Occasional moments of characters doing something interesting interrupt an endless orange/cyan fog of nothing.

Shows have improved between seasons, superheroes especially. Sony's Powers (another good "superheroes are dicks" comic) adaptation on Playstation+ was unbelievably terrible in S1, decent in S2; Sharlto Copley as Diamond was ludicrous, but they wrote a good plot for him. Amazon's The Tick in S1 was the most depressed, mopey, unheroic, unfunny thing I have ever seen; S2 was less bad, though still inferior to the comics, the cartoon, or the first live-action series.

But for now, please go read the comics instead. They're fantastic.

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