If you looked at the etymology of the word ‘hero’, you’d be hard-pressed to find even a single negative attribute that would define the word. Heroes are supposed to be these unnatural humans who were outliers, incorruptible and essentially good. Superheroes, all the more so. Even with powers with which they can clutch the world in their hands, they decide to be samaritans. Zack Synder’s Watchmen was, perhaps, one of the first films that completely subverted this rosy idea that Superheroes always had to be saviors. Inspired and adapted from the classic Watchmen series (DC) written by the legendary Alan Moore, Snyder pulled us into a world where Superheroes, even with their powers, were just as vulnerable to the human condition as anyone else. They could also be consummate alcoholics, victims of domestic violence, and nihilists who could be unsympathetic to saving anyone. 20 years after the first Watchmen comics came out (in 1986), writer Garth Ennis took this idea up a notch through his own series The Boys that came out in 2006.
Also read: The Boys – Everything You Need to Know
Developed by Eric Kripke, who also created the hit-series Supernatural, The Boys is adapted from Garth Ennis’s work and is set in a world where Superheroes are a privatized entity owned by a multi-billion dollar firm named Vought. In this world, Vought owns the rights to over 200 meta-humans from all over the world managing their assignments and their social media handles. They have created an entire Business around these Superheroes from movies to merchandise to live-shows. Even among their 200 heroes, they have an elite club known as The Seven, who are essentially parodied versions of DC superheroes – Homelander looks like Captain America and has Superman-like powers, Maeve dresses like Wonder Woman, A-Train runs like The Flash, The Deep is basically Aquaman, etc., you get the point. The Seven have a strong branding team working 24/7 to boost the public perception of them, sending camera crews with them to capture their crime-fighting scenes as they flash their sparkly whites for Instagram hits. However, it’s not a simple profit-driven world. What appears to be a magnanimous superhero team on the surface, hides a much darker visage underneath. In a parallel arc, Hugh Campbell is a small-time salesman at an electronics store. An ordinary guy that one would pass unnoticed on the street. While seeing his girlfriend off one day just outside the shop, a terrible accident takes place and his girl-friend dies. When the dust settles, he realises that a Supe (short for Superhero) had been responsible. While Vought tries to pays him off citing “Collateral Damage” to the media, Hugh is secretly approached by a man named Butcher who claims to be an FBI agent. He consoles Hugh about his girl-friend and confides in him that he knew what “dirty-work” the Supes were capable of. If Hugh helped him, they could expose them for what they truly were.
Season 1 has eight episodes, each directed by a host of directors including Dan Trachtenberg who has directed 10 Cloverfield Lane and a short in the Sci-Fi Series Black Mirror. We also have Matt Shakman who is known for his work in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fargo and Game of Thrones. Kripke ties them all together into a fast-paced, deliciously dark take on the Superhero fantasy as he slowly peels away the layers of morality that we associate heroes with. We are introduced to a group of social outcasts led by the brooding Butcher and the meek Hugh, as they find themselves neck-deep in the secrets of the Vought corporation. When you’re up against actual Superheroes who could rip you apart like paper, you should be crapping your pants because there is no way you can defeat them, especially when they are backed by a powerful firm with ties to the Defence Department. And yet, the Boys gives them a run for their money with no resources except their own wits to fall back on.
The Boys gives us some of the best character-writing for its own genre where its usually difficult to grab attention of the audience when there are no superhero antics happening on screen. And yet, some of the best scenes are entirely drama. Karl Urban as Butcher plays a deeply vengeful character who is also inherently flawed in his deep mistrust for all Supes. His British/Australian accent adds a comedic layer to his personality, and feels something straight out of a Guy Ritchie film. Jack Quaid is Hugh Campbell – a pusillanimous average joe who is basically us embroiled in a weird dynamic between the rebels and the Supes. He keeps the story grounded by asking questions that we would ask of the series. Frenchie and Mother’s Milk aka M.M. are the other two members played by Tomer Kapon and Laz Alonso. Both have colourful personalities and hate working with each other. On the other side, Homelander is played by Antony Starr who is, perhaps, the most complex character of the lot. A two-faced villain who acts righteous in front of the crowds and, yet, doesn’t shy away from killing civilians for keeping the profits up. He is also a highly vulnerable character who requires validation from his boss Madelyn Stillwell played by Elisabeth Shue, the shrewd manipulator of the heroes. Erin Moriarty plays Starlight, the newest member of the Seven who finds herself misplaced as an actual altruist stuck between anti-heroes.
Kripke’s adaptation is a deftly told narrative that begins with a conventional superhero story and is brought down to a tale of sheer human greed that drives motivations. It’s interesting that the actual heroes in this stories don’t have any superpowers at all, much like the sardonic PR line that Homelander always says to the police – “You are the real heroes.” Even while poking fun at every single superhero trope out there, the narrative holds together a gripping drama that is layered, with each character playing a well-defined part in the story. Season 2 promises to take off from a point where Butcher’s vengeance would be questioned. He would stand at the cross-roads where his personal vendetta with Homelander would clash with his own past which he thought he knew the truth of. While HBO’s Watchmen is slated to be released soon, The Boys holds its ground as a strong grounded contender that is sure to create its own loyal fanbase.