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The Boys are Back In Town

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
(He/Him)
Season 2 is Amazon Prime's The Boys is currently airing. I liked the show in the first season, and the second season, so far, seems to be both bigger and sharper than it was before. The first season was an ever so slightly toned down adaptation of the depravity and nihilism of the Garth Ennis comic. Season 2 appears to be moving a little bit past the facile assertion that corporate superheroes would suck. Stormfront is a depressingly relevant character in 2020, and so far it seems like the show knows what it is saying with her.

The show is still at its best when it shows it has a heart. I would watch a simple rom-com starring Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty. More characters than those two are getting to show that they are more than a vehicle for violence and depravity, and the show is all the better for it. Also, there is a still a lot of satirical violence and depravity.
 
Can you comment on (or are you aware of any article article about) how different the show is from the original work?

I'm reading the comic right now because I heard good things about the show, and I'm finding it to not really be Ennis' doing his best work. By comparison, I read Preacher start to finish a year or two ago and thought it held up extremely well and I enjoyed it a ton, so my issue is not a distaste for Ennis in general or even changing standards since the time of publication. If anything, The Boys weirdly feels extremely dated to me by comparison even though it's a later work than Preacher. I think it's maybe in part because Preacher had very strong character work anchoring the narrative, while in The Boys I feel like the characters are just doing things that the plot requires them to do, and the plot arcs feels very repetitive to me. And major story beats like big confrontation between Hughie and his girlfriend for example are falling really flat for me, even though I liked that element of the story until that point.

I'm not able to put my finger on it yet and can't quite formulate my critique of it beyond the "this is how I felt" level, but something about it isn't working for me...
 

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
(He/Him)
Here's a decent piece from Polygon that I think covers some of your questions. I have read more Wikipedia entries on the comic than I've actually read the comic. But comparing from what I did read, the show spends more time on its characters, both The Boys themselves and the superheroes, than it does on shocking displays of immorality.
 
Happened to catch an ep of this. The thing I enjoyed is use of the term "supes" (as an abbreviation for "superheroes"), which sounds like "soups" (a well known food item or items), so you occasionally get someone sounding like they're passionately proclaiming that nobody wants soups in the army or some such.
 
Can you comment on (or are you aware of any article article about) how different the show is from the original work?

I'm reading the comic right now because I heard good things about the show, and I'm finding it to not really be Ennis' doing his best work. By comparison, I read Preacher start to finish a year or two ago and thought it held up extremely well and I enjoyed it a ton, so my issue is not a distaste for Ennis in general or even changing standards since the time of publication. If anything, The Boys weirdly feels extremely dated to me by comparison even though it's a later work than Preacher. I think it's maybe in part because Preacher had very strong character work anchoring the narrative, while in The Boys I feel like the characters are just doing things that the plot requires them to do, and the plot arcs feels very repetitive to me. And major story beats like big confrontation between Hughie and his girlfriend for example are falling really flat for me, even though I liked that element of the story until that point.

I'm not able to put my finger on it yet and can't quite formulate my critique of it beyond the "this is how I felt" level, but something about it isn't working for me...
The show is very very very different from the comic in quite a large number of ways. I think it's a lot better. The super "heroes" all get way more character development and some of them are even made sympathetic (though that doesn't always push them into forgivable territory). A lot of plot points, while still pretty fuckin' edgy, are toned down significantly from the comic. And then there are plot points that go completely off the rails. At this point I don't think a comic reader could possibly predict what's going to happen in the show because of how differently things have played out.

One thing I really like (THIS IS A MAJOR SPOILER):
The way they completely subverted the "dead wife" motivation for Billy Butcher. In the comics, as I understand it, he had a girlfriend who was impregnated by a Supe and died when a super baby exploded out of her and had to beaten to death by Billy . In the show, not only is his wife still alive, raising Homelander's son in an isolated location protected by Vought, but when he manages to re-unite with her she, after a brief honeymoon period, declines his offer to escape and be together. He also accepts it with relative grace which is nice to see from a character with such a dangerous disposition. They managed to unfridge a female character while at the same time removing a very cliche motivation for Billy and forcing him to be less tunnel-visioned about their mission.

I'm probably being a little unfair since I haven't actually read the whole comic, and a YouTube video I tried to watch summarizing the comic ended up turning me off because the narrator kept going on weird, kind of chauvinistic tangents with hints of pickup artist propoganda. But what spoilers and pages I have encountered seem to tell me that basically every single character is significantly more likeable in the show.

It really feels like they took an extremely mean-spirited and cruel comic and turned it into something that still captures a lot of the extremely dark and edgy vibes while injecting some genuine humanity and heart to balance things out. I still call it edgy trash but it's edgy trash that I love.
 

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
(He/Him)
The Boys S2 was a little over 8 hours of pretty great superhero action and satire. Then it introduced a twist in the very last minute that, for me at least, soured significant portions of the season.

I greatly enjoyed most of this season. I still like the Hughie/Starlight romance, I liked most of the stuff with the rest of The Boys. The superheroes are never anything but villainous, but despite their obviousness there is plenty of complexity to most of them. I think some of the conclusion here is a little too easy and, as much as it pains me to say it about The Boys, too optimistic. The popular and explicitly fascist Stormfront is brought down by revelations of her Nazi past, but I am not sure this would cause such a change in her popularity these days. Everything else mostly works to reset the status quo. It kind of works to get The Boys to the spot where they begin in the comics.
 
After purposefully avoiding this show, I sat down with it finally. I'm only one or two episodes into Season 1. So far, I both adore it and loathe it.

It's got a lot of things going for it, with regards to some good drama, some good action, some good moral parables, etc. Plenty of obvious twists, but a few that I didn't see coming. The actors all do a great job too, and all of The Boys are pretty enjoyable/likable. But mostly though, I have two overwhelming reoccurring thoughts while watching this show:

1) WB could buy the rights to this show, and relabel it "Earth 3" and that's really all it would take to integrate this into the DCU. It would actually be the perfect Earth 3 show. It's really a shame that it isn't. Which brings me to:

2) I frequently see this called 'satire' but it feels way too mean spirited to just simply be satirical. The people who made this show seem to absolutely hate the Justice League/DC Comics, and take great joy in humiliating their obvious analogs.

And that last part there, really saps a lot of the fun out of the show. When the show's narrative focus is on the titular Boys, it's an exhilarating experience about trying to live and seek justice in this messed up world. But then when it gets to Superman Homelander's mother complex guzzling down tittymilk, or Aquaman The Deep being a pathetic idiotic sex predator who accidentally murders his dolphin-lover, and it's just like god damn. You guys reeeeeallllyyyy hate the Justice League, I get it already.

Which comes back to why I avoided this show to begin with. A lot of the popular discussion surrounding the show that I've seen has been pretty bad. A lot of "If you're tired of superhero movies..." Or, "This is how heroes would really be IRL." And that kind of perspective is just so misanthropic that it's a big turnoff.

I think for me, the biggest personal condemnation of this show is its glaring absences. I had a dream last night where I was about to get killed by Homelander, but then a Green Lantern Power Ring showed up and slid onto my hand. Then I immediately yeeted Homelander into the sun. Seems like pretty lazy writing/conceit if you have to just completely omit one of the core Justice League members if you can't figure out how to put them into your metahuman hating show because if you did, Superman stops being scary when an objectively more powerful hero can just send them packing.

Edit: Oh, and it'll never stop being discombobulating to watch Boimler essentially be Boimler in a metahuman-hating TV show.
 
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Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
(He/Him)
They do a better job as it goes along of not having the heroes be as obvious analogues of DC (or Marvel) heroes. But it never stops being based on a Garth Ennis comic, and he does seem to absolutely hate superheroes. They do bring in a Green Lantern analogue, he's the guy who got kicked out to make room for Starlight. He is a
washed up hero that is somewhere between GL/The Human Torch (played by Shawn "Iceman" Ashmore) who spends his time watching porn versions of superhero movies.

I don't really disagree with anything, though what makes the show work for me is the relationship between Hughie and Starlight. There is enough heart there to get me through the misanthropy elsewhere.
 
Finished the show. Uh, that sure went from Earth 3 to Earth X in a hurry...
Then it introduced a twist in the very last minute that, for me at least, soured significant portions of the season.
I assume this is alluding to The Boys turning their obvious AOC-analog character into a psychopathic serial killer, and yeah. That was really fuckin' stupid and bad. In general, the human element stuff with the Boys characters are really good, but fuck this show's politics and misanthropy.
 
The show is very very very different from the comic in quite a large number of ways. I think it's a lot better. The super "heroes" all get way more character development and some of them are even made sympathetic (though that doesn't always push them into forgivable territory). A lot of plot points, while still pretty fuckin' edgy, are toned down significantly from the comic. And then there are plot points that go completely off the rails. At this point I don't think a comic reader could possibly predict what's going to happen in the show because of how differently things have played out.

One thing I really like (THIS IS A MAJOR SPOILER):
The way they completely subverted the "dead wife" motivation for Billy Butcher. In the comics, as I understand it, he had a girlfriend who was impregnated by a Supe and died when a super baby exploded out of her and had to beaten to death by Billy . In the show, not only is his wife still alive, raising Homelander's son in an isolated location protected by Vought, but when he manages to re-unite with her she, after a brief honeymoon period, declines his offer to escape and be together. He also accepts it with relative grace which is nice to see from a character with such a dangerous disposition. They managed to unfridge a female character while at the same time removing a very cliche motivation for Billy and forcing him to be less tunnel-visioned about their mission.

I'm probably being a little unfair since I haven't actually read the whole comic, and a YouTube video I tried to watch summarizing the comic ended up turning me off because the narrator kept going on weird, kind of chauvinistic tangents with hints of pickup artist propoganda. But what spoilers and pages I have encountered seem to tell me that basically every single character is significantly more likeable in the show.

It really feels like they took an extremely mean-spirited and cruel comic and turned it into something that still captures a lot of the extremely dark and edgy vibes while injecting some genuine humanity and heart to balance things out. I still call it edgy trash but it's edgy trash that I love.
Thanks for the detailed response!

Between then and now I finished the rest of the original comics and got caught up with the show.

One thing I will say now that I'm able to answer my own question (and since I think I'm the only one here who finished the thing) is that I think the back half of the comic is stronger than the the first half. The first half of the comic is setting up the plot threads that do pay off in the back half, but it's extremely repetitive and nearly every plot is on the surface just about finding out that a superhero is secretly some kind of sexual deviant (from the perspective of the protagonists), and then they get killed. It's very much of its time, so that includes plots like it being enormously scandalous that a superhero is gay and having to leave the team because of it. In a comic where being a cis gay man is treated like a huge scandal, you can imagine what the portrayal of queer people is like more broadly.

The comic is also written very much from a hetero cis male standpoint. I don't think that's necessarily bad in and of itself. The issue for me is that it seems like a regression from Ennis' own Preacher which was earlier and also had that viewpoint, but that nonetheless much less limited by that viewpoint. Tulip in Preacher is an interesting character, but Annie/Starlight in Ennis' The The Boys really feels more like a plot device for Hughie. There are thematic and structural similarities with Jesse/Cassidy/Tulip and Hughie/Butcher/Annie, and in both cases the work understands both that protagonist (Jessie/Hughie) is being manipulated and also that they're acting like idiots who are letting their lives be ruined by their idealized version of masculinity, but in The Boys it just kind of felt like going through the motions of a previously successful story formula for Ennis, with significantly diminished returns. (The issue for me is not the repetition, but that Annie is such a nonentity compared to Tulip. I know he can do this better than he did in The Boys!)

Like Ennis' Preacher, The Boys has a complicated relationship with masculinity, trying with varying degrees of success to negotiate the tension between the potential joy of stereotypical behaviors associated with masculinity while also critiquing it. For me, the critique in Preacher is much more effective, but it's undeniably there in The Boys as well. Butcher (spoilers for the end of the comic, who knows if it's relevant to the show) is the final villain, basically begging Hughie to kill him because he sees no other way to escape the cycle of toxic masculinity he's trapped in. It's the same structure as Preacher, and both comics shift from "toxic masculinity is awesome, don't you love this?" to "haha tricked you, actually it sucks." I understand that some people feel this is cheap or hypocritical and just don't want to see it for whatever reason. Personally I think it can be good when well done but sucks when done poorly, and in The Boys the comic the initial phase lasts for way too long and it doesn't stick the landing when it's time for the critique.

But whether you think The Boys the comic works or not, it's clearly wasn't a good fit for modern TV without a lot of changes. Like you note they do a lot to make nearly everyone more likable. The Boys the comic is really basically about Butcher and Hughie, and everyone else is very loosely sketched. They make the cast a lot more diverse through gender swapping and taking passive characters and making them active, etc. For the most part this works, I think. I miss The Female and Frenchie having a kind of abstract/supernatural understanding that surpasses language instead of a made-up sign language, but it wouldn't really fit into the more grounded nature of this adaptation of the show. (And the original version also obviously has problems, again she was literally a silent character called The Female and the only woman on the team. But I just don't think made-up sign language works either.)

I was skeptical of the politics of the show in the first season. The plane incident is a rare example of a scene where the comic version was both funnier and more politically interesting, and I wasn't a huge fan of the change, even if I understand why in terms of timelines it would be a stretch to make 9/11 a recent event for these characters. It made me worried that this might mean the show would step away from real life events, but that turned out to be an unfounded worry.

Unfortunately I doubt we're going to see literally just Prescott Bush (not an analogue, literally Prescott Bush) show up as a Vought ally during WWII if the next season has flashbacks like the comic book equivalent, but the plots about terrorism, radicalization, and Nazi collaborationism largely worked and I'm interested in what they'll do going forward.

I thought the AOC analogue twist was fine. It's not saying that AOC is herself secretly evil or whatever. It's part of the show's broader critique of how easy it is for bad actors to co-opt woke language while working to preserve the status quo or actively do evil. I think the show probably has some of the smarter politics of any mainstream genre show going on right now. In the end it will depend on what they do with it going forward.
 
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Zef

Find Your Reason
(He/Him)
I binged this show the last couple of weekends, and...

I wonder if there's a term for a female character that gets fridged in the backstory, is brought out of the fridge and developed a bit but is still there primarily to motivate two male characters, then gets fridged even harder at the same time as another female character gets 80%-fridged. Even if the latter was a villainous one.

Otherwise, neat show! Mostly here to see the destruction-rebirth arc of Homelander and Annie and Hughie's relationship, but also amused by how the Church of Scientology was actually a major player up until the last three minutes of Season 2.

Cute product placement, tho.
 
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I don't get the fresca bits. Was there some kind of meaning there? Like nanobots or some shit in the soda a la Logan?

Also, you reminded me Zef about my discontent with how the show handles its only Asian characters. The only one of consequence is robbed of her voice through trauma, yayyyy. And her brother is played by a Korean guy; they actually made it a point to get him to speak Japanese ok, but he is very obviously doesn't actually know the language he's speaking. And I always get uncomfortable when shows by white people decide to default Asianness to being Japanese despite it not making a lot of sense for the story or casting. (Why couldn't these characters just be Filipino if they were raised in the Philippines?)
And the original version also obviously has problems, again she was literally a silent character called The Female and the only woman on the team. But I just don't think made-up sign language works either.
It's a weird situation. Because I liked what all of that culminated to and how it paid off "I don't understand because you won't teach me." but at the same time, it logistically makes zero sense when it would have taken two seconds to figure out she's Japanese and you could converse with her enough to do what you need to do via google translate or something.
 
I think the Fresca is mostly a meaningless joke, but also the repetitiveness of it contributes to the cult-like atmosphere.

And I always get uncomfortable when shows by white people decide to default Asianness to being Japanese despite it not making a lot of sense for the story or casting. (Why couldn't these characters just be Filipino if they were raised in the Philippines?)
Yes, this bothered me as well. There are certainly abductions in Japan, but the specific story they ended up with here felt odd. The origins here are totally made up for the show, so I think they could have gone with something a bit more natural.
 
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Zef

Find Your Reason
(He/Him)
As soon as it became apparent that Deep was being deeply indoctrinated, the Fresca running gag seemed like a stand-in for "Kool-Aid."

Almond Joy, on the other hand...
 
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