Never Meet Your Heroes
Review: The Boys, Seasons 1-3
If you have been on social media in the last three years, it is likely you have encountered a few memes using characters and scenes from The Boys. Based on a satirical Dynamite comic created by Garth Ennis, the series envisions a world where superheroes are real…and are not good people.
In a tightly stage-managed PR environment where everyone wants to know their approval ratings, The Boys’ heroes are every bit as bad as the people they oppose, and the hypocrisy often leads to terrible atrocities and outcomes.
The Boys centres on Hughie, an average everyman whose world is shattered when a loved one becomes collateral damage due to the speed-based hero A-Train. With the aim of getting justice, Hughie refuses initial attempts by the company that employs A-Train to provide compensation in exchange for his silence.
These evets put Hughie in the orbit of William ‘Billy’ Butcher (Karl Urban), a hardened spy with a vendetta against superheroes. With good reason, Butcher aims to get revenge one of the world’s most powerful and famous ‘supes’, Homelander.
Played by New Zealander Antony Starr, Homelander is the series’ Superman analogue, with some gross twists. Unlike DC’s last son of Krypton, Homelander has no issues using his powers to be self-serving or to kill. He also does not particularly care for humanity, but is also driven by a paradoxical need for approval.
Erin Moriaty plays Annie/Starlight, a new superhero who becomes quickly disillusioned by the hypocrisy of her teammates. The extent of Starlight’s powers are unknown, but she has untapped potential. When she meets Hughie, she becomes another piece in the puzzle to take down Homelander.
Rounding out the cast is Dominique McElligott as Queen Mauve, the series’ Wonder Woman analogue, who is burnt out by the duplicity and lies of her team. Mauve’s motivations are complex and she is one of the more difficult characters to pin down.
The Boys sees all of these characters, and more in a complex web of betrayals as Butcher et al try to take down Homelander. The series’ satire takes stabs at America’s current political and cultural climate, and the series is particularly savage in its treatment of Marvel’s cinematic universe.
At points, the show is downright insightful, at many points it is funny, and it makes a good deal of great points about mega churches and performative morality. The series also sees some of the characters, especially Starlight, undertake a deeper exploration of faith and life’s meaning. The series offers no real meaning as to life’s meaning, save for what meaning people give it. Christian viewers may consider contrasting Homelander’s wielding of godlike power with Jesus’ ministry, which necessitated giving up power in service of others, an inversion of power dynamics and relationships that call into question what God is really like.
For those who enjoyed deconstructive takes on superheros like Watchmen (or Amazon’s other foray into the genre Invincible) The Boys is an instant recommendation. The series has a definite mature audience in mind, and will largely appeal to those experiencing superhero fatigue.
Needless to say, Insights’ recommendation comes with a considerable caveat. If you are offended by gore, swearing, sex scenes, and a number of other matters that probably cannot be described here, you would be better off skipping it.
Those who do stick with the series, be forewarned: a lot of the characters are horrendous people. At points the series runs the risk of becoming altogether too nihilistic, although it veers away from in indulging in a calloused dismissal of the value of human life altogether. Insights recommends watching the series in small doses (and checking out the season three gag reel for a fun reminder that the actors are nothing like the people they portray).
With three seasons already complete and out, it is unknown at the time of writing as to when exactly The Boys’ fourth instalment will release, although star Simon Pegg recently announced he has wrapped filming his scenes.
You can watch Seasons one to three of The Boys with a subscription to Amazon Prime Video.