By Jarred A. Luján — The Boys, which is Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s series about a CIA-backed team that keeps superheroes in check, is back this year with a new omnibus that collects the first 14 issues of the series (Editor’s note: this review covers the first half of the omnibus, but check back next week for a piece about the rest!). For those not in the know, The Boys is a fairly iconic series co-created by writer Ennis and artist Robertson. It’s also a particularly fun time for this series because Amazon Studios is producing an eight episode TV series, scheduled for release later this year.
I have a little bit of history with The Boys. I began reading it back in 2006, when it was first coming out. Unfortunately, my hometown in Texas doesn’t have a comic shop, so my comicbook shopping was done primarily through ordering physical copies online. At fourteen, you can only convince your mother to buy you so many insanely adult comics with her debit card, and so I was tragically cut off from the series early. Alas, thirteen years later, I get to review it for a website. Take that, Mom!
Having read the first few issues of this omnibus before, I wasn’t expecting the surprise and intrigue of a first reading. That was incorrect. The Boys, unlike my teenage AC/DC obsession and bad haircut, has aged pretty well in our current cultural environment.
It doesn’t take a cultural expert to see how prevalent superheroes are in today’s culture. Many of the highest grossing movies annually star superheroes, while big box retailers stock superhero t-shirts and toys. Superheroes are a genuine cultural phenomenon. While the example of comic book superheroes being our contemporary version of ancient Greek mythology is getting to be a tired one, we are in an era of passionate (and often toxic, but that’s another story...) fandom. This all serves to make The Boys more relevant than ever.
In this context, The Boys looks like a nasty wrench in the cultural gears. In its first six issues, we really get to see a far more realistic version of superheroes. Ennis and Robertson zero in on the damage celebrity status could do to our heroes. Robertson’s art also doesn’t shy from the sexual and violent nature of the story. The violence and the sex almost feel like they don’t belong juxtaposed with capes and masks, and that gives the very intentional effect of shock here.
Among our cast of characters, the protagonists are certainly not heroes, utilized instead to enhance the same juxtaposition we get from the artwork. A mysterious female with a penchant for hyper violence, a single father desperately trying to raise a daughter, a Frenchman who seems to tow the line between madness and sanity, a plain civilian dragged into this through his own personal tragedy, and their leader, a man who has an impassioned hatred for supers and a brutal vendetta of his own.
In many ways, these are all characters that audiences wouldn’t associate with the main cast of a typical superhero story. Some of them could even be seen as outright villains. Yet, while reading The Boys, it’s hard not to feel almost sympathetic to their cause. Sure, they absolutely do a few things that are completely morally wrong, but as a reader you desperately want to know more about their motivation, about their endgame for all of this.
The story in The Boys is about as Garth Ennis-y a tale as there could ever be, I should know, I review his comics often. It has that edge of darkness he’s so good at, along with a cast of characters you shouldn’t root for but wind up liking anyway. The book has the quintessential mark of being awestruck at some of the things happening within it. This is classic Ennis with an extremely talented artist on his team. That alone is enough for me to recommend that you pick it up, if you haven’t already.
Last, I find myself wondering about rereleasing stuff like this. Do we really need this omnibus, when there have been other versions of it out already? For The Boys, yes, we do. At this particular time in the culture, The Boys is still a very welcomed blasphemy to our new mythology.
The Boys Omnibus
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colorist: Tony Avina
Letterer: Greg Thompson
Release Date: March 26, 2019
This review covers only the first half of this omnibus, but check back next week for part two!
Read more graphic novel reviews with Trade Rating.
Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.