The Boys: Perfect Convalescence Reading

I’ve often struggled with the idea that life is pointless, that I won’t have any lasting impact on my environment (less a fear actually, and more of a reality). As far as I can see, this is not an uncommon concern and on a good day, it can be a way to get me off my arse. Unfortunately, lately my general pointlessness has become glaringly obvious, and pretty much unavoidable. I’m in the middle of week two of a couple of weeks off work, I’ve been consigned to bed (or at least staying horizontal) for much of the day, while I allow my slipped and herniated disc to heal. My grandpa used to describe people he perceived as stupid or useless as “a piece of meat with two eyes”, and while I lay here I’m seriously starting to feel like that. Working off the frustration with this isn’t an option.

The BoysAt first I thought I’d enjoy upbeat entertainment. I thought “let’s cheer myself up with fun, light reading and funny/sweet movies”. It was driving me crazy and I didn’t even realize it, until (in a desperate attempt to find something new, on the strength of the one issue I read for the Pick of the Week Podcast a few weeks ago) I  bought all three volumes of The Boys. This turned out to be a drastic change of pace, and a much needed one at that.

This comic plugged straight into the tired, cranky, pain-infused part of my brain, and gave it some nice big stomping room. This comic is right up my alley. It is about a crazy, renegade, disparate group of five foreigners (unofficially called The Boys). Working for the CIA (in a completely covert capacity), using all sorts of nasty means to regulate the violent and careless super-powered degenerates that the government can’t control. I love reading books where people ruminate on what Americans are like, and authors use fiction to throw American culture into stark relief, and there is bags of that. It’s always great to examine superpowered people as if they really exist, with real emotional content, shown in the context of our flawed and dysfunctional world.

When it first came out, I missed this book simply because I shot myself in the foot with graphic designer prejudice. I didn’t like the font that they use to write The Boys (ridiculous reason), so I glanced at the book on the shelves and didn’t open it. Lucky for me, when I filled in for a sickly Conor on that Pick of the Week Podcast, The Boys was on the review list. It shows what a great service the Pick of the Week Podcast is, because while I probably read at least 5 books that I wasn’t very interested in, it introduced me to something that is precisely my kind of thing. From the minute I picked up The Boys, I was so damn happy. I haven’t plowed through a comic that quickly in ages, not something new, not with that kind of enthusiasm. Was weirdly refreshing, oddly liberating, just fun – simply good, dirty, angry fun. Exactly what I needed.

SpiderI think I’ve said this before, but I’m terrible with names, which means that I don’t know if I like a particular writer until years after I’ve repeatedly read and enjoyed their work. Having said that, I’m perfectly willing to admit that it’s possible that I’ve always been a huge Garth Ennis fan, and just never knew it. I know I really enjoyed Preacher, and his work on Punisher as well… and I really don’t want to be some kind of typical cliche of an English person that fawns over English writers, so I’m not going to go into whether I specifically enjoy Ennis’ style of brutal literature… But I think I might. Having said all of that, I’m a bit better with remembering artists names. Do you remember Transmetropolitan? It’s one of those Warren Ellis books about a cranky guy who complains and antagonizes people. I love that kind of thing. Well Darick Roberston is a co-creator, and there seems to be a perfect communication between artist and writer here. Ennis’ caustic wit and Robertson’s filthy sense of the ridiculous, combine to create a marvelous package. Apparently Ennis gives Robertson more time with the scripts, (which probably makes the work more fun), but the main advantage to us as consumers, is that Robertson has the time to do the inking as well as the drawing. This means that the comic has a far more of a cohesive mood, and a really top notch consistent visual standard throughout. Roberston does a fantastic job of wedding cartoony over-expressiveness with vulnerable humanity, so that even the most outrageous situations have a visceral, friendly quality to them.

HugheSimon PeggThere is a lot going on here that I hadn’t really encountered before from Ennis. It’s a book about a team, which is a ton of fun, it leads to all sorts of dynamics and variables that just never come up when authors focuses all of the weight of a story on to one person and their own personal quest. Ostensibly, we’re only inside one little guy’s head (“Wee Hughie”, who looks like Simon Pegg, which is bloody funny), but we are following the whole team, and seeing them and their mission unfolding from all points of view. There is a promise of individual origin stories to come, with focus of the different aspects of the story onto them. His main character is basically passive, just going with the flow really, since life proved itself to be pointless and difficult. But he isn’t hardened and bitter, and definitely isn’t unrelenting in the way that Jesse Custer or The Punisher was. Instead he’s soft and scared and deeply human. In this way, as a reader, Ennis gives a nice easy jumping in point for the violence, mayhem and depravity. We can relate, kind of, because he’s fresh and flawed, confused and principled, exactly as any regular nice person would be in a similar situation.

I’m a big proponent of truth in advertising, and this is a book which let you know the first issue that it was going to be brutal. My friend Heather expressed discomfort about the beginning of the book, and that’s fair enough, (she immediately described the brutal accidental death of Hughie’s girlfriend, which starts him on this whole journey). True, the main character’s origin story is terrible, just tragic and ridiculous. But also funny and horrific too… Which to my mind is much more like life than the drama or seriousness that is usually constructed around death? Ennis takes the preciousness out of the violence, and reminds us that there is nothing poetic or graceful about  death. He forcefully shows that the concept of superhumans is deeply flawed, that it’s just more of the same ridiculous, clumsy, erratic, dangerous behavior that we all already exhibit on a daily basis, but with the added (very dangerous element) of superpowers.

SquashedIt takes a certain kind of mindset to like that kind of thing, and while I’m not saying that I seek out gore or violence in my comics, it certainly doesn’t bother me in the context of a good story. A lot of the time our lives are stupid things, filled with silly mistakes and pointless coincidences, occasionally punctuated by moments of (similarly silly) joy and delight. Mash all of that together and life is really just too silly to be taken too seriously. So while I’m glad that the book doesn’t hide it’s horrors, I wish that more people could see past what might seem like a cavalier attitude to destruction and loss, and instead see that humor is really one of the very few sensible reactions to a tenuous and messy thing like life.

During the podcast in which I first read The Boys, Josh mentioned that he felt that the series isn’t reaching it’s conclusions fast enough, or things aren’t happening quickly enough. I couldn’t say how that feels, since I just read 3 books in two days, which feels like a rich and speedy journey to me (but that’s the problem with reprinted books, compilations of monthly comics – we never understand how frustrating it’s been to watch the story slowly unfold). I have to admit, that while I see that there are a lot of loose ends and things waiting to be revealed, I’m not feeling any lack or missing anything yet. To me it is just entertaining to see the team wrangling the superpowered imbeciles. I suppose that, like life, in some of the best comics there is no destination (or at least it’s important not to specify one), the journey is the destination! More than anything I’ve read in a while, I’d have to say that this feels that way. I know that Butcher and Hughe and his compatriots have a target in mind, an end to their work, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m just along for the ride and I’m feeling lucky to be on it.

 


Sonia Harris’ herniated disc is resting in San Francisco for another 6 weeks. She’s working around said disc (as graphic designer) from bed, which is more difficult than you’d think, and a lot less fun. Please send your completely random and inexplicable email to her at sonia@ifanboy.com.

Comments

  1. "The Boys" rules!

    Tech Knight was ridiculous!  Gay Tech Knight was a crazy read.

  2. I can’t help thinking this book is my kryptonite… but a lot of people I trust have vouched for it… but I definitely have a low nihilism limit in my life. I should just flip a coin.

     

  3. Stopped reading The Boys in issues because there are just too many lulls in the course of things. It’s a pretty good series, overall. But sometimes the grossness doesn’t pay off in any intriguing or thoughtful way till way down the line.

    In issues all you are left with till that Tech-Knight resolution are some gay jokes, a rape scene and hamfisted speech. Much more satisfying in collected chunks. Could do without all the women in the book being sexually brutalized though.

     

  4. Well said Sonia. I’ve loved The Boys since issue 1, and I think, while over-the-top sex and violence can grow tiring, the fact that this book is so smartly written keeps it fresh, and keeps me coming back month after month after month. Garth Ennis is always touted as this anti-cape writer, but I sometimes wonder if he secretly harbors a love of the genre since he keeps writing stories in it. Ennis doth protest too much methinks…

  5. This article is complete bollocks.

  6. That issue we talked about on that episode was my last issue.  Ironic.

  7. my grandmum has slipped disc too, i gave her the boys but she didn’t like it… what a bitch

  8. @KickAss Ya know, I never really read Tek Knight as gay, more like his brain tumor made him want to put his penis in any and every thing.

    @Labor I can only imagine how frustrating it’d be to read this as a monthly book. What freaks me out is that I haven’t found it to be particularly gross… Maybe my standards are messed up? And the whole debasing women thing that happens… I don’t want to come off as overly negative, but I think a lot of male power is expressed this way, particularly in this country, and so I enjoyed seeing someone lampoon it. But I could be wrong, I might just be in a violent mood because I’ve been stuck in bed for too long.

    @JoeCasey Only a professional writer of your standing could be this articulate and expressive.

    @josh Yeah, you said something about that… although I share a lot of your taste in comics, I think I have a much bleaker sense of humor than you do.

     

  9. "I really don’t want to be some kind of typical cliche of an English person that fawns over English writers, so I’m not going to go into whether I specifically enjoy Ennis’ style of brutal literature…"

    Garth is not English. He’s Irish. Let’s just keep that clear, shall we? Some of us have issues with that distinction. Not that there’s anything wrong with the English… I like Warren Ellis a lot.

     This along with "Welcome to Hoxford" (by that Aussie git, Templesmith) are my favorite books right now.

    Darick’s art rules and Garth tells a great story. More people should buy this book. I demand it.

     

  10. Ouch.

    — Love, a Professional Writer

  11. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Is it possible that he was born in a province straddling the border between England and Ireland?  On the Iberian peninsula or whatever it is?  Damn pocket Atlas.  

  12. He was born in Holywood. Northeast of Belfast.

  13. He is British however, technically.

  14. Ah, well technically I guess you’re right Flanagan. It all depends on your point of view I guess. Either way he writes some of the best stories around.

     

  15. Oh man, you’re right! He is British, not English (for you Americans out there, there’s a BIG difference). Maybe next time I will do some research (nah).

    Have you noticed that most of the people commenting are my friends making fun of me? I love you too guys!

  16. All English are British but not all British are English.

  17. Wow, I came in to see what "The Boys" was about and learned a bit on regional relationships halfway around the world.  Thanks iFanboy, two thumbs up.

  18. Oh yes, it’s a big mistake. It’s like if I mistook a Canadian for an American.

  19. @sonia I enjoyed this article, especially as a graphic designer stuck in bed due having surgery on his lower back. I have been doing a lot of trade/ graphic novel reading to cheer me up. Example: I just bought and read the Scott Pilgrim books and reread Watchme and I think, like you, the bleaker moments of the books I’m reading I really enjoy. I just may have to check out The Boys. I’ve had many opportunities and the owner of a comic shop I went to before moving kept trying to push it on me, and again like you, something about the issue covers I never gravitated to. Nice article, as mentioned before, but thanks for helping me lose money since Iprobably have to add this to my que with Criminal vol. 2.

  20. I gave up on reading this in singles, but will gladly continue with the trades.

  21. Next to Walking Dead, this is my favorite monthly. Sonia hits on all the reasons I love this book. However, I can occasionally get behind gore-for-gore’s-sake, or gore-for-joke’s-sake (i.e. the Hughie oral sex thing).

  22. Garth is Northern Irish – some of us have a problem with him being claimed by the ‘Irish’ and the ‘British’.

    He’s from 10 minutes up the road from me! 

  23. I’d buy it if I had money.

  24. @Dan Re: the oral sex thing. These things happen, I liked seeing a bit of the dirt of dating make it’s way into the pages. Gave it a human element. 

    @theronster You’re right, and I wish I’d done my research. I hope I haven’t offended, and if I have, I apologise. Maybe a lot of people here won’t understand this, but having grown up in warring countries (no matter how small those countries might be compared to the US), this is not a small issue.

    My point should have been that I tend to gravitate towards writers who write American comics, but aren’t from here. As a 50/50 UK/US mongrel, I have always felt like a bit of an outsider, and that’s probably why I enjoy that that kind of perspective and commentary on a culture that I’m ostensibly part of.

    @gwiz Maybe you can find second-hand copies online? I doubt the library will carry it, but you could try suggesting it, just to see the reaction.

  25. Great article, The Boys is one of those books that really push you to drop it sometimes. The characters are so good though, that you can’t help but keep reading even if you feel like the current arc is really slow. I think i’ll keep reading until the end.

    I like the Transmetropolitan mention, that’s one of my faves as well.