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March 31, 2015 10:38 AM   Subscribe

"The Boys, in many ways, is about how to kill the unkillableand unsurprisingly, an analogue for Superman is at the center of the story. But Superman, I can see them killing. Kryptonite, magic, red sun radiation, just being bigger and tougher, or just realizing that he is one man who can be in one place at one time, and can be managed. There are enough stories about Superman getting killed that we know it’s possible. But Superman’s owners? Not the culture that he’s part of, but the Warner Brothers Corporation that claims him as IP? That dodges through legal maneuvers and drags out court cases, that intimidates and strongarms, all in the name of securing the brand of Superman even as they could care less what Superman stands for as a character?" A lengthy meditation on The Boys, the ultraviolent, ultratransgressive and problematic-but-still-fascinating superhero comics epic as written by Garth Ennis.
posted by mightygodking (39 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I made it three or four TPBs into The Boys before I gave up entirely. If you're curious about The Boys but don't have the time or money you need to read it, just imagine the

sexual violence as comedy
person being mauled by animals
person being caught having sex with an inappropriate person/animal/object
person sustaining a graphic injury that gets treated as a sight gag for the rest of the series
message about how sexism, racism and homophobia are fucking stupid, followed by some sexist, racist, homophobic bullshit storytelling

that Garth Ennis puts into fucking everything that he writes, and add capes.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2015 [12 favorites]

Am I alone in finding the linked article completely insufferable?
posted by wuwei at 11:16 AM on March 31, 2015

Preacher just tried so, so hard, bless its heart.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:21 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I actually liked the linked article - probably more then I liked The Boys.

Garth Ennis is one of those authors where I'm just never certain whether the brilliant outweighs the puerile. He's like bizarro-world Warren Ellis - so close, but still not ... quite ... right.
posted by Myca at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

I enjoyed Preacher. I kind of felt that series was of a parody of a less over-the-top version of itself. Ennis can at least be thoughtful, which is more than I can say for Mark Millar. I've never read The Boys. Anybody here read it and enjoyed it?
posted by echocollate at 11:35 AM on March 31, 2015

I'm all about Hitman and his Punisher personally. And the war stuff, and that latest Fury thing that nobody read despite it being goddamn amazing.

The Boys suffers from classic Ennis mid series slump and, yes, all of that other stuff, but has it's moments. Anything with The Legend is gold, the various origin stories for members of the team are high points and the ending is suitably apocalyptic. Also Ennis sticks the landing which is not to be underestimate in comics.

Probably not the top of my violent superhero parody recommendations and certainly not my top Ennis, big solid enough.
posted by Artw at 11:41 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Preacher has a Bill Hicks cameo which I loved at the time but now makes me think, wow, that's super fucking 90s. It's about an inch from having Silent Bob show up in it.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on March 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

Preacher is so many cool ideas getting into a really nasty car wreck with so many bad ideas, and then the emergency responders can't tell which car each person was in before the accident.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2015 [17 favorites]

Preacher is

Well then... message received.

I've been tempted to pickup Preacher a time or two... but not being *that* into comics but loving good stories told well in any medium has made me keep my distance.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:53 AM on March 31, 2015

I've read Preacher but not The Boys, but the fact that the Wikipedia entry quotes Ennis as saying the series would "out-Preacher Preacher" gives me a pretty good idea of what I'd be in for.
posted by Gelatin at 11:54 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Probably not the top of my violent superhero parody recommendations . . .

Don't leave me hanging, Artw.
posted by The Bellman at 12:11 PM on March 31, 2015

I love both Hitman and Preacher. Haven't read this one yet.

For those who like it: Preacher is going to be a series on AMC it appears.

Hitman is probably one of my favorites... it's got great humor and it's got a lot of heart. It almost seems like The Boys is creatively related to the Hitman series given that the superheroes in Hitman are also at best dubious and that there's a secret government hit squad that tries to manage and dispose of them as they deem necessary.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:19 PM on March 31, 2015

I don't think that Preacher holds up very well, frankly; a lot of the things in it that seemed audacious for the time, particularly as comics in general of the 90s were much enamored of the hyper-exaggerated anatomy and detail favored by the sort of artists who went on to form Image (which has, dig it, actually turned into one of the more interesting comics publishers since then), have since been reused many times by Ennis and other writers, and a lot of the key plot points--such as that the Grail, which over the course of the comic proves itself to be spectacularly incompetent, could nevertheless get the power to singlehandedly trigger WWIII--just don't make a lot of sense. I've heard rumors that it's going to finally get a pilot (it had been rumored during its actual publication to be considered for a movie adaptation, which is why, about midway through the run, Jesse Custer suddenly started looking like Johnny Depp on the covers), but if it does get picked up as a series, it will be very interesting to see how the source material is viewed both by people who likewise loved it back in the day but haven't looked at it for fifteen years, and by new readers.

Talking about Preacher being adapted for TV or film leads me to the thing that's oddly missing from the above longform essay about The Boys, which is that, for a series that's ostensibly an allegory for how comics companies treat their creators, their characters, and their fans/the general public, it's also nakedly one of Ennis' recent gambits at becoming Mark Millar by creating a franchise or franchises of his own in other, more profitable media. (Millar famously got Samuel L. Jackson to play Nick Fury by reimagining the character for The Ultimates; he also based the main characters in the comic of Wanted on Eminem and Hallie Berry, although getting James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie instead wasn't a bad pair of substitutes.) In Ennis' case, Hughie is very obviously based visually on Simon Pegg, something that seems to have escaped this writer's notice or not been considered worthy of commentary. (Pegg has expressed some interest in playing the character, but I haven't heard anything solid about it actually being adapted for TV or film.) And most of Ennis' other major works recently seem to have been gauged toward establishing a similar moving-media-friendly franchise: Jennifer Blood, who is basically the Helena Bertinelli version of the Huntress crossed with the housewife-assassin of The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Crossed, which is about as shameless a grindhouse exploitation of the zombie-splatterpunk axis as you could find. Quite a lot of space in these books is taken up by various bits of metacommentary that seemed tailored to assuage readers (or maybe just Ennis himself) that there's more going on there than there really is. As you might have noticed in the art bits excerpted in the essay, The Boys has an awful lot of monologues in it, to the point that you could be forgiven for believing that Ennis was pulling a Dave Sim and publishing an extended rant in comics form. (In between the more risible moments, of course, none of which are really shown here, but some of which approach Crossed in the gore-by-the-tanker-truckload category.) Probably almost none of this would make it to the screen. Sometimes I wonder if Ennis has read anything that Greg Rucka has done, or ever considered trying to emulate Rucka's relatively sparse prose style.

Also, I'm guessing/hoping that what Artw is referring to is Marshal Law.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:26 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed The Boys but I have to say Mills & O'Neill did it better with Marshal Law.
posted by MikeMc at 12:28 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have to say Mills & O'Neill did it better with Marshal Law

...which was brilliantly parodying the Nineties Anti Hero trend almost before it began.
posted by Gelatin at 12:32 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The film version is going to suffer more than The Watchmen did as far as cutting out enough content to get the movie into theaters.
posted by Renoroc at 12:34 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't leave me hanging, Artw.

I'd probably recommend Hitman over it, for Ennis dping Superheroes in a cheeky manner. After that I'd probably go for Marshall Law, which is a pretty similar premise to The Boys but utterly insane in the way that only Mills and O'Neill can make something.
posted by Artw at 12:36 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Basically, if give a chance at making his angry political and sociological points subtly and effectively, or sabotaging them with teenage gross-out humor, Ennis will always go or the latter. He could be a great writer, but he ALWAYS screws it up.
posted by happyroach at 12:41 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eh, I'd read his war stuff, or the Punisher MAX run, or Fury: War Gone By.
posted by Artw at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2015

I found this interesting:
But all around Tumblr, I hear demands that Marvel create, say, a transgender superhero, or recast an existing one as transgender. I ask myself “why not just create your own? The cost of paper and bandwidth rounds down to zero.” But I know the answer, because there are tons of writers and artists who do create their own, and it won’t have a millionth of the impact as product put out by Disney or Warner Brothers. A superhero not at Marvel or DC may as well not exist, due to the stranglehold they have on the marketplace and the more nebulous concept of mindshare
posted by MartinWisse at 12:49 PM on March 31, 2015

Oh, and Hitman, where he does input but it all works together well and doesn't sink into Ennis-tropes-for-the-sake-of-Ennis-tropes.
posted by Artw at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2015

Oh, and it goes without saying, but the linked article is very good and very on point re:the strengths and weaknesses of The Boys.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also got through the first 3 volumes of The Boys before getting tired of the slapstick approach to ultraviolence. If I took a long enough break, I'd probably go back to it? I did the same thing with Preacher, though. I like the idea behind The Boys, just not his particular approach to it.

I'd always understood that Simon Pegg gave permission for Hughie to be based on him -- could be wrong, though.
posted by tracicle at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2015

I’m pretty sure I’m not a socialist – but in the parlance of modern politics I may as well be, standing for such radical ideas such as “governments should spend less money on swords and more on plowshares,”without going so far as to say that all governments should be dismantled yesterday.

"All governments should be dismantled" is pretty much the opposite of socialism.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:32 PM on March 31, 2015

Yeah, the essay is great and really pegs some of the conflicts in progressive action through the framework of this comic.
posted by mobunited at 1:33 PM on March 31, 2015

He's like bizarro-world Warren Ellis - so close, but still not ... quite ... right.

That's a great way to put it. IMO, much of his output reads like an attempt to out-gonzo Transmetropolitan (or perhaps early-period Iain no-M Banks). It's often somewhat entertaining, but never quite seems to hit the target.
posted by bonehead at 1:38 PM on March 31, 2015

I thought that was an excellent essay:
In a narrative wrestling with big social issues and the creeping specters of militarism, espionage, corporatism and celebrity, Ennis understands you need a throughline that grounds it all, because at the heart of every story are people. It’s people that need social progress towards acceptance of themselves. It’s people that need to be wary of authority, whether it comes wrapping in the flag, flanked by lawyers, wearing a cape or wielding a cross. It’s for the sake of other people – people we care about and people we love – that we are moved to change the world, to be a Eugene Debs or a Susan B. Anthony. Society was built for people, and any part of it that harms people is a part demanding our vigilance – even if that part of society is telling you that it’s there for your own good and there’s no getting rid of it regardless.
Thanks for posting it!
posted by languagehat at 1:39 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am curious to see how the tv adaptation of Preacher comes out as it is very much of its era, as is Ennis's sensibility in general. It's all sort of from a period in our culture where a fairly large subset of young people believed that art that was meta/ironic/transgressive should be afforded a great deal of leeway in its more problematic aspects. Now only am I not sure how that will wash with new readers/viewers today, I'm not even sure how people were down with that ten years ago will take it now.

I think a lot of comics readers are probably in the same boat as I am, which is to say that younger me greatly enjoyed Preacher and The Boys even as older me looks back on that stuff and is wary of revisiting it, because I know I won't be able to gloss over all of the sexual button-pushing, excessive violence, and fucked-up ideas about virtually everyone and everything.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2015

"All governments should be dismantled" is pretty much the opposite of socialism.

Heh. Marx and Engels would disagree with you there, what with their withering away of the state.
posted by Artw at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I loved the hell out of Ennis's work on the Punisher. He did wonderful things with that title: a comical, cartoonish run that had occasional serious moments, followed by a darker and far more thoughtful run. He did a great job of using the characters around Frank to tell interesting stories while still holding true to Frank's core.

The first Fury limited series was likewise golden. Funny, grim, and eager to show the character in all his glory while also examining his (and his culture's) very real flaws. And while I've never read the whole Hitman run, everything I did read was awesome.

Ennis also gave us Frank Castle running Wolverine over with a steamroller, and that's something the world desperately needed.

I'm sad to hear that he's hitting so many ugly notes with The Boys. It's been a long time since I seriously followed comics, but I always thought Ennis was one of the better writers.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2015

Eh, it's a bit of a mix. its perfectly possible to enjoy what works about it without being too thrown off by the bits that are a bit Ennis-autopiloty, but they are what keeps it from being stronger.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read and own all of Preacher, but I wouldn't necessarily read all of it again. I think the Ennis book I like best is his take on Enemy Ace: War in Heaven.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:18 PM on March 31, 2015

As a comics book reader, I must say that I really like Garth- he's an interesting storyteller, good with a joke, who has original humane characters and trenchant insights about authority and faith. It's too bad that he always writes in partnership with Ennis, his conjoined twin- Ennis is a hateful homophobic gorenographer who never matured mentally beyond the 7th grade, and who is filled with raging misogyny and a desperate overcompensating longing for hypermasculine iconology.

If only there was some sort of medical procedure that could separate Garth from Ennis. Then I could read Garth's interesting comics all day, and Ennis could finally be free to just pursue his rivalry with Mark Millar and Rob Liefeld. Alas.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 3:47 PM on March 31, 2015 [10 favorites]

Man, I loved Preacher. There are a bunch of single pages that are so great... the one about the guy who spends 10 years digging ditches so he can write "FUCK YOU" in letters big enough to be seen from the space shuttle.

The Boys was good for a while, then I read A Man Called Kev which contains enough violent nonsense for this or any other decade. Also, what LeRoienJaune said.
posted by sneebler at 6:31 PM on March 31, 2015

sneebler: "the guy who spends 10 years digging ditches so he can write "FUCK YOU" in letters big enough to be seen from the space shuttle. "

This is a really apt metaphor for Ennis' work.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:34 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think his Punisher runs were all great - Ennis was basically extruded from a machine in order to write that book - but for the most part all his other stuff is just one big roiling miasma of sameness and Scottish accents and cigarettes being lit and the flame is reflected in dark sunglasses worn at night and it's black leather jackets and it's the "pints" issue, which is 32 pages of characters drinking pints.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:27 PM on March 31, 2015

turbid dahlia: "Scottish accents"

This would get your genitals mauled by a wild animal in any Ennis book.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:28 PM on April 1, 2015

Whoops I meant the other "ish".
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:55 PM on April 1, 2015

32 pages of characters drinking pints.

I turned 40 recently, which I celebrated mostly by sulking, but I did think about that Hellblazer issue a lot.
posted by Artw at 6:32 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

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