The Boys Comic-Con panel hit SDCC, but got lost in the shuffle of other big news. Based on a comic by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robinson, it imagines a world where superheroes exist, and they are just the worst. Thus, the titular group, led by Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher, seek to bring down these superheroes. Jack Quaid’s Wee Hughie and Erin Moriarity’s Annie January/Starlight are the unspoiled protagonists through whose eyes this corrupt and cynical world is laid bare. Full of action and humor, this series will likely go down some dark roads before it finishes up. The question everyone needs to consider is whether or not the live-action superhero crowd is ready for such a bummer of a tale. With “TV-MA” series from Marvel’s Netflix shows to DC Universe’s adult fare, will The Boys just be violent and shocking for its own sake?
Either way, we’ll find out because the series premieres on Friday, July 26, 2019 on Amazon Prime. Shortly before The Boys Comic-Con panel kicked off, the streaming giant announced that the series would return for a second season. This shows remarkable faith in the show and its ability to draw in or, at least, maintain subscribers. It also speaks the series’ quality, because if it this was just a violent cynical mess, Amazon might simply let the single season stand alone. Still, there will be violence. Clips shown at the Comic-Con panel reveal that two of the costumed heroes maim and horribly burn two armored car thieves. In The Boys first trailer, we see the Flash-clone A-Train kill main character Hughie’s girlfriend, leaving him holding her severed hands.
Who Are the Boys?
While The Boys Comic-Con panel didn’t dive too deep into the original graphic novels’ histories, surely for spoiler reasons. You can take a look at our in-depth explainer about the series (also light on spoilers) to learn more about them. In short, they are a group of people with special abilities (not necessarily “powers”) who are able to “spank” the superheroes of their world. These figures are less like the superheroes we are familiar with in Marvel and DC. They are managed by a corporation that ultimately created all superpowers. Both the heroes and villains are more akin to professional wrestling than the type of “good” versus “evil” mentality that we are used to. That’s where The Boys come in. They look to check the power of these godlike characters who care very little about the collateral damage they cause.
Details from The Boys Comic-Con Panel
The panel began with show creator Eric Kripke, the man behind Supernatural, saying that Amazon was the perfect place for the series “because they bought the pitch.” A joke, he went on to say that Amazon believed in the idea and gave them the freedom to really tell Garth Ennis’s story. Kripke and the cast spoke about how timely the story felt, specifically how institutional figures meant to inspire and protect people aren’t what they seem. This story highlights concerns about lack of accountability in authority figures from community-level civil servants to the highest offices of elected power.
The Boys Comic-Con panel was just a question-and-answer session with fans, so we didn’t get too much insight into the larger story. Though this is something they will want to keep close to their chests. The characters are mostly the same, both with the “anti-heroes” and the “supers.” One change comes in the form of Madelyn Stillwell, played by Elizabeth Shue, who was a male character in the comics. Stillwell is the head of “Hero Management” at the Vought Corporation. Still, the heart of the series seems to be the same as that of the comics, the characters of Hughie and Annie coming to grips with the realities of the world they find themselves in.
The Age of Superhero Deconstruction Arrives
What was not discussed at The Boys Comic-Con panel is the larger question about superhero deconstructionism. When The Watchmen first debuted, comic book readers never really faced morally flawed characters before. Sure, the characters we know and love have problems, but typically their failings were not of the moral variety. Yet, after 20 years of comic book films on big- and small-screens, are audiences ready to look beneath the cowls to the dark and sinister nature of what it takes to be a superpowered vigilante in a grounded world? They weren’t ready when Zach Snyder tried with his take on The Watchmen, which though successful didn’t have the impact that the graphic novel had. It also didn’t land when PlayStation did their adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers, but this could be because people weren’t signing up for PlayStation’s service to watch superhero stories.
So, it will be interesting to see if The Boys sticks its landing and garners the reaction from comics fans that the books did. Superhero properties are still big business in the ongoing Streaming Wars, and Amazon needs some. Still, with adult fare soon to be found on both Hulu, DC Universe, and HBO Max, The Boys might be too much of a bummer for your casual comics fan. It’s a compelling story and there are lots of mysteries to be mined for drama, so hopefully that will keep fans coming back for more.
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Featured image via Amazon Studios
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.