Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Boys, Volume One: The Name of the Game (Issues No. 1 - 6)

The Boys, Volume One: The Name of the Game (Issues No. 1 - 6)
Dynamite Entertainment; $14.99, June 2007
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Darick Robertson

If you commute to work via public transportation, then you know what a lifesaver a good comic book can be. A gripping plot spirits you away from the shouted cell phone conversations, the ever-present reek of urine and sweat, and the general jostling that you are subjected to as a passenger. “The Boys Volume One: The Name of the Game” trade paperback had taken my brain so far from the train that I may as well have been in my own fortress of solitude… until I turned a page to reveal a full-length image of two buck-naked, sweaty cartoon people having sex (doggie-style, no less) and shouting expletives at each other (we’re talking F-bombs, here). I was suddenly reading obscene cartoon porn in plain view of a massive crowd of people crammed into a little box with nothing to do but cast furtive glances at each other. Needless to say, I snapped the book shut.

But I had to know what happened next! The need to read torment me. And that is what The Boys is all about: A tale so gripping - yet so depraved - that you will feel anguished for enjoying it. Don’t let that stop you. Read this comic. It’s going to be legendary.

On the surface, The Boys is the story of an anti-hero team that has reformed to police the world’s superheroes on the C.I.A.’s tab. (The American government being the only country with enough money and paranoia to fund such a motley crew.) By no means a public organization, The Boys shepherd the superheroes with sordid and dirty tactics ranging from blackmail-crafted public humiliation to all-out street brawls, in order to remind them who’s really in charge of this globe. However, the corrupt capes and the revenge-bent (or otherwise-demented) anti-heroes are simply the Capulets and the Montagues in what promises to be the most vulgar, riveting and gut-wrenching Romeo and Juliet story to ever grace the pages of a comic book.

The Boys are a unit of four men and one woman: The Frenchman, Mother’s Milk, Butcher, The Female and Wee Hughie. The Female (“of the species” as she is parenthetically noted when she is introduced, which provides a gleeful hint to her primal nature) is a silent, petite, Asian version of Transmetropolitan’s Yelena, with a penchant for literally ripping the faces off of her targets. She isn’t overly developed in the first arc; in fact, she hasn’t spoken a single line yet. You get the sense that Garth Ennis is masochist-ly savoring the buildup to her breakout moment. Mother’s Milk is a Luke Cage-type Bad-ass, with a soft spot. He can makes the Feds jump with a snap of his fingers, but he can’t discipline his own daughter. The Frenchman resembles (to me) Desolation Jones. Darick Robertson claims in his sketchbook notes in the back of the book that he was concerned about making him look too much like Spider Jerusalem. Teetering on the bipolar edge of insane rage and boundless affection, The Frenchman sports a trademark set of red goggles and some very expressive crow’s feet.

The protagonist with whom we are to identify, Wee Hughie (our Romeo), is the focus of the first arc. The Butcher is trying to recruit him as the fifth member of The Boys. Hughie is intentionally drawn to look like Simon Pegg (most famously Shaun, from “Shaun of the Dead”) and of all the sketchbook extras included in the back of this trade, Wee Hughie’s are the best because they show the trouble that Robertson had trying to capture the (as he puts it) contradictory combination of “innocent but tough determination” that Ennis wanted the character to portray. Wee Hughie’s got every reason to whole-heartedly jump into The Boys’ work, but he’s too realistic of a character to be that one-dimensional.

The supes in this world are a hierarchal mishmash of regional teams, with the “The Seven” at the top of the heap. Annie January, a.k.a. Starlight, (our Juliet) is the newest member. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cleft-chinned and barrel-chested (were you expecting anything less?) team leader is the Homelander. The rest of the team comprises Queen Maeve, a big-breasted lush of a valkyrie; a be-goggled speedster named A-Train; the dark knight Black Noir; Jack from Jupiter, the token alien; and The Deep, who is, as far as I can tell just a guy in an antiquated diver's suit (possibly a statement on the ridiculousness of all aquatic, yet land-faring superheroes?).

There’s not much else I want to reveal about The Boys, because I don’t want to be a spoiler. There are plot points that create new arms in the superhero mythology. There are scenes that push the limit of deviance and moral acceptability, which are nonetheless entertaining and therefore confounding. The events and conversations that happen in first volume of The Boys will make you laugh out loud, and also occasionally blurt “Oh, fuck!” and “Holy shit!” The Boys houses a collection of plot twists and turns, one-liners and quote-able quotes that, when you meet your mates out for a pint later in the evening, you will recount with relish, as they were something that happened to you during your day. Jings! Did I mention this should be for “mature readers only”?

P.S. The Boys is, according to Wikipedia, a creator-owned property, which vouches for its genuine depravity and creativity. The first six issues were originally published by DC-owned Wildstorm, before Dynamite took over.

1 comment:

Matthew Jent said...

Hunh. I only read the first two issues that came out, and I've had such trouble connecting with any of Garth Ennis's other post-PREACHER work that I just didn't think it was for me -- it seemed to have PREACHER'S vulgarity without the heart. So I never got to the love story you mention -- but that makes it sound really interesting. I'll have to pick up the trade.