(2007) Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, Titan Books, £9.99, trdpbk, 148pp, ISBN 978-1-845-7-6494-3
Who watches the watchmen? The Boys, that's who! Billy Butcher (and his bulldog, Terror), Mother's Milk, The Frenchman, The Female of the Species, and their newest recruit, Wee Hughie. Superheroes have always been ripe for parody, but rarely has it been done with such flair and style as by Garth (Preacher) Ennis and Darick (Transmetropolitan) Robertson. Originally published by the independent imprint Dynamite Entertainment (Spitfire Productions Ltd), the first six issues have been collected by Titan Books in this volume. The story begins when Billy Butcher decides to put The Boys back together, following the election of the superhero-hating President, Dakota Bob. A former version of the group went into semi-retirement following the death of a member's grandchildren (which part of the backstory will be expanded upon in subsequent volumes), but now, following a White House directive, the CIA need The Boys back again. Especially as the Vice President is in the pocket of the Vought-American corporation, backers of the elite superhero group The Seven (loosely, ahem, based on the Justice League). For Wee Hughie, whose look is based on Simon (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead) Pegg, who provides the introduction for this volume, it begins when the love of his life, Robin, is squished between a bad guy and a wall by the superhero A-Train, of The Seven. In the meantime Starlight, formerly of the teen supergroup the Young Americans (who have ties to the Republican Party and the religious right), is trying out for The Seven to replace the Lamplighter. The final part of her initiation is to give fellatio to the Homelander, A-Train and Black Noir! In this universe superpowers are acquired through the use of the drug Compound V (also known as Blue, because it's side-effect is to turn one's faeces blue) - all that stuff about gamma radiation and dying aliens is just PR. There are something like 200,000 superpowered individuals in the world, and they all bear watching, the good guys too because "If you can dodge bullets or outrun tachyons or swim across the sun, you've better things to do with your life than save the world for the two hundredth fuckin' time. One day, you might twig what you're really invulnerable to is your humanity. An' then God help us all." And, as Butcher explains to Wee Hughie, superheroes' 'casualty allowance' (the number of civilians considered an acceptable loss during operations) is set three times higher than that of the police force, even though they're not trained, licensed or authorised. And no one stands up to them because, of course, people are scared of them. Which is where The Boys come in. Which is why the CIA need them to "remind 'em whose Boss at a moment's fuckin' notice". Just to let the superheroes know The Boys are back, they target the supergroup Teenage Kix, bugging them and taking surveillance photographs which reveal their drugtaking, whorehouse orgies, homosexuality, self-harm, and one of them stealing painkilling drugs from terminally ill children. One of them will have to fall on their sword in order to stay in business, and keep the modelling contracts rolling in. Following the successful operation, The Boys are betrayed, which leads to a rumble in which one of the Kix is killed by Wee Hughie, superpowered himself now due to an injection of Compound V...
Amid all the sex and violence and brilliant humour, Ennis has, in a relatively short amount of space, set up tons of backstory, at the same time as foreshadowing further developments. Who was Mallory, and how did his grandchildren die? Who is The Legend, and why does he help Butcher? What happened to the Lamplighter? Did the Homelander really rape Butcher's wife? Who are Mother's Milk, The Frenchman and the Female of the Species? What do Vought-American want with The Seven? And so on and so on... Ennis's humour, twisted though it may be, is given full reign along with the sex and violence, graphically illustrated with loving detail by Robertson. This is, without a doubt, the best book Titan have brought out for a long time. Let's just hope it gains the following it deserves so that we can have lots, lots more of it.
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