I grew up on superhero comics. Spiderman and the X-Men were my favorites in the beginning. Righteous heroes in brightly colored spandex saving the world from dastardly villains. I stayed mostly on the Marvel side until I finally read The Dark Knight Returns and absolutely had my mind blown.
I had never read a comic like this. One that was so grounded, that gave the characters such a feeling of reality. It was probably the first time someone ever called a comicbook “gritty” and continues to be the standard all others are held up to.
Once I had my taste of darker comics, I searched for more. I found Kabuki by David Mack and proceeded to lose my mind and my allowance as I searched for every issue and every side story. (This is one of my few comics that survived the Great Purge of Maturity.) This transition led to me searching for comics that had writing that stood shoulder to shoulder with the amazing art. I discovered Powers, The Authority, Alias, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Monstress…tons of comics that took me away from spandex-clad supes and into worlds of strange powers and even stranger characters.
(I know, I know, there are plenty of other amazing comics I fail to mention, much less haven’t discovered yet, or read! Help me out and let me know which ones are your favorites in the comments.)
The Authority and Powers were both especially significant to me because they represented a new angle on the superheroes that I’d grown up with. Both books tackled the tropes in different ways and birthed new, amazing stories.
And then I found The Boys.
I think I read the first two or three arcs of The Boys. It was amazing. It was like all the other takes on the superhero genre, chopped up, thrown into a blender and then served in a beer mug with a chaser of straight grain alcohol. It was vulgar, crass, and turned the dials past eleven in every way possible.
Without being too spoilery, The Boys takes place in a world where the superheroes have been commoditized and turned into corporate resources. Billy Butcher leads a ragtag team of misfits called The Boys who act on behalf of the CIA to keep discreet tabs on the supes and then take them out if necessary.
As if the books weren’t enough, The Boys is yet another entry in our current Renaissance of comic to TV adaptations. I just finished season three on Amazon Prime and I couldn’t be happier. The books were great, and then the adaptation went and made everything better. Where the books had more broadly generic themes, the TV show has razor accurate social commentary and satire. Honestly, at times it’s hard to watch, and not because of the exploding heads, exploding bodies, exploding animals…you get the idea. The show runners did not shy away from the blatant vulgarity of the books, like the real world physics of what exactly happens when an invulnerable superhero runs flat out into an ordinary human (hint: it’s not pretty).
But, the sex and violence is just the shock value of the story. The Amazon adaptation has done an amazing job building on the source material and growing a group of relatable characters in a deep and fully realized world. The cast is amazing, and the performances are top notch. Despite the outlandish spandex in bright primary colors, every character is a fascinating shade of gray.