Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: The Boys Vol 1-4 by Garth Ennis

Grade: D
I read these on someone else's recommendation: a librarian who went so far as to put them in my hands. He's had some good suggestions for other reads, so I went with this one and felt obligated to finish them. But I didn't take long doing it.

There's an interesting concept underlying the series, which is that a group of supposedly normal guys goes around keeping the superhuman jerks in line through nefarious means. The idea is that pretty much all the superhumans, at least the ones with public personas, are scumbags celebrities who abuse the puny humans around them without a second thought.

But that concept is buried under the sheer grossness that author Garth Ennis (whose last name, if there is any comedic justice in the world, must rhyme with "penis") can't seem to help indulging in. Calling his writing crass and juvenile is an understatement. Faces ripped off, multiple graphic and gross sex jokes played out in panels, people wallowing in their own shit, being urinated on, vomiting, and so forth. It's all there, more than once.

I get the impression that Ennis wants to come off as though he's poking fun at all the sick, twisted stuff that he writes about with comic glee, as though this is some sort of satire of a world brimming with demented sickos. To me, he comes across as a mentally disturbed writer with an obsession with bodily fluids and violence. Or possibly someone who fantasizes about being a superhero so he can have sex with rogue meteors and treat everyone around him like crap. Let's keep the radioactive spiders and power rings well away from Mr. Ennis, please.

Some of the plotlines, like the story of how the corporation Vought American became so influential through it's creation of superhumans, are pretty cool. Some might have been interesting if they hadn't gone so over the top. For example, a planned Russian coup involves keeping 150 superhumans cooped up in a warehouse until the big day when they will be set loose upon the city--except they're all unknowingly programmed to have their heads blow up on command. This would have been interesting with a dozen superhumans. But Ennis is like that guy from Spinal Tap--he just wants to keep turning the knob up to 11. He is the OverKiller.

Occasionally Ennis seems to be trying to slip a message about the corrupting nature of power and celebrity into these storylines, but it falls flat for many reasons.
  • His insights are not that original aside from the levels of depravity he associates with the supercharged Caligulas that he puts on the rosters of his thinly disguised mockeries of big name DC and Marvel group.
  • Even his big "shocker" reveals are pretty damn predictable. His Professor X knockoff is a pedophile who has abused all the members of his teams when they were children. Believe me, by the fourth volume in the series, I saw this coming very quickly.
  • We're supposed to empathize with the actions of a team of psychopaths going around blackmailing and killing superpowered sociopaths. Because their extreme violence and vigilantism is directed only at really awful people, it's okay. All publicly known superhumans (except ONE) are scum. It's not even a consistent premise, because the members of the Boys are all enhanced with the same formula that gives the superhumans their powers.
The underlying concept is interesting. It could have been handled much, much, much better, with better characters (there are exactly two likable characters in the whole series), more coherent plots, and without resorting to so much crude, endlessly repeated adolescent "humor."

Oh, and like a lot of Scottish comic book writers, Ennis seems to have a bug up his ass about the United States, though he also has characters claiming to love it in spite of its flaws. But just a suggestion: when you come from a small island that feels the need to draw extremely sharp distinctions between people of Scottish, English, and Welsh ancestry, it's a bit ridiculous to poke fun at Americans for celebrating their various hyphenated ancestries (Irish-American, Italian-Amerian, Mexican-American, etc) because "nobody wants to be like anybody else" or they're all searching for an identity because America has none.


Aaron DaMommio said...

Hahahaha. Now when I read this, do I blame you or what? The ideas you've mentioned are tantalizing.

Maybe what we should do is sanitize some Ennis books. "Your Mother's Garth Ennis."

Doug said...

You could quickly rewrite about half Ennis's work on these comics simply by copying and pasting [Insert dick joke here], [Insert anal sex joke here], [Insert excrement reference here], etc.

Aaron DaMommio said...

You're saying Ennis could be replaced by a very small shell script?

Doug said...

As long as it could randomly access entries from something like alt.rec.foul-humor, then yes.