Top critical review
No reader-gasm here.
Reviewed in the United States on February 19, 2010
When this series was initially launched, I was quite intrigued by its premise. After all, a secret government sanctioned group of spies charged with the mandate of keeping the superhuman community in line, sounds great on paper and a recipe to entertain the comic reading masses, ad infinitum. So I made a mental note to pick it up after it had 'reached maturity,' which is to say, after it had several storylines collected. (I don't buy single issues.) Having now purchased all the volumes that are available, I'm afraid my assessment is that Ennis' powers here are waning, and that while the basic premise of "The Boys" is excellent, the weak execution here doesn't do it justice. Herogasm, the latest volume in this series, best epitomizes the basic failures of the series so far. I wrote this review because although other reviewers have mentioned the general weaknesses, I didn't feel any of the reviewers were specific enough on why the series wasn't working.
As all humanity is warned of an impending threat of massive proportions approaching from space, we discover that in reality, the superhuman community is simply using that as pretext to collect in a secret location to basically have sex. It's what you might imagine a convention of only porn stars might be if they were also superpowered. The titular "Boys" use this as an opportunity to gain valuable intelligence on the operations of Vought American, a huge corporation trying to take over the government, and in the midst of planning an actual assasination/coup. The Boys discover the terrible secret in time to throw a wrench into the works, but not before the de facto leader of the degenerate superhuman community, 'Homelander,' a thinly veiled allegory for Superman, experiences an epiphany about the various "possibilities," his unique position and powers, may give rise to.
It all sounds quite good on paper but the execution is weak to middling. The problem here is that Ennis is lacking none of the excellent storytelling focus he is known for, and many of the volumes in this series prove to be over the top self-indulgent parody or satire that ultimately take us nowhere or tell us nothing new. First, the stories are meandering and generally rather obvious. In most cases, the endings or "plot twists" are telegraphed from the first chapter. In a previous volume, a murder mystery takes four or five issues to take us back to the initial suspect in the first place. In another volume, "We Gotta Go Now," the grand "twist" at the end of the story is so glaringly obvious that, by the time of its reveal, its lost all power. It also doesn't help that Ennis sets up so many disturbingly hilarious moments intended to shock or gross the reader out, that by the end of it, nothing has any shock value at all.
The second problem is that Ennis hasn't thought his characters or his concept through well enough in the early stages. Although 'The Boys' team is made up of five seemingly interesting characters, three of them appear to serve little purpose for most of the series and have ill-defined roles. The only character who's properly fleshed out is "Wee Hughie," and to be fair, the series is about him. The problem is the other characters are ever-present but appear to have no real purpose per se. It's likely that Ennis has plans for all of them, but some of the initial stories might have been more impactful if some effort had been made to flesh them out earlier.
But the greatest failure of all is that Ennis keeps making the same point over, and over, and over and over, which seems to be that he doesn't like superheroes, that corporations are corrupt and run the government, and that in the real world, people with abilities such as those who tend to be in comics, would likely become self-obsessed, corrupt, degenerate individuals. Which is all fine. Satire has its place and in comics at least, this is a fairly new genre. Ennis is making a straight on, comedy/satire of superhero tropes. But none of the "superheroes" actually do any superheroing in the book, and while that isn't the main point, without that basic ingredient, it's hard to take the Boys mission as A Watchmen of the Watchmen, seriously. In fact, because Ennis hardly ever shows how these so-called heroes actually cause harm to others, he undercuts the purpose of his principals. Sure, they're a pretty disgusting group of people, but for the vast majority of issues, they appear to be doing nothing but harming themselves, so that when they're set upon by the true heroes of the series, it just seems like the Boys beating up on sick people because they're sick, which is a bit pointless. Two exceptions to this are when Hughie is introduced in the first issue, and when we learn of the 7's role in a nine eleven type incident, but these events are so few and far between that as readers, we don't remember why these obviously disturbed and disgusting superpeople are being harrassed and or slaughtered by the titular characters.
There are also some huge plot holes that stretch credibility even in a series like this, the most obvious one involving Hughie and his relationship to a young woman, who also happens, unknown to Hughie, to be a member of a famous group Hughie's team has under constant surveillance.
It's not that this series is without any merit. Some parts are genuinely funny, if not also rather disgusing, and the characters are thinly drawn enough that you want to like them. But it's clear that Ennis hasn't properly thought his characters, concept and storylines through. Buy one or two of the earlier trades for the satirical punch and to satisfy curiousity, but otherwise, leave this one alone.