From producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, THE BOYS is a new series based on the popular graphic novel that puts the “not suitable” in NSFW. Since it’s shaping up to be a summer short on superhero blockbusters, this series will be right on time and right in the middle of the heatwave. So start your countdown clocks now: THE BOYS debuts on Amazon Prime Video on July 26th. That is t-minus thirty-five days from the start of the summer!
If you haven’t been closely following the world of comic book adaptation, THE BOYS has the same executive team that brought us AMC’s version of PREACHER. This new series seems poised to make good on the promise adaptations always make: to not crush any hope that the source material will be recognizable on our screens. In fact, the debut poster cites the comic book’s first issue cover art beautifully.
THE BOYS ARE NOT VIGILANTES
In case you missed the comic book boat, THE BOYS is set in a super-heroic dystopia. The titular group consists of Butcher, Hughie, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman and The Female. Together, The Boys surveil, blackmail, and punish those “supes” who blatantly abuse their powers. Too many articles and listicles claim that The Boys are vigilantes. They are not. The Boys are kind of like a black ops unit that works with (and sometimes for) the CIA. They are a secret but official monitor for superheroes in a world very loosely based on the DC universe. Just imagine if that DC-ish superhero universe went the way that Batman predicted it would go in the original DARK KNIGHT series. Then imagine that a team of superhumans with assorted axes to grind against popular superheroes were empowered to grind away.
That’s THE BOYS comic book series. Its popularity or its infamy depends on who you ask. It all stems from the dark perspective of the stories. The comic series is like a bleak mix of WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT, and every other dystopic comic book story ever told. All of these earlier stories deconstruct our accepted ideas about superheroes. The twist in THE BOYS is that Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson take a relentless approach to exposing all of the repressed sexual tensions in the modern superhero.
WHO’S PLAYING WHO
You can judge a lot about the potential for a successful adaptation by the show’s initial casting choices. THE BOYS seems to be doing just fine in that respect. Casting Karl Urban as William Butcher makes great sense. Butcher’s characterization relies heavily on his British brogue. Urban is going to have to sound like him, but this shouldn’t be a problem. Urban played Eomer in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. He played William Cooper in RED (2010). Urban played McCoy/Bones in STAR TREK (2009). He also played the titular character in JUDGE DREDD (2012).
Urban’s Butcher will be the front man for The Boys. His starring rolls in LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR TREK, JUDGE DREDD, and THOR: RAGNORAK (as Executioner) show that he has range. Each of these characters is radically different from the other, and these performances show that Urban can play the good guy and the bad guy — the judge and the executioner. He will have to be both as Butcher.
Billy Butcher was originally named “Savage” by comic book creator and TV series executive producer, Garth Ennis. Comic book artist and THE BOYS co-creator, Darick Robertson, says he could not get the visuals right on Butcher until he embraced Ennis’ insight that the character has a “dark, cruel smile of malicious intent.” Let’s hope that Urban embraces this same insight for his performance as the series’ most brutal boy.
A BOY’S POV
Jack Quaid from RAMPAGE and THE HUNGER GAMES films plays Hughie. If the show follows the comics, then Hughie will be the character who provides the audience with the most accessible point of view. He is recruited into THE BOYS as the story begins. Through his perspective, readers (and viewers) will come to question the motivations of The Boys and their violent blackmailing ways. Hughie needs to come across as an ‘Everyman’ (or boy). Quaid has just enough charisma for this role. More importantly, he can play up the youthful naiveté required for Hughie’s character. This performance will be key for the audience’s reluctant ride along The Boys’ violent missions.
WOMEN IN THE BOYS
There is no sign of Susan Rayner in the released trailers and teasers for THE BOYS. Jennifer Esposito will play Rayner, who is a pivotal character in the comics. However, she is also an important foil for Butcher. In the comic book series, Rayner and Butcher engage in what can best be described as hate sex. Their earliest scenes in the comics are not for kids, and not for those who still think comics are just for kids. Esposito is an incisive casting choice. Her TV credits include: NCIS, Blindspot, The Affair, and Blue Bloods, amongst many other roles. Susan Rayner is tough and sinister, but she is also mysterious. She sharies a complicated history with Butcher. Don’t be surprised if Esposito’s Rayner ends up being one of the fan favorites of the TV series.
Erin Moriarty will play Starlight. Butcher, Hughie, Rayner and Starlight are probably the four most important characters in THE BOYS’ first story arc. That is, if the tv series follows the comic book series’ chronology faithfully. Either way, Moriarty is a solid choice for the wide-eyed Annie January, aka Starlight. Starlight’s arc early on in the comics is problematic. That is a deliberate spoiler-free understatement. Readers and viewers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that Starlight could be played by any actress with a certain look. Clearly, Moriarty’s roles in True Detective and Jessica Jones mean that she has experience acting in darker, more explicit television series. She will need that experience to effectively portray Annie January in THE BOYS.
HEDONISM OVER HEROISM
From the beginning, THE BOYS is explicit in ways that few other comics would dare to be. Have you ever wondered about the homoerotic nature of the Batman, Robin and Nightwing “ships?” Look no further than the “Get Some” story arc of THE BOYS. Have you ever questioned why superheroes always have impossible bodies and an irresistible desire for wearing masks and Spandex? Again, THE BOYS goes in on these staple superhero tropes. It also exposes some of the readers’ own secrets, even as it exposes the “why” and the psychological “how” of the superhero genre. If you have ever wondered what happens when super-fast, super-strong beings have sexual relations with normal folks, then THE BOYS has some answers for that, too.
The first few story arcs of THE BOYS are decidedly explicit. There are many sex scenes, as well as allusions to a few rape scenes in each of the first three story arcs. Ennis and Robertson thoroughly expose the unchecked power of superheroes. They raise serious and important questions about the comic book industry itself, too. Moreover, for THE BOYS creators, a logical extension of unchecked superhuman power is an almost universal acceptance of hedonism. The “supes” in THE BOYS are the bad guys in almost every way possible. On page after page and in story after story, Ennis and Robertson reveal that superheroes being bad usually involves some kind of kinky expression of repressed desires. That said, the TV series will need to be savvy about how explicit it will be. How Freudian the TV show becomes will depend on how closely it mirrors its source material.
THE MISOGYNY PROBLEM[SPOILER ALERT] You can be sure that a comic book and TV series titled THE BOYS would have issues with girls and women. So yes, THE BOYS has a misogyny problem. For instance, Butcher refers to “supes” as “cunts.” Annie’s initiation into The Seven — THE BOYS’s variation on the Justice League — is basically a gang-rape scene off panel. The origin stories of Hughie and Butcher require a fair amount of “fridging.” Believe it or not, this is only the tip of the iceberg. You can credit the characters with their hatred of women, and you can consider misogyny as just another feature of a dark world where superheroes are more hedonistic than heroic, but all of this comes from the minds of THE BOYS male creators. Too much of this is deeply disappointing if, in the real world, we understand the basic premise that women are human beings.
The Female is the only female character on The Boys’ team, and she does not speak one word throughout the first 14 issues of the series. The Female can’t even take the Bechdel Test, much less pass it. Thankfully, Amazon’s THE BOYS is an adaptation. Therefore, one important change the TV show has made is in The Female’s character. In Amazon’s version, The Female actually has a name. Plus she has a different backstory and an arc through which she reclaims her humanity. That alone might make Amazon’s THE BOYS worth watching this summer. The Female is played by Karen Fukuhara, who was the relatively silent Katana in the SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) movie. She also voices Glimmer in Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
THE BOYS WILL BE THE BOYS
If it sticks close to its source material, the Amazon version of THE BOYS will be distinct from any other superhero content on television or available via streaming services. The comic series eagerly inherits a certain anti-hero legacy from WATCHMEN and other comic narratives. Clearly, these kinds of stories run counter to our accepted ideas about heroes as good guys. Thus, The Boys will surveil, blackmail, and attack the heroes of their world, and by extension, THE BOYS will deconstruct everything we know about superheroes in our world.