This is a mammoth volume. A full 12 issues of The Boys. Unfortunately it is wall to wall text. Endless talking heads spouting dry exposition. Some of it answers your questions, some of it rounds out the story and some of it sets up the future. It is necessary in a way and there is an argument for getting it all behind you but it is like swallowing a massive lard brick. With Hughie off on his Highland Laddie romp, the humour, which is a big part of The Boys is absent, as is our friendly guide to this world.
There are so many better ways this could have been presented. Even just straight prose would have been preferable. It is hard to believe this is the best Ennis could come up with. It is like he lost all heart. There is no passion or energy at all here. Even the Second World War, something which Ennis usually loves, is flat and dry. Maybe reading it as single issues would be more palatable because trying to digest this volume in one sitting is awful.
Robertson has stepped down as artist and although it retains a similar style it has a much more digital sheen to it. They do put effort in and there are some nice colours, subtle blur effects and good choice of tones. There are some transcripts that pop up (too little too late) which are integrated into the lettering very well. There are some nice covers and issue fifty cleverly ties in with issue one.
This was all set to be a big lemon until the last issue. We escape the talking heads, the story takes a shocking turn and there are some great art choices. Almost too little too late but it guarantees you stick around for the next volume. Just barely a Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 10 – Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker – Garth Ennis
This volume is subtitled the Highland Laddie miniseries and rightly so as it is the polar opposite of everything that has gone before. It seems very out of place set against the sickening majesty of the previous Boys offerings. This is a quiet and subtle tale of introspection, nostalgia and masculinity. Garth Ennis is notably typecast into telling – and telling very well – a particular type of tale. It is so good to see him taking bold steps to showcase the full breadth of his literary range. This story wouldn’t look out of place being discussed some BBC2 arts program.
Wee Hughie goes back to Scotland to deal with the fallout of the previous volume. But it’s not all profound navel gazing and ethereal commentary on childhood. There are flashbacks to his last discussions with The Boys before he leaves and the arrival of a future plot thread. And there is a little mini adventure too. This is a nice diversion on the whole but a very jarring contrast. The change of pace really allows the art to shine as it isn’t smothered by speech bubbles. The character’s expressions, their body language and even the landscapes all play a much greater part in emoting the story as opposed to being decoration around the vast exposition.
As Hughie is in Scotland there is an awful lot of dialect, which is always a tricky area, but you manage to understand most of the colloquialisms. As with all of The Boys there are frequent hidden references to comics, culture and life in general. That is the same here but most of them are British in origin. As such I found them more noticeable and consequently more intrusive. Maybe the faster pace of previous volumes means you don’t get time to notice the pop culture nuggets or maybe Ennis likes shouting about the Dandy.
The art is great as always with a wonderfully captured rural village with fantastic attention to detail. Everything from the cars to the road signs feels authentic, which might be because Belfast born John McCrea takes over the pencils on this volume. There is only one shade of green however which does seem a little drab for the Highlands. There are a lot of flashbacks to childhood which use a partial black and white and partial colour palette which is both original and incredibly effective.
This is great volume; and necessary to heal the emotional wounds of the previous one. But you can’t wait to get back to New York and start kicking arse. I have to say that the Hughie and Anne love story is one of the most profound I have ever experienced. The only other one that comes close is the one in the Preacher, also by Garth Ennis. The man has a gift. Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 9 – The Big Ride – Garth Ennis
This is it. It’s crunch time. Three years and six volumes have been leading up to this. Ennis has been painting us a wonderful picture of a realistic world, an intricate and exciting back-story, realistic villains, and characters we have come to love. Characters that we know will never have a happy ending but that doesn’t stop us blindly hoping they will. We want a happily ever after against impossible odds. This is the volume that sees it all come crashing down.
It’s Garth Ennis for goodness sake. He’s got you by the balls and now he starts to twist. This is an exceptional volume with everyone at the top of their game. The balance between visuals and dialogue is perfect. There is flair and skill in the incredibly beautiful art. The language is spot on. The story is just right. All the elements have come together like a literary conjunction that has been polished till it glows like a supernova.
You know what is going to happen, and that isn’t because the writing is bad, it’s because the writing is good. It’s what would happen. There is no deus ex machina here, just the ripples of cause and effect that have been building since the first volume. I can just imagine Ennis’ smug face as all the pieces of his game fall into place and we get hit with an emotional avalanche. This is how it should be done. Double Thumbs Up!!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 8 – Highland Laddie – Garth Ennis
Last volume was the sex, now this is the violence. The Boys must be taken out and so the Supes get nasty. The first part is an extended fight scene that goes on longer than the infamous scrap in “They Live.” There is a cameo from a previously featured character but it feels rather gratuitous. It does make for a nice break from the dialogue heavy previous volumes but it isn’t The Boys’ greatest strength.
Then we come to the staple of all comic books – the origin story. We learn about Mothers’ Milk in a genuinely emotional and moving tale of family hardship. It also has M.M. doing an incredible impression of Butcher in a superb flourish of language. Then Frenchie who paints this absurd, surrealist vision that is absolutely hilarious. Then the Female, in a pastiche of Akira and an almost word for word scene from the film Aliens.
The art is still top notch. There are some very nice techniques and great visual flair that is finally managing to escape the epic weight of the writing. We do get a few questions answered, or at least some more pieces of what has been puzzling us. This is a pleasant change of pace that makes us even more eager to press on. As always, Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 7 – The Innocents – Garth Ennis
This volume is so blue it’s practically pink. There is so much nudity here you risk blindness and hairy palms just by reading it. But like the proverbial kid in a candy store you quickly become inured to it so it only serves to illuminate the morals and juvenility of the Supes and their political handlers. The art is great and the bold clear colours really bring out the island paradise feel as all the worlds Supes nip off for some covert spring break excess.
As this is an odd numbered volume we learn more about what is going on and what has gone on before. This volume is a cross between Where’s Wally in Pornoland and the Manchurian Candidate. It expertly fuses eye popping titillation and political skulduggery and something bad happens to Wee Hughie.
This is a skilfully told story with masterfully subtle setups and shocking or satisfying payoffs. We are now well and truly hooked and can’t wait for more. Absolutely a Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 6 – Self Preservation Society – Garth Ennis
Just as a car starts in first gear and slowly builds up speed so does The Boys – and some might say all of Ennis’ work too. We have been introduced to the world, the supes, our heroes and their antagonists. Now it is time for things to hit their grove as the pedal gets put to the metal, well almost. This volume is a mystery/ thriller that sees our heroes lifting the lid on the G-Men and seeing what dark secrets lie within. It is a dark secret but handled in a thoughtful and mature manner. There are the cheap shots and gross out humour which Ennis is famous for but they are kept tightly in check so as not to interrupt the story.
A pattern is emerging where the even volumes will be The Boy’s in action off solving a mystery, like the Scooby Gang gone bad, and the odd numbers will delve into their back story. The back story is what you want to know about and these volumes to provide the suspense that makes you crave the answers.
This is mostly dialogue as The Boys are turning out to be very wordy books. Good dialogue I grant you, although our heroes are English, Scottish, African American, French and a mute so there is a great variety of language. There is also a lot of sense being talked. Just as Jonathan Swift and George Orwell used allegory to lift the skirts of the modern world to expose the unsavoury, that is what we have here. But in day-glow humour instead.
The art is still brilliant and has such a rich, lavish feel. The colours in this volume really sing out too. You do get the feeling that the visual aspect is secondary to the writing. Not in terms of quality but in terms of priority. The words tell the story and the pictures are just running to keep up. There are certain sight gags and visual surprises that would be lost if this were a novel and it might not reach its target audience if it were a prose paperback but there is room for a better balance.
I can’t wait for the next one as this is undoubtedly an incredible Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 5 – Herogasm – Garth Ennis
The Boy’s is very much like the X-Files in that some stories will be a “monster of the week” and others will be a mythos episode that advances the grand story arc. This is a great plot story as we learn more about Vought American and The Boys. It is well told in that we get just enough clues about the characters to start putting the pieces together ourselves.
Ennis is a man who likes to take risks. Usually with the profane but this time he gets a bit risqué by retelling the 9/11 events but with supers. The man has big balls indeed and it is actually a very compelling read. There are a lot of his thoughts on politics and religion in The Boys; sometimes it is subtle and clever, sometimes it head-butts you in the face.
A lot of this volume is exposition and even though there are some timely cutaways you do tend to think maybe this episode would have worked better as plain text like Alan Moore would do. The passages are broken up well and the art does its best to help out but it is talking heads and a waste of the medium. The art is superb. There is no evidence of cutting budgets or encroaching deadlines here. Each panel is meticulously drawn with lots of fine details and rich colouring. You really get a sense of quality and pride. There are even some nice touches in the lettering too.
Ennis is great at shock and awe but he is also tells a superb love story with genuine emotion and uncanny observation. He did it in Wormwood and excels himself here. You really feel for the characters but can’t help but fear all the twisted plans he undoubtedly has for them. This is definitely more than a Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 4 – We Gotta Go Now – Garth Ennis
The opening volume of The Boys had some shocking gratuity and a subtle moral message. Volume two switches these around in that the shocks and profanity have almost disappeared and the morality and complex and wordy story has come to the fore. This seems an abrupt change of pace. We learn little of our established characters in favour of telling two self-contained mysteries. The first is a murder mystery which unsubtly pokes a finger at how homophobic our society is and second is a lament on the passing of Mother Russia and an extended cock joke. The two stories are quite bold statements but feel like a detour, allowing us to catch our breath after the first traumatic instalment.
The art is as good as ever with strong characterisation, some good visual storytelling and sight gags. Some nice panels here and there but the art is more serviceable than ground-breaking. There are an awful lot of talking heads so maybe in future there will be more time to shine. Thumbs Up.
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 3 – Good for the Soul – Garth Ennis
The postmodern genre of superhero bashing is now firmly established but this was one of the titles that helped create it. The premise is that people who acquire superpowers, like people who win the lottery or are elected to positions of power, tend to go off the rails. When society can’t tell you what to do any more you tend to give in to base human weakness. When you have superpowers you are opened up to a whole new realm of excess and depravity – and with Garth Ennis at the helm this gets very depraved indeed. To combat these untouchables a special team is needed and these are the “boys” of the title.
It has a slow, but shocking, start as we are introduced to the team and what they are up against through the induction of its newest member. There are lots of references to things that have gone before and people who are no longer with us. This builds up our interest as we are drip-fed enough information to keep us guessing. The characters are intriguing and the superheroes are less than heroic making them easy to deplore. As the storyline progresses the methods the Boys must use get less wholesome and it does make you think if the watchers will become as bad as the watched.
The art is superb with great facial expressions as there is a lot of shock and disgust to portray. The depravity mentioned is frequent but not pornographic. It manages to horrify and titillate in equal measure as there are enough visual clues to make your dirty mind run riot.
This is a good start to what promises to be a grand spectacle of a story that is both shockingly entertaining and subtly thought provoking. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 2 – Get Some – Garth Ennis
Great, you think. Garth Ennis has returned to the Crossed universe he created for a nine issue extravaganza. Not quite. Only the first three issues are written by him in a sort of Crossed novella.
It is astoundingly good. Ennis at his most thoughtful crafts a technically superb story with a strong message and plenty of emotional investment. Jacen Burrows also returns bringing the distinctive style that launched the Crossed universe. He has a great time mixing blood and snow and evoking real atmosphere.
The second, standard length, tale doesn’t try and compete or blend in, or even become a shock and gore fest like previous stories. It has a bunch of very quirky characters and achieves a really unique dynamic. Rather than a group of survivors who tell their origins through flashbacks we cut between three sets of unconnected people who enjoy their own separate storylines before meeting.
This fresh approach and some indistinct narration is a little weird at first but you soon embrace it. The story twists and turns unexpectedly and you might not predict the ending, leaving you with raised eyebrows.
The art for the second story is similar enough to the Burrows template not to feel out of place but makes more use of bright colours. There is also more nudity in this story than any other so far.
Both tales are very good and really different from each other. It is nice to see Ennis return to his creation and have fun with it too. The Crossed themselves haven’t evoked real terror since their first outing and this book has them talking a little too coherently.
Overall a good read and a strong Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Pride of Baghdad – Brian K. Vaughan