While I consider myself a big hero fan, I can’t watch everything at once. Sometimes, this results in me taking a while to get to something that’s been out for some time. That’s the case with The Boys, which I’m just starting now. I’m not going to be as careful with spoilers as I often am, since this has been out since 2019, but I won’t give everything away.
I do find it interesting that when people are doing superhero adaptations where they can’t use the original characters, they so often turn to DC characters. I’ll grant the Marvel movies are better overall, but some of DC’s are the best known characters in the world. Brightburn, obviously, was a different kind of Superman story. The Boys, by and large, seems to be a spin on the Justice League, with a lot of differences. This is not a fun, heroic story. This is dark and grim and has some really unpleasant things going on. That said, it’s also well written and acted, and has some good world building to start. The idea of celebrity superheroes isn’t new (see George RR Martin’s (yes, THAT George Martin) Wild Cards series among others), but they go in some very different directions here.
“The Name of the Game” is the start of the first season, and also the first compilation of the original comics. The show opens with something most comic book fans can identify with; two kids debate movies and which hero would win in a fight. Their discussion gets interrupted when an armored car/police chase comes careening around the corner and it looks like the kids are about to get smashed to bits. Enter Queen Maeve, who appears to be a Wonder Woman analog. She stops the truck, saves the kids, and takes out some of the bad guys, getting a helping hand from Homelander, who is a pretty strong homage to Superman, if a bit more brutal. Homelander seems to get all the attention for the crime-busting and the kids eagerly get selfies with him.
Then we meet Hughie. He works in a home theater kind of store, seems utterly cowed by his boss, and generally doesn’t seem to have a lot going for him. Then Robin comes in, his very cool girlfriend, and they get some good banter. Their plans for the future come to a tragic and grotesque end when super-speedster A-Train smashes into her and reduces her to blood smear. He looks shaken, offers a half-asssed explanation, and then takes off, leaving Hugh in shock. It’s a really grotesque, hard-hitting scene. Out in Iowa, we see an up-and-coming hero doing some self-training and going through some kind of testing process. Interestingly, we learn there are “Miss Hero” pageants, that some heroes have “stage moms,” and that in this world, at least some people are born with powers. This is as close as we get to an origin for anyone, except maybe Hugh. Her name is Annie, she goes by Starlight, and has some impressive powers. She seems very likable, which puts her as a nice contrast for A-Train at least.
Hugh and his father come back from Robin’s funeral, and Hugh’s clearly still in shock. We get an idea how the heroes operate when a lawyer comes calling with a settlement offer and a big NDA for Hugh to sign if he wants the money. It’s just like a celebrity scandal being hushed up. A bored Starlight hangs out in her kitchen, listening to a disappointingly quiet police scanner, when she gets a call that will change her life. After this, we cut back to Hugh and his father. Dad offers a very humbling view of Hugh and their place in the world, and it clearly makes the distraught Hugh feel even worse.
Like a baseball player getting called up the Major Leagues, Starlight has been offered a spot with The Seven, the big, premier heroes of this world, with a huge corporation behind them. Starlight and her mom get brought through a cheering crowd and see some of the impressive facilities that the Vought Corporation has backing their heroes. We also learn they have over 200 heroes in their corporate “family” before The Deep (think Aquaman) gets introduced to the excited crowd, and then Starlight makes her debut, looking thrilled and overwhelmed. Hugh is doing less well as he goes to buy some beer, is surrounded by Seven, and especially A-Train, product endorsements, and has what looked to me like a panic attack.
Things turn ugly for Starlight when she gets her tour of “The Boardroom” where The Seven meet. It starts off as a kind of sweet scene, but The Deep shows his true colors and she learns what she’s going to have to do if she wants to stay on the team. It’s not pretty. One bit I expect will be important later is that we learn The Deep is the second in command of the team, right behind Homelander. In a nice touch, Translucent, one of The Seven, makes an appearance on Jimmy Fallon, and talks about how his powers work. This is playing on the TVs where Hugh works, showing he can’t get away from his torment no matter what he does. He gets a surprise when a man named Butcher comes into the shop and tells him a lot of surprising things about supers in general.
Unsure, Hugh lets himself get talked into going with Butcher and sees a really disturbing elite club where supers go to unwind. Let’s just say most of them don’t live up to their reputations. Butcher shows Hugh some footage of A-Train that enrages Hugh, and makes him agree to Butcher’s insane plan. Back at Vought, Starlight suffers some aftereffects from her earlier encounter, has a brief meeting with Queen Maeve, and we see one of The Seven indulging in some questionable habits.
Butcher’s plan is simple, if risky, and Hugh is stunned as he learns more and more. One interesting note is that, while Butcher clearly hates supers and has some issues with just about everyone, he grudgingly admits he knows nothing bad about Homelander. Speaking of, there’s an autographed Homelander pic as part of the next scene, involving Madeline, the corporate head of The Seven’s operations, and the mayor of Baltimore. We see how the high-level negotiations are done, that bargaining for a hero to be based in your city is a lot like going after a relocating sports team, and hear an interesting mention of “Compound V” which clearly rattles Madeline.
Starlight is all set to tell her mom what happened, but Mom is so thrilled that Starlight holds her tongue. In a bit of coincidental writing, Starlight, as Annie, ends up sitting on a park bench with Hugh of all people. We see Hugh is a really nice, decent guy who does his best to offer some advice about her very vaguely explained “work problem.” Hugh meets up with Butcher and sets their plan in motion with a phone call. Starlight goes to her first meeting, throwing some hostile looks Deep’s way. Translucent complains about unlicensed t shirts and movie pirating, but Homelander brings the conversation around to who they saved this week. Maybe he is the hero he seems to be?
Hugh manages to get into Vought International, and plays his part relatively well. He only makes one small mistake that he seems to cover up for well, but we see that there’s a problem he doesn’t know about. He and Butcher are happy about their success, although Butcher then tells Hugh some things he doesn’t want to hear. Hugh goes to work, at a loss for what else to do, while the Mayor of Baltimore and Madeline do some more negotiating over the phone. Then things kick into high gear to end the episode.
The problem I mentioned earlier manifests in Hugh’s store in a very unexpected and ugly way. Hugh gets some last-minute help from Butcher, leading to several questions about how this scene worked. Eventually, Hugh and Butcher triumph, mostly due to Hugh remembering something important. Hugh gets even more unexpected news in the aftermath of the event. Then, the Mayor of Baltimore gets a lesson in how to play hardball, Seven-style. It’s an ugly end of the show that answers a question from earlier.
What I liked: It’s an interesting world with some well imagined details. Everything seems to be very well put together and thought out. Robin’s death was shocking, but I guess she’s the latest victim of the “Death by Origin” trope, and it certainly set Hugh on his journey. I liked Annie/Starlight, and hope things don’t get as bad for her as they probably will. The Jimmy Fallon cameo was a nice touch.
What I didn’t: I have several questions about the scene in Hugh’s store near the end. It’s a much darker and more depressing world than I usually prefer for heroes. By the end of it, I really wanted to punch out many of the characters, especially The Deep and Translucent. I absolutely don’t trust Butcher.
I find myself intrigued by this more than I thought I would be. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5.