I love comic books. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a kid and my mom first introduced me to them. I grew up on X-Men, Black Panther, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, The Avengers, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, all of the classics. And then the 90s happened. And I discovered alternative comic books, the ones that subverted or deconstructed all of the comic book stories I’d read as a child. Books like Preacher, Spawn, Lady Death, and others that gleefully wanted to push the boundaries of what the medium could do.
And then there’s The Boys.
Garth Ennis is a talented writer. He has become over the years one of my favorite comic books writers, particularly because of his run with Preacher and The Punisher MAX series. Both of those runs showcased a subversive and diabolical sense of fun while maintaining a strong moral message (underneath the complete lack of morality shown by many of the characters in those books).
And then there’s The Boys.
I write that again because I’m actually not a terribly big fan of the source material for the series. I’d heard of it before the show started, but I’d never read that comic series. It wasn’t until I watched the first season of Amazon’s “The Boys” that I finally sat down over a weekend and read the comic. And I was not ready for it. All of the often tasteless and crass elements that had been in Preacher were in The Boys, only amped up on Red Bull and cocaine. While there are elements of the comic I love, it is not for the easily offended. And there were times that it went too merrily down dark and twisted roads in its storytelling (which doesn’t normally bother me, since my brain goes in dark and twisted directions rather easily).
Which is a long way to getting to the review of the second season of “The Boys”. I loved it at times and there were times I didn’t enjoy what was put on screen. It’s not a perfect show by any stretch. But it is a strong shot in the arm for our culture, particularly since we’ve spent the better part of a decade and change neck-deep in comic book movies. The brilliance of the show and the comic is taking the concept of what it would really mean to have superheroes (or Supes, as they’re referred to in the show) living in the real world. It would be a nightmare and the show dives headfirst into that.
The moral heart of the show is Hughie and Starlight (Annie), a normal guy who lost the woman he loved to an indifferent superhero and a superheroine who is coming to grips with the role she’s chosen to take on. Annie and Hughie’s relationship gets tested rather strongly in this season but their bond is solidified over the course of the episodes. I can’t help but root for these two characters, despite the persistent dark tone of the series. There are nuances to their relationship that I find both relatable and realistic. This isn’t a cookie-cutter romance. Instead, we get two people just trying to figure out who they are and what kind of person they want to be in a world that is built to not be forgiving to normal people.
I’m going to avoid getting into spoilers but I have to say I enjoyed the arc involving Stormfront, the newest member of The Seven introduced in this season. In a departure from the source material, Stormfront is a woman and a media-savvy one at that. It’s a masterstroke of storytelling that she is pitted against Homelander initially, who is a spot-on version of what Superman would be like if he didn’t get raised by Martha and Jonathan Kent. The course of Stormfront’s character arc and what she is made to represent is timely and topical. It’s part of a broader conversation that art should be having.
And make no mistake about it: “The Boys” is art, despite the gross-out humor, the deviant sexuality on display at times, the crass language, and the admittedly over-the-top violent spectacle that surrounds the show. Beneath all of that, this is a character-driven rather than plot-driven story. With a few exceptions, “The Boys” Season 2 broadens the world established in Season 1 and reveals more about the people in it. Not all of the characters are likeable, even the ones we’re meant to root for like Billy Butcher (who is masterfully portrayed by Karl Urban). But this is art and art should have a message. After watching the second season, you should be able to determine easily enough what that message is. Or you can just enjoy the violence, sex, and language and call it a day.