Before I begin, I believe I have to preface this article by mentioning that Seth Rogen, producer of “The Interview” and voice actor of “Sausage Party,” was one of the executive producers of Amazon Prime’s “The Boys.” That might give you insight into the amount of inappropriate sexual references there are in this show.
Nevertheless, I decided to review the show for its merits as a microcosm of America and broader society in general today, rather than focus on the gore and general rated-R-ness of it all.
The main character, Hughie Campbell, played by Jack Quaid, is an unassuming, average guy who doesn’t have the courage to ask his girlfriend to marry him before she is violently murdered by a drug-abusing speedster, named A-Train, played by Jessie Usher.
Campbell is then confronted by vigilante William "Billy" Butcher, played by Karl Urban, who offers him an opportunity at revenge on the Seven, the group of superheroes that A-Train is a part of.
The Seven, run and managed by Vought International, consists of Queen Maeve, Black Noir, The Deep, Translucent, Starlight, played by Erin Moriarty and, at the helm, Homelander, played by Antony Starr.
After meeting Butcher, an interwoven, complex series of events results in the creation of the Boys, this ragtag group of non-”Supes” who do not have powers but tragic backstories motivating them at every turn. This anti-Seven consists of Frenchie, Marvin T. "Mother's" Milk and Kimiko Miyashiro, trained to be an assassin and the only one with powers.
In the beginning, both Campbell and the audience don’t understand what is so bad about this composed, primed group of superheroes. It’s slowly revealed, over the course of the season, just how manipulative and cold-blooded Vought and the Seven have been for years.
Like how Homelander allows a fully-occupied plane to crash just so that he can push for the “Supes” to be militarized. He also later reveals that he was doling out Compound V, the drug developed by Vought to be inserted in kids throughout America to give them powers, to the “super terrorists,” yet another form of manipulation to garner public approval for America’s dependent use of superheroes.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Not only is Homelander a sociopathic, homicidal manipulator, but also each superhero has its own problems. Upon entering the Seven, Starlight experiences blackmail from The Deep for sex. A-Train, as previously mentioned, is an underperforming speedster who uses Compound V as steroids to improve his speed.
The end of season one reveals that Butcher’s wife, Becca, who was raped by Homelander and who he thought had died years ago, was alive the whole time, living in a secret Vought-protected location with Homelander’s son. The rest of the Boys are framed as fugitives, and Butcher is blamed for the murder of Madelyn Stillwell, the manager of the Seven who was ultimately killed by Homelander himself.
Season two starts with the introduction of a new character, Stormfront, who is joining the Seven as the replacement for Translucent, killed in the previous season by the Boys. Starlight, working with Campbell, releases to the media the real origin of superheroes’ powers, Compound V, previously kept hidden from the public. And, after Homelander’s big reveal, Butcher is desperate to find a way to return to his wife.
The best way to describe this show is probably by each societal issue that it tries to tackle — and there are quite a lot. Honestly, I was most surprised by how this show chose to focus on the issues of capitalism. I think racism, marginalization and despotic rulers are all fair game, even in the DC and Marvel Universes where the heroes experience their own troubles with these issues.
Let’s face it: Superheroes in the DC and Marvel Universes are either filthy rich (Batman or Iron Man) or well-off (Superman and Spiderman, who both literally share the same job of being a reporter).
They never want for money, and they are always portrayed as their own independent entity, except for maybe the first Iron Man movie when Tony Stark realized that Stark Industries was making money-selling weapons that ended up in the hands of terrorists — but even he had the luxury of shutting down that department in his company.
In the universe of “The Boys,” the superheroes are man-made. Vought paid families to let them inject Compound V into their babies, producing their very own superheroes. From inception to roll out, these superheroes are merely products of Vought. Many parents, including Starlight’s, did not even tell their children about Compound V, instead claiming that the powers were given by God.
Thus, these superheroes don’t have money nor a personal identity — they are all owned and operated by Vought. This pessimistically speaks to how capitalism really works in this country, that we are born thinking we belong only to ourselves and then find that we are all controlled by advertisements and the companies we buy from.
While the superheroes are quite literally a product of Vought, how are the people buying into Vought’s propaganda any better? Upon getting accepted into the Seven, the majority of the superheroes’ time is spent on filmmaking and product placement. The industry the superheroes create is absorbed and sustained by the wide-, starry-eyed fans of the heroes.
In season two, we are bombarded with compilations of the superheroes on set for their new movie, as part of the Vought Cinematic Universe, a parody of the comic-book universes of today, on press tours for the release of that movie and advertisements for random products.
In episode one, they directly poke fun of the movie “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which was notoriously criticized upon release, by saying “everyone loves a team-up” and “sequel after sequel.” The problem is that everyone did want to see a team-up between Batman and Superman, yet hated the movie that came out of it.
Essentially, no matter if you have powers or are bullet-proof, you are still controlled by capitalism. In this case, Vought owns superheroes, and yet, they still freak out when Compound V’s existence is released to the public and their stocks plummet. If even the existence of superheroes can not stop the ticking of the stock prices, I shudder to think about what can.
I guess it’s no surprise then that in this messed-up, tragically corrupted world, there is still racism, epitomized by the character Stormfront. Initially, Stormfront seemed like a breath of fresh air, calling out the superheroes for focusing on filming a movie instead of protecting the world. It soon becomes clear that she is merely “peddling the same s*** that people having been peddling for a thousand years,” said showrunner Eric Kripke.
“We sort of intentionally misdirected (her) in the beginning for the frankly disturbing reason that, if you look at a lot of nationalism and white supremacy these days, it’s online,” Kripke said. He is talking about how Stormfront portrays herself as just another believer in law and justice and how easily everyone believes her due to a few memes.
One guy even takes it upon himself to murder a convenience store owner in cold blood because he profiles the owner as a terrorist, influenced heavily by the propaganda espoused by Stormfront.
It's later revealed that Stormfront is a literal Nazi and due to her influence with the Seven, prevents A-Train, a Black superhero, from rejoining after he was unceremoniously tossed out of the group for having a heart condition from his drug problem.
Vought’s CEO, Stan Edgar, is also a Black person, yet said, “Compound-V raised our stock price. It’s not ruthless. It’s prices per share, that’s all …. It’s not about me. That’s a white man’s luxury … When, Mr. Butcher, in history, has it been about anything different?”
Stan acknowledges that Stormfront is a racist and a bigot but that he did not believe himself a powerful enough individual to change to circumstances. Thus, it is now more apparent than ever that even with multi-ethnic, powerful figures in charge, there is still inherent racism within the system.
Then there is sexism. Of course, this was heavily discussed when Starlight came out about The Deep’s sexual assault. In this season, they decided to take a different direction and make fun of “Avengers: Endgame,” specifically that scene — you know you know it — when all the female superheroes came together for one brief screenshot.
“For ‘girls get it done,’ a lot of that came from our executive producer, Rebecca Sonnenshine, who came in after the weekend ("Avengers: Endgame") opened. She was just furious. I saw it, too, and I was like, ‘That was the dumbest, most contrived—’ And she’s like, 'Don’t get me started,’” Kripke said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“The Boys” turns this whole aspect on its head with a scene in the final episode where all the superhero girls take turns beating up Stormfront. Easily the most cathartic scene of the whole series — I know I was whooping and cheering — the girls actually are getting something done, unlike in “The Avengers,” where they merely walk forward in silent solidarity.
This show is amazing at drawing parallels between characters and institutional entities with their real-life counterparts. Consider how Homelander heavily draws from Superman’s characteristics, clothing colors and cape, or how The Deep is essentially Aquaman. The Church of the Collective in “The Boys” is inspired by the Church of Scientology.
The Church of the Collective is so tightly intertwined with Vought that it can even decide to help superheroes return to the Seven as long as it serves as its mouthpiece. I think this just further speaks to the disillusionment of superheroes, that they believe themselves to be the spokesmen of God but are merely regular humans used for human purposes.
Last but not least, where would this show even be without politics. In season one, it was all about entering superheroes into the military. In season two, it was all about exposing the faults of Vought to Congress. In either case, politicians, largely without superpowers of their own, control the superheroes.
While most politicians seem like corrupt scumbags, Victoria Neuman, played by Claudia Doumit, is introduced this season as the savior of America from overpowering superheroes. She presumably fights for the people in calling out the corruption of superheroes.
It is revealed in the last episode of the latest season that, in fact, she might be corrupt herself — go figure. She actually has powers herself, the ability to explode heads — kind of out there, if you ask me. Yet she is easily capable of handling herself while hiding her power and manipulating the rest of America to fall in love with her.
Corruption, in and of itself, is not what surprised a lot of fans. Rather it is the striking similarities between Neuman and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a young woman of color in Congress. Her far-leaning Left alignment has caused conspiracy groups to criticize and other congressmen to berate her. She is a symbol of radical change, but change that I, and a lot of people my generation, believe will be good for America.
“The Boys” portraying Neuman as a deceitful, run-of-the-mill politician calls into question what their intentions are, according to Slate. Are they trying to paint Ocasio-Cortez as a radical, just as conspiracy groups are trying to?
While I truly hope they can find a way not to go down that route, I can understand that “The Boys” creators might want to show how any power is corruptible on either side, conservative or liberal. Nevertheless, I am conflicted over the motivations behind Neuman’s character and wonder what they have in store for her. We will have to wait until season three to find out.
Before watching “The Boys,” I had this veneer over my eyes, thin enough that I could look out from underneath but still there, covering my eyesight just enough so that I could ignore the obvious, concerning underpinnings of the concept of superheroes.
When I thought about the prospect of superheroes seriously, which I did upon seeing this show, I was genuinely terrified. I thought that if there was someone with unlimited powers like Superman, I would be scared that he would use that power against me or my family. I also realized that I would be scared by whatever government-owned him.
It’s great to believe this imaginary, independent beings who only do indiscriminate good, but that really is just a fantasy. In a world controlled by stocks, perception, racism, religion and politics, I also feel like I am protecting superhero by not wishing them into existence in the first place, because, honestly, it would take much more than just a superhero to navigate today’s societal pressures and shackles.
I think this speaks more to what we should be doing as people today. No hero can singlehandedly take on all of our problems, but I like to believe in the Hughie Campbells, the awkward, no-good, directionless misfits of today that optimistically believe in changing society. That is something I would pay to watch, even if it comes out an episode per week.