Superheroes are easily satirisable and deconstructed. Probably the most famous graphic novel, Watchmen, is a deconstruction of both superhero tropes in general and DC’s then-recent acquisitions of Charlton Comics’ superhero characters. But probably the most famous and earliest superhero TV show the average person can remember was a satire.
Amazon’s The Boys, itself based on a comic by Garth Ennis that was a thinly veiled satire of DC’s Justice League, is therefore not exactly a pioneering, radical idea. We’ve been here, done that, seen the Robot Chickens about it.
So super-original it may not be, but that doesn’t mean it’s got nothing to say – or that it’s not interesting.
At first glance (and first episode), The Boys looks like it’s a simple idea: what if superheroes were real? And not just real, but like celebrity actors, musicians and sports stars? Sure, they might originally have got into it to save lives. But with all that cash from movie appearances and endorsements, as well as the political influence they could acquire, how long would it be before they started caring only for number one, rather than the little person?
Against that backdrop we have the story of electronics salesman Hugh “Hughie” Campbell (Jack Quaid). His dad (Simon Pegg, upon whom the character of Hughie was originally based) is a big superhero fan, Hughie less so – particularly when the fastest man alive The Flash A-Train (Jessie T Usher) stops paying attention for an instant and literally runs through Hughie’s girlfriend, killing her.
Soon, Hughie is thinking dark thoughts about the spectacularly uncaring A-Train and other superheroes, particularly Vought International’s top flight team ‘The Seven’.
Meanwhile, good Christian girl Annie January (Erin Moriarty) is over the moon to be joining the Seven, having idolised the likes of Superman Homelander (Antony Starr), Wonder Woman Queen Maeve and Aquaman The Deep (Chace Crawford) practically all her life. However, when the Deep suggests that for her to be assured of her membership, she might have to do something for him (hint, hint…), that dream soons turns into a nightmare.
Annie and Hughie’s paths soon cross, but it’s the meeting between Hughie and the oddly accented Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) that’s soon to transform their lives. Butcher runs a little anti-superhero operation called ‘The Boys’. The supes are corrupt and he’s going to take them down. And soon Hughie is helping him. By sticking cables up people’s butts.