After a long comic run, and arguably a more successful, mainstream three seasons (so far) of television, The Boys has firmly cemented itself as one of the more unique takes on the superhero genre. Does it share some similarities and tropes with other more widespread and well-known IP’s? Sure. Does it follow the same beats of other television shows both in and out of the superhero genre? Sure. It also does so much more.
If you’ve seen even one episode of The Boys, you’ll have picked up on the comparisons and similarities to some much more famous characters; Homelander is a more psychotic version of Superman, The Deep is a sexually assaulting, desperate for validation and power version of Aquaman, A-Train is The Flash, and the most recent addition to the litany of super’heroes’ is Soldier Boy, a warped, racist, bigoted version of Captain America. Other than powers and slight costume comparisons that’s where the similarities end though.
Imagine An Average Person With Superpowers
Whilst in the past you’d have been sat in the cinema on opening night waiting to see Captain America best Red Skull, Thor destroy a wasted Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, or Spiderman getting duped by a VFX maestro in Mysterio, nowadays you can sit in the comfort of your own home, switch Prime on and watch a much more realistic version of how – in my opinion – the average person would react when given great power.
In The Boys pretty much every single hero is nothing more than a PR exercise in making the worst of us seem like the best, saving the occasional person or making multiple appearances on talkshows etc, and the rest of their time is pure, gluttonous, self-indulgence. Whether it’s drugs, sex, murder, or as mentioned, an abuse of their powers resulting in rape and sexual assault, there’s very few redeeming features to many of the heroes.
That, in my opinion, is what makes The Boys so wholly different. The subtext and implications are less than subtle, but the general public adore and idolize the heroes regardless of the occasional story of their debauchery/illegal activities might leak. The Deep was ‘demoted’ from The Seven, but continued his superhero-ing in a nothing corner of the US after his sexual assault allegations. Is that any different to some cases in the real world? Stormfront after being ousted as a literal Nazi still has plenty of support in and unfortunately out of the show, and A-Train had to give a public apology for vaporizing an innocent civilian in Robin, Hughie’s girlfriend, all the way back at the start.
Whereas in the MCU and the DCEU the general line between good and evil is clearly drawn, with a few exceptions in Thanos, the somewhat adaptation of Civil War pitting Tony and Steve into dangerous, grey areas, and lately with Yelena, you tend to go in to the movies knowing the good and bad guys and who’ll win.
Even The Good Guys Are Bad
The Boys subverts all of this. The supposed good guys are all despicable, this time with a few exceptions for being genuinely good (Starlight, although even she caused an innocent’s death), and the ones we’re supposed to be rooting for, the titular Boys, are a ragtag group made up of a former soldier, an AV sale assistant, a supe that has killed countless people, an assassin-for-hire and a sociopathic, ends justify the means British bloke who is so hellbent on killing every supe that he doesn’t care who gets in the way or who gets hurt.
With the third season recently ending, and the fourth currently filming, we now know what exactly to expect, in the sense that we don’t ever really know what to expect. It’s a show that’s proven itself to be able to approach horrible topics like sexual assault, suicide and racism in both a scarily realistic way, and in a respectful way to people that deal with both. It’s not just a superhero show, it’s a show layered with social commentary left, right and centre.
It’s fair for all this praise to give the show a little criticism, in that just like it’s cinematic counterparts in the MCU and DCEU, it seems to be a running trend that each of the three seasons so far have managed to return to somewhat of a status quo with no casualties to the central cast, neither Billy or Homelander taking the other out, and things just going round a season-long merry-go-round for the next season. Hopefully with the events of the third season’s finale and what that could mean for Billy it’ll mean we have somewhat of a different season next, and I for one am all for this new look Homelander who now knows no matter what, his fans will adore him.