The Boys is making a mistake following in the comics’ footsteps

Christopher Baggett
Homelander in The Boys Season 4

The Boys is one of the most shocking and disgusting shows on television today, but it may be falling into the same trap that hurt the original comics run. 

The Boys was never a “tame” show by any stretch of the imagination, but it has certainly stepped up its game. Unfortunately, it may have stepped up too hard. 

The show is now falling into a similar loop of constantly being more extreme in its approach to its most shocking moments. As the show wraps up its fourth season, it’s become a detriment.

What originally made The Boys so fun was the balance it struck between story and shock value, but now it seems to be stuck constantly trying to push the envelope.

The Boys was originally gross and grounded

The entire inciting incident of The Boys is the death of Hughie’s long-term girlfriend, Robin, who explodes into a wall of blood and viscera after A-Train runs through her. It’s a hell of an opening that is sure to stick with anyone, but it’s just the beginning. 

The story moves swiftly across its first two episodes until we reach the show’s first true “shock value” bit of unpleasantness. To kill the seemingly invulnerable Translucent, Frenchie and Butcher have stuck a wad of C4 right up his ass.

It comes back to haunt Translucent a few moments later when the seemingly meek Hughie explodes Translucent, covering himself in blood in much the same way Robin’s death did. 

These moments are all astonishingly over the top, but they’re shocking in a way that drives the characters, the plot, and the narrative forward. This trend continues through the first two seasons, too. The Boys is filthy, but it comes from a place of heart, so to speak. 

A superhero comic for people who hate superhero comics

We need to talk about the comics to understand why that characterization is so important. The Boys was a 2006 comic book written by Garth Ennis, the creator responsible for some of the past 20 years’ most popular and edgy stories. Ennis penned the Punisher tale Welcome Back, Frank, from which many of your favorite MCU Punisher moments came. 

But Garth Ennis hates superheroes. Speaking to the Uproxx in 2019, Ennis attributes his disdain for superheroes to his non-American upbringing, explaining, “I grew up on British comics until I was well into my teens. I was reading material very, very different from what you see in the American superhero tradition. I think coming to them as, pretty much, an adult, I responded to them the way adults did in those days, which is, ‘This makes no sense. This is ridiculous. This is silly.’” 

That disdain for superheroes is the focus of The Boys comics. Every superhero (save for Annie January, aka Starlight) is an irredeemable bastion of misery and filth. Whereas The Deep singlehandedly assaults Starlight in The Boys’ first episode, every male member of The Seven coerces her in the comics. Then there’s Herogasm, a weeklong fracas where the supes pretend to be away having a universe-saving team-up but really spend a week reveling in excess.

That’s not to mention all the horrible things said to have been done by Homelander (but actually done by Black Noir, in a shock twist the show will, thankfully, not replicate). Readers spend much of the series believing Homelander literally ate a baby. 

Homelander and Soldier Boy from The Boys comics
The Boys’ Soldier Boy is a far cry from the stoic war vet seen in the Prime Video series

There is no character driving the misery of The Boys in the comics; just actions meant to tell readers how explicitly awful these characters are by having them be as vile as possible – things like the G-Men, an X-Men parody led by a telepathic pedophile, or Soldier Boy being a naive man-child who Homelander takes advantage of. These character details aren’t necessarily done to speed the plot forward but to have something shocking happen. 

Ennis used The Boys to reflect not just the state of the world in 2006 but also to make his commentary on the superhero genre. As a result, The Boys is an unapologetic look at the worst possible versions of superheroes. There is a constant shock factor, and while The Boys undeniably starts strong (and perhaps ends stronger), everything in between quickly becomes overwhelmingly dire and gross. 

The Boys succeeded by charting its own course

Prime Video’s The Boys originally didn’t lean into those trapping from the comics, which made it great. Sure, you had things like the Translucent getting C4 up his ass or all the times Homelander slowly drank breast milk, but it all felt in service to the characters rather than just being for shock value. 

Much of that has to do with The Boys not being a superhero satire like the comics were. As showrunner Eric Kripke said in a Hollywood Reporter interview, the show resulted from fortuitous timing and real-world political events. 

“We just wanted to do a very realistic version of a superhero show, one where superheroes are celebrities behaving badly,” Kripke explained. “Suddenly, we were telling a story about the intersection of celebrity and authoritarianism and how social media and entertainment are used to sell fascism. We’re right in the eye of the storm. And once we realized that I just felt an obligation to run in that direction as far as we could.”

It cannot be overstated: the first two seasons of The Boys are spectacular. They’re incredibly tight, use shocking content effectively, and tell an amazing story. Stormfront being revealed to be a Nazi, the babies who have heat vision, the entire Sage Grove Center episode in Season 2 – they’re all amazing. 

The Boys is now just as focused on being gross as the comic was

Unfortunately, that era seems to have drawn to a close. Season 3 kicked off with its own shocking-for-the-sake-of-shocking moment, where the shrinking superhero Termite exploded out of his boyfriend’s penis. 

There is no denying it is an impressive sequence. The giant penis model they made is uncomfortably detailed, and it’s an instantly memorable sequence. But it’s also the first episode of the season, and the shock value keeps happening from there. 

It used to be that a few shocking things would happen in a season. Now, it’s seemingly every episode. The Deep has sex with a squid and then has to eat one. The entirety of Herogasm, which was once an extended comic story with a huge narrative, becomes a secret orgy for the sake of using the name. It just keeps getting worse and seemingly never has a goal other than being shocking.

Season 4 continues that trend with Sage’s tense lobotomy to literally every moment Homelander is on screen, from breastfeeding with Firecracker to the violent murder of the scientists who raised him. But these moments, shocking though they may be, keep happening, one right after the other, with no time to parse what’s happening. 

What made the early season’s shock value stand out was how unusual it was. Considering the source material, the show used to be pretty grounded, but now it seems to be constantly trying to one-up itself. It’s the same pitfall the comics fell into, where every story needed more violence, more sex, and more debauchery. 

But the breaking point may be Season 4’s Tek-Knight appearance, which made light of sexual abuse, rape, and BDSM in a shockingly tone-deaf manner. Even for fans who embraced the over-the-top tone of The Boys, Hughie being sexually assaulted in a bondage basement by a Batman pastiche sat wrong. 

The harsh reality is that The Boys may have reached its tipping point. It’s veered beyond being shocking and gone straight into filth. With only one season left, there’s still time for The Boys to get its focus back in line, but as it is right now, the show, much like the comics that inspired it, will be more remembered for the lines it crossed rather than the story it told.

If you’re looking for more The Boys, check out how one star wants the show to end or read about all the new supes joining The Boys. You can also keep up with the Season 4 release schedule and find other new TV shows to stream this month.

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