Go cry to your forum boards if you disagree, but no matter how dark and edgy the likes of Batman or Moon Knight get, they will never compare to what “The Boys” did for superhero comics.
I’m not talking about who would win a fight. I think we all know that most top-tier Marvel / DC crime-fighters could easily body any enemy with the power of their fanboy’s internet comments. The difference between “The Boys” and the rest of the superhero comics lies in the intentions and themes of their characters and stories.
Fight me in the comments if you dare.
Way back before The Boys graced Amazon Prime, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson teamed to bring us a superhero comic series in 2006 that had a drastically different tone to the likes of DC and Marvel!
It was a 72 issue comic book series set in a familiar feeling universe, where superheroes exist to fight crime and save the world! But their celebrity status corrupts them. They engage in impulsive and rash behavior that doesn’t line up with “for the greater good”.
While we do follow Starlight as her idealistic view of “The Seven” (this universe’s sort of Justice League or Avengers) gets shattered, the main focus is a secret CIA squad.
What we know as “The Boys”, who keep an eye on troublesome superheroes. If you’ve watched the series on Prime, you’ll see familiar faces like Billy Butcher, Mother’s Milk, the Frenchman, the Female, and “Wee” Hughie Campbell.
The Boys: A Distorted Reflection
When people start reading the comic, they compare its more prominent superheroes with their Marvel and DC counterparts. And that’s the point. Many characters in “The Boys” satirize your favorite caped crusaders.
Beyond his fashion sense, Superman is undoubtedly the biggest inspiration behind Homelander, with his powers being almost identical. There’s also a little of Captain America’s patriotism thrown in there too, but not in the same way as the honorable super-soldier.
The difference is that he exploits citizens’ patriotic mindset, and his powers have led to a sinister level of arrogance. I mean, if you were practically God-Like, you might start to be a little full of yourself.
And the comparisons don’t end there. With Queen Maeve standing in for Wonder Woman, The Deep inspired by Aquaman, Translucent a mix of Emma Frost / Martian Manhunter, A-Train is almost a caricature of his DC counterpart; The Flash! Etc.
Sure each character might have taken inspiration from legendary crime-fighters, but what makes “The Boys” different? But beyond flipping these characters on their head, It’s the core premise of the comics and the themes they explore!
DC comics were mostly founded as a “for-profit” company, and as a result, these superheroes were created for mass and general appeal. Their biggest target audience was young people and children, hence the colorful and eye-catching illustrations. But the kids weren’t going to get anything overly gory or “adult” themed from their parents.
The most common “theme” throughout early comics were stories with a moral lesson at the end. Be good to your neighbor! Crime never pays and to some extent, America is the greatest country in the world! Hence the reason they named Superman a “boy-scout”.
One of his most famous quotes of the time was “Do good to others and every man can be a superman”. He encapsulated everything that a good, law-abiding and productive American should be! At least in the early days.
Marvel was similar to their early material. One of the first heroes to appear in a Marvel comic was “The Human Torch”, who fought America’s enemies during World War 2.
It’s only as of around the late 1990s that these companies started creating stories that were less about modeling the “moral fiber” of the new generation and become more about the characters themselves.
Some more context
The Boys was made in response to a post 9/11 America and was not afraid to get R-rated, even if it meant the publishers were getting upset. The superheroes of this universe kill, hate, snort, and bone their way through their privileged lives not really caring for the lives of others. It’s not about the “greater good” for them. It’s about what’s “in it” for them.
But that’s not to say “The Boys”, i.e. The Butcher, Hughie, etc. are the good guys either. “Good guys” don’t last very long here.
While DC and Marvel’s heroes always tend to have a clear good and evil, the line isn’t as clear in these comics, which is why it works so well. The Anti-hero storylines played out, unlike anything we had ever seen in the medium at the time.
Homelander versus classic heroes
A popular comparison between Superman and Homelander is which version of Superman is most like the leader of “The Seven”. While there are plenty of times that the Kryptonian has turned to the dark side, the most prominent is during “Injustice”.
Here, Superman breaks his no-killing rule, eliminates Joker, and establishes peace using fear and force rather than his more “goodie-two-shoes” methods. But even then it doesn’t come close to the point behind Homelander!
Homelander represents the WORST of America. He’s always been a not-so-subtle allusion to the toxicity of white supremacy mixed with patriotism. If you have any doubts about this, the corporation Vought created Homelander using the genetic material from another super, the World War 2 Nazi “Stormfront”!
And that dude was so abhorrently racist, as all his actions were in the name of “ethnic cleansing”. Homelander may not be trying to commit genocide, but his character is so interesting is because it resembles how the rest of the world might view the United States of America.
The so-called hero has the power to back up his exclusionary rhetoric and self-important haughtiness. While you could say Superman and Captain America are dolling out their version of justice, the context is important. Regardless of their origins, they were made to be heroes.
They were the best of what America could be. Homelander is not like that. He’s a villain who represents what happens when that kind of power goes to your head. You’re supposed to root for DC and Marvel’s American superheroes. This douchebag is not deserving of praise.
The Boys vs Invincible
A comparison that isn’t made very often however is how The Boys compared to the newest and hottest animated superhero show on Amazon Prime; Invincible!
Now, the Prime adaptation of “The Boys” varies a fair amount compared to its source material, so instead, we’ll compare the two different comic iterations.
Both comics present a more “adult” take on the typical superhero narrative, with plenty of excessive violence to boot. But the main difference comes with how they treat violence on the page.
The Boys is as bloody as a story can get. One of the first deaths was seeing Hughie’s girlfriend explode thanks to A-Train’s carelessness. However, adark-humored laugh is the goal of this moment.
Invincible has a similarly shocking moment where Omni-Man kills the Guardians of the Globe. Here it’s treated as deadly serious and has long-reaching ramifications on the narrative.
This is where the two differ. Both pieces have excessive amounts of bloodshed, however, Invincible never glorifies it. The Boys almost celebrate the depraved violence that occurs!
It’s also important to note the traditional morality of Invincible. While there are plenty of consequences for the naive protagonist in both series, there is a good and bad guy.
Invincible isn’t trying to make the same commentary on a culture that The Boys is. Invincible is more of a coming-of-age story that deals with traditional morality in a much more realistic way.
The Boys and Deadpool
It’s through the likes of Deadpool where the closest comparison you could make in terms of “how violence is treated” is drawn between The Boys and Marvel. This self-referential meta merc with a mouth is certainly the wackiest of the bunch.
The violence he perpetrates is glorified and sometimes satirized. The most extreme iteration of the character comes in the “Deadpool Killogy” or “Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe”.
In this story, thanks to some mind-control gone wrong, Deadpool loses his mind and decides to kill everyone in his path. Once he takes down every superhero and villain in his universe, he jumps over to a couple of others. Including classic tales like “Moby Dick” and even our universe where he aims to kill the writers of his comic!
“The Boys” don’t treatviolence the same way in this comic run. While Deadpool does revel in violence, it’s much more for the dark-humor laughs of the ridiculousness of the anti-hero’s actions! It’s violence for the sake of violence!
But “The Boys” treats it like you’re guzzling blood. While Deadpool is for shock value, The Boys is satirizing the horrific actions and uses it as commentary. I doubt anyone could say that Deadpool is commenting on anything beyond how numb the audience is to needless violence.
A new look at heroes
And there lies the biggest difference between the Boys and its comic counterparts. There is no clear “good guy” and it revels in debauchery and violence like it’s nothing. The comic even got canceled and rehomed with another publisher because of this. And even though more recent iterations of DC and Marvel have dabbled in more R-rated violence over the years, The Boys remains a cut of its own.
Amazon Prime’s second season of “The Boys” is yet to have a release date, but we cannot wait for it to return!