In a world where superheroes are depraved and immoral and require a group of people to keep them in line, welcome to the story of The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1 by Garth Ennis. The graphic novel is very reminiscent of The Watchmen by Alan Moore. Thinking of the line, “Who watches the Watchmen,” in this case, The Boys, made up of characters Billy Butcher, Hughie, The Frenchmen, Mother’s Milk, and The Female watch every move superheroes make and enact their brand of justice. Billy Butcher is the leader of the group and he has a very personal reason for why he seeks vengeance against the main superhero team, called The Seven.
The story kicks off with Hughie, who is enjoying a date with his girlfriend at a fair. They banter and share a tender kiss. As Robin pulls back from Hughie, she is run over by a superhero known as A-Train. A-Train shows no remorse, nor does he take responsibility for what he has done. He just speeds away from the scene and expects the police to sort it out. Hughie becomes distraught and is accosted by Billy Butcher, who recruits him to be part of The Boys.
The art of The Boys feels very drab to me. It gives a sense that it is a world that is dark, gritty, and devoid of any moral character. The characters themselves are average looking. It doesn’t feel like any of the female superheroes were made to look sexy or for the male gaze. The only exception comes a quarter of the way into the graphic novel wherein, as part of corporate marketing, Starlight is given a skimpy costume to show off her assets. The violence is very visceral: blood spraying out, bruised faces, and bloody limbs. There is frequent nudity, and illustrated sexual acts. Ennis likes to juxtapose violence and sex back to back. It makes neither act pleasurable, and every bit full of pain.
I don’t believe a typical recommendation can be given on this particular graphic novel. It comes down to a matter of taste, and your style. If you enjoyed Kick-Ass by Mark Millar, this is definitely up your alley. For libraries, you have to consider your audience, and where they stand on misogyny and homophobia. There may also be interest since Amazon has debuted a television series based on these graphic novels. I found many elements to be problematic and challenging for my sensibilities. For instance, I found the treatment of female characters to be upsetting. There is a female character called The Female who is part of The Boys team. She is a mute character, and other than killing, we get no sense of her personality. The newest member of The Seven, Starlight a.k.a. Annie, is made to endure humiliation and rape by the other superheroes as an initiation into the group.
Another aspect I found problematic is the gay jokes, and how homosexuality is made to be perverse and used as blackmail. One superhero is blackmailed because The Boys have a video of him and another man. The superhero has to out himself on live television or The Boys will release the footage. The superhero ends up losing his position as part of the group. This scenario is used frequently throughout the volume. The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1 earns its adult rating because of the content and use of gory violence and graphic sex. It might be suitable for some older teens, but I think they would need to receive trigger warnings before reading.
The Boys Omnibus, vol. 1
By Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson
Publisher Age Rating: Adult
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