Garth Ennis' THE BOYS - 50 Issues of Superhuman Corruption

The Boys are hitting 50 -- but that doesn't mean they aren't still about ready to kick your face in.

Starting out at Wildstorm in 2006 before moving to Dynamite Entertainment the following year, The Boys have been a team of black-ops hardcases with a mad-on for all things superpowered. And with the caped crusaders of Vought-American excelling in collateral damage, sexual depravity, megalomaniacal tendencies or just being some bad apples in general.

With the team in shambles and the capes amassing for some real destruction, it seems like the perfect time for a flashback to where it all began, no? And so it's fitting that we caught up with series writer Garth Ennis to talk about what makes this series unique, what's surprised him over the series' 50-issue run and what we can expect from Hughie, Billy and the rest of the Boys coming up ahead.

Newsarama: Wow. 50 issues. Did you ever think The Boys would get to run this long?

art from THE BOYS #49

Garth Ennis: Yeah, that was always the plan. The idea was to follow the Preacher/Transmetropolitan/Y: The Last Man model; a giant serialised graphic novel that would appear over 5-6 years. Even during the little hiccup that occurred 6 issues in I wasn't worried about the book disappearing- my fear there was that we'd have to continue it in heavily censored form.

Nrama: For those who for whatever reason have missed out on this series, can you tell us a little bit about what you've always seen as the selling points of The Boys?

Ennis: You get what I like to think are very human characters set against a backdrop of hideous superhuman corruption. Hughie, Butcher, Annie, even MM and the two maniacs -- they're all damaged in their own way, but they all keep going and maintain their commitments to themselves and each other -- sometimes in the face of insurmountable odds.

You also get 70-80 years of American history and politics, filtered through the notion of a superhero universe made real -- albeit an extremely dark vision of such a world.

And when the action comes, it's not heavily choreographed martial arts elegance -- it's the kind of violence that occurs outside a bar at 3am, an ambush followed by often-unnecessary brutality. In other words it's what happens in the real world, because nobody's looking for -- or expecting -- a fair fight.

Nrama: Looking at Issue #50 specifically, obviously the team is divided -- Wee Hughie is AWOL, Butcher is looking pretty shady, and Mother's Milk is looking about ready to explode. How is this altered dynamic going to stack up when you've got actual super-crime headed their way?

Ennis: #50 itself is actually entirely told in flashback, detailing the Boys' initial encounters with the Seven in the aftermath of the 9/11 fiasco. So Hughie isn't in it at all, and Greg Mallory is still running the show. The points you mention will come to the fore later, when Hughie returns after having learnt a good deal more about the group's history.

Nrama: Ah, gotcha. And now that the Aryan superman analogue known as the Homelander seems to have some backup, what sort of depravity can we be looking forward to, here? What kind of threat can he pose?

Ennis: You'll see one of the Homelander's more unpleasant excesses in #50. Of course, the real question with him is exactly what's going on in his head -- he has all this power and yet he's been hesitating to really use it for more than a year now, there's a strange sense of one step forward and two back. Even as his story moves towards its conclusion, and he becomes more willing to become proactive, that dichotomy isn't going to go away. And there is, of course, a reason behind it all.

Nrama: Now, for you, what's been the biggest surprise for you, either as far as plot points or reactions to your stories?

Ennis: I think the biggest surprise has been Hughie and Annie's relationship. Originally I wrote Annie as a one-note joke; she was going to blow her way into the Seven and then be the butt of their jokes from that point on, until she eventually snapped and destroyed herself (and probably a couple of them) -- the goody two shoes loser who eats bite after bite of shit, then goes nuclear. I've done it before and it's always good for a laugh, but this time something different happened.

art from THE BOYS #49

I found myself feeling slightly sorry for her, and curious about what would happen next. In her initial appearance we can see that she's ambitious, but also that she has at least a streak of decency in her, and I wanted to explore that aspect -- how would she reconcile her vision of the Seven with the reality, including what she'd had to do to join them? So I was definitely determined to keep her around, but it still came as a shock when I wrote Hughie moping in Central Park after his own little setback, and Annie January came trudging down the pathway.

I thought -- am I really going to get her together with one of the main protagonists, after what she's done? And then I realized -- come on, they're such a couple of sweethearts that they have to end up together. The rest will be interesting, but for now let's just give them a break.

Nrama: You've been working with Russ Braun for a little while now, after a lengthy, lengthy run with Darick Robertson, who still does the covers on this book. What do you feel Russ brings to the table here, and will he be sticking around for future arcs?

Ennis: Russ will be around for some time to come. He's exactly the kind of artist I like working with -- he's not just a good draughtsman and clear storyteller, he has the ability to think his way into a script so that he knows precisely what's going on, and can dedicate his art to the characters and narrative. I always think of it as a kind of telepathy, the writer-artist equivalent of finishing each other’s sentences.

His influences are classic American comics ones like Romita, Garcia-Lopez, Buscema et al, but from my perspective I see a lot of Steve Dillon and Dave Gibbons in his work -- that same total commitment to story.

Nrama: I guess I should ask, for this series that you once said would out-Preacher Preacher -- do you think you succeeded? How do you think the industry has changed thanks to The Boys?

Ennis: I think The Boys out-preachered Preacher in six issues flat. I don't recall Preacher ever having to change publishers after objections to content. As a matter of fact, I think it might be time Preacher put on its little dress and swish around for us, well-mannered cutie-pie that it is.

As to the industry, I'm not sure The Boys has had any effect at all. It's a reasonably successful creator-owned series in a time when we seem to be moving away from that notion -- Marvel's creator-owned line is very limited, very specific, and DC seem to be drawing back on all fronts, with the demise of Wildstorm and the drastic cuts that Vertigo recently suffered. So I suppose you could say we're just quietly doing our own thing, not taking too much notice of what's going on around us.

Nrama: Finally, for those who haven't gotten on board this series, are there any teases you could give us for what's coming up ahead?

 

Ennis: Right now we've kicked off the first of three interconnected storylines: Proper Preparation And Planning runs until #51 and details the Boys' first meeting with the Seven, and what broke the team up first time around. After that, Hughie emerges from the Highland Laddie miniseries desperate to know more about the Boys' history, and you'll see what he finds out in #52-55, Barbary Coast. The third storyline, The Big Ride, finishes in #59, and that moves things up a gear as one of the Seven gets stuck in a nasty situation -- of neither his nor the Boys' making -- and wildly overreacts, with disastrous consequences for all concerned. Around about then we'll kick off the third and final miniseries, The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker, which of course relates the life story of one Billy Butcher -- and after that we'll be moving into the first of the two final Boys' storylines. The book is currently set to end at #72.

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