Since the beginning of The Boys in 2006, readers have had plenty of questions about Butcher. They’re about to get answers. Arriving in July, The Boys: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker delves into the background of the team’s leader. We caught up with creator/writer Garth Ennis for a look at Butcher’s motivations and a final roadmap for the end of The Boys.
Newsarama: You’ve been working on The Boys for several years at this point. How soon in the process did you know that you required the branching stories of Herogasm, Highland Laddie and Butcher to take place outside the confines of the regular series? Was that always part of your plan, or did it become necessary to divide the tales in those ways due to issues of pacing, etc? What kind of impact would it have had to tell these stories in the main title, rather than in their own minis?
Garth Ennis: Butcher's story was planned from the beginning, the other two developed as things went along. Doing them in the monthly would make it 90 issues long, and I was keen to keep the story moving at a certain pace.
Nrama: From the beginning, readers could appreciate that Butcher had (at least) vaguely sinister qualities. Over time, he’s become more manipulative, yet still maintains reader sympathy. Has that balance been difficult to maintain, and do you expect readers to feel more of one way than another after the mini?
Ennis: I expect they'll probably feel more or less the same- sympathetic but extremely wary. The mini will certainly provide a lot more answers; they'll know how the man got the way he is.
Nrama: Perhaps this dovetails with the first question, but why tell Butcher’s story NOW? What about this moment in the overall story of The Boys makes it necessary to pull back and witness the origin of Butcher?
Ennis: In about six months we'll see the beginning of the showdown between the Boys and the Seven, which of course means Butcher's own trail of vengeance reaching its conclusion. So the time was obviously ripe to explain how that got started.
Nrama: It’s fair to say that most of your work has dealt with people of particularly driven personality. Between Jesse Custer, Tommy, Jennifer Blood, Frank Castle, Butcher and Hughie , you’ve spent a lot of time inside the heads of, for lack of a better phrase, “men on a mission”. What qualities make Butcher different than those other protagonists?
Ennis: I don't see Tommy Monaghan as particularly driven, he spent most of his time trying to avoid the hard decisions. Hughie's about as far from a man on a mission as it's possible to get; no matter how much he learns he can never commit, never make up his mind.
Butcher feeds off his own hatred, not unlike the Punisher- but whilst Frank is pretty much a living embodiment of human rage, Butcher tends to enjoy himself. He feeds his anger, stokes the fires, keeps things boiling steadily away until the time comes to unleash it. And he never loses his sense of humour.
Nrama: Breaking that down further, Hughie and Butcher seem very similar in terms of losses that they’ve experienced, but their methodology is frequently very different. Would Hughie ever be pushed far enough to reach some of the depths that Butcher has (such as when Butcher showed Hughie the video of what happened with Annie) or is Hughie, dare I say it, too heroic for that outcome?
Ennis: Keep reading.
Nrama: When I asked you some questions pursuant to The Boys #50, I mentioned the fact that a lot of mainstream super-hero comics had gotten quite violent, occasionally nearing the level of mayhem found in The Boys. You indicated that you didn’t read many of them, which is fair. However, I’d like to ask your take on the overall issue that Roger Landridge and others have commented upon lately. Is there room for more mature interpretations of the iconic super-hero characters (such as Superman), or should those more adult takes be confined to analogues of those characters and/or original material? Clearly, you’ve pitched some stones at some recognizable targets, but you’ve made the actual characters your own. Is that ongoing commentary on the “darkening” of comics, or do you just feel that you can aim for satire where you find it? Should Superman be kids only, for example, or should talented creators be able to take a swing at the material if they have a valid approach?
Ennis: I'm not familiar enough with either the material or the debate to make any specific comment, I read no superhero books at all right now. I'm aware that the last ten years has seen superhero titles featuring somewhat bleaker material than before, and that'll probably continue-
the surplus talent from the decline of Vertigo and other mature readers titles will be channeled into the regular DC and Marvel books, where said talent will be encouraged to carry on spicing things up.
Right now the fashion is for dark, so it'll be dark until they lighten things up. And that's the key factor, really; these titles have to go on forever, so they take on whatever tone they have to at any given time. Which is one of the reasons I don't read them- unless you can end a story properly, you can't give it any real meaning.
Nrama: Of course, Darick Robertson is on art for the mini. Previously, John McCrea handled the art on Herogasm and Highland Laddie. What about Butcher makes it the tale for Darick rather than your Hitman collaborator?
Ennis: This is the one he wanted to come back for.
Nrama: From this point onward, how much is left in the story of The Boys? Are there any other minis in the offing, or is it just Butcher and straight on until the end on the main book?
Ennis: Let's see... #54 just shipped, I'm in the middle of #62, and #72 is the last issue. No more minis. The next arc is "The Big Ride" (#56-59), then we have the two final storylines (#60-65 and #66-71) and then there's an epilogue issue. And that's it.
Nrama: By the time that The Boys wraps, you’ll have written several critically acclaimed series start-to-finish. I of course refer to Preacher running from 1995 to 2000, Hitman running from 1996 to 2001, and The Boys running from 2006 until its close (not to mention your five years on Punisher and Crossed). What about the long series appeals to you the most, how have they changed your approach to the work, and can you see yourself continuing these lengthy runs (versus your already impressive number of mini-series) in the future?
Ennis: Plenty of room to maneuver, is the main attraction. I don't see myself doing another one of these for a long time- they can be pretty exhausting. I'd like to concentrate on shorter series, most obviously more war stories.
Nrama: One last note on Butcher: it’s been said that the mini will be fairly friendly to new readers. Would a total Boys novice be able to use the series as their intro to that world?
Ennis: Yeah, pretty much. This is very much Butcher's story; you don't even meet Mallory until #5.