There’s a whole lot of comics out there. Unfortunately, with hundreds of releases every week, some hidden gems are bound to get swept under the rug. We’re here to bring you what we consider to be some of the best underrated comic runs.
Note: This is limited to material I own/have read, so if you feel like I’ve missed out on better stories, don’t get too hurt. Or better yet, tell me in the comments, and let me know about it!
Last time, we looked at one of the genre’s most overlooked superheroes, Aquaman. This time, we go to the other end of the spectrum. The Boys is a recent work by controversial Irish writer Garth Ennis (Preacher), and artist Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan). Famous for his outward loathing of the superhero genre, Garth Ennis puts his all into this book. With despicable superhero characters, and a no-nonsense bastard team to combat them, The Boys is the literal manifestation of Ennis’ anger. It’s a combination of political commentary, humour, satire, and all out super-being action, penned with the dark and beautiful vision of Darick Robertson.
Another note: I’ll be doing this one in a few parts, as I’ve only read the first 22 issues at this point, and the whole series is a whopping 72 issues, plus two 6 issue miniseries. Nonetheless, I’ve no doubt the whole series merits a read.
It also has one of the most alarming and brutal openings to a comic that I’ve read. We’re introduced to relatable hero Wee Hughie (who’s appearance is based on English actor Simon Pegg), a regular guy spending a regular day at the fair with his girlfriend. Tragically, and very abruptly, his girlfriend is crushed as a result of a nearby superhero brawl, with the so called ‘superhero’ giving little care in regards to the casualty. It’s a pretty good example of the entire tone of the series – brutal violence, and absolute turds of caped crusaders.
From there we meet the enigmatic Billy Butcher, a tough as nails but laid back character working for the CIA. In light of these recent incidents, he brings back together a kind of ‘watchmen’ like team – The Boys – who essentially police the superheroes. It’s a really interesting character study and departure from the superhero genre – no one really plays perfect role model hero, everyone’s a little damaged, but ultimately unique and interesting
We meet the rest of the team from then in, who are all equally strange and colourful. Mother’s Milk, a hard but well-meaning family man, The Frenchman, an eccentric, suave talking gentleman, and The Female, a silent yet lithe killer.
Ennis manages to make the superhero world feel expansive, yet develops so many characters really well, make it feel intimate and familiar. The mainstream super team The Seven are all analogues of the Justice League, yet are twisted and demented just enough to set them apart. It works well as a study of what could happen if the Justice League turned on us, as each character’s weakness feels tailored perfectly for the superhero they’re modelled on.
There’s also another lesser known superhero team, Teenage Kix, who are more or less the Teen Titans archetypes. Kix work as the debut opponents for The Boys, and a vicious rivalry ignites between them, peaking as Wee Hughie snaps and kills one of the members, Blarney Cock. It’s a satisfying moment as Wee Hughie finally vents all the frustration worked up from the death of his girlfriend, and is a real game changer for his character arc as a whole. Ennis writes really contemplatively after this moment, weighing up the consequences of murder and revenge, and shedding a new light on the matter.
But aside from all the grim nature of the world around them, The Boys is still a very classic Garth Ennis book. You’ll laugh a lot when reading this, and there’s a definite warm sense of camaraderie between the team, as odd as they seem. In early interviews, Ennis stated that he was going to try to ‘out-Preacher Preacher’, and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s an abundance of black humour in this, from the crude stereotyping of the Frenchman, to the absurd antics of the superhero community.
One of the more laugh out loud moments, and decidedly cringe-worthy, belongs to Wee Hughie. Early in the series, Ennis writes a superhero character who actually genuinely wants to do good, and is largely devoid of corruption. Annie January, who just recently graduated to being a member of The Seven, is alarmed and disgusted at the pollution going on behind the scenes. Anyway, she ends up meeting Hughie, and both connect over the fact that they’re both shocked and new to their line of work. It’s actually a pretty heartfelt section, which is surprising for Ennis, but alas, it couldn’t last.
The pair end up getting together, and sleeping together (to add to the innocence of her character, Annie is actually a virgin!). Hughie turns up to a meeting of The Boys in the morning, only to find himself the laughing stock of the entire group. When he looks in the mirror, his mouth is covered in blood, only to realise that Annie was actually on her period. It’s a bit cringe worthy, but Ennis pulls it off sublimely, and I found myself genuinely laughing out loud during this scene. It’s not a pretty book, and in no way does it try to be, which I’m thankful for.
Lastly, I can’t talk about this without mentioning Darick Robertson’s superb art. If you’ve read Transmetropolitan, you’ll know what to expect. Hyper detailed imagery, all crafter carefully to portray Ennis’ script with accuracy, and then some. Robertson always manages to slip some kind of cheeky detail into the background, or a character’s clothing. His facial expression work fits really well for this type of book – over-exaggerated, and hilarious. It’s something to say when an artist has the chops to consistently pump out work as detailed as this over a period of 72 issues, and Robertson doesn’t disappoint.
There’s been word every now and then about a cinematic adaptation, but ultimately, as the book doesn’t have a huge audience, it never seems to kick off. And honestly, I’m okay with that, because The Boys fits its medium just fine. Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson are masters of their craft, and they up the stakes to an all-time high with this one. It may not be for everyone, but The Boys is undoubtedly a gem underneath a rubble of superhero dramas, and one everyone should at least check out once.