"'Cos all that macho shit — that gunfighter, Dirty Harry bollocks — it looks tasty, but in the end it's fuckin' self-defeatin'. It just leaves you with bodies in ditches an' blokes with headfuls o' broken glass. Men are only so much use, Hughie. Men are boys."
It was never going to end well. This is a series that began with Hughie losing his lover to superhero carelessness, which turned out to be an echo of how Butcher lost his wife. And it ends with Hughie finding a new partner, who is herself a superhero. But rather than one of the criminally negligent, Starlight was one of the naive victims of the whole Vought-American "heroic" enterprise. Like Hughie. Like Billy Butcher and his wife Becky. Like Mallory, the Legend, Queen Maeve, Love Sausage and the passengers on the plane that crashed into the Brooklyn Bridge. Like the Female, the Frenchman and Mother's Milk, even as they are systematically executed one by one in the last six issues.
So, surprisingly, after those harrowing events, and the final ultimate battle between Hughie and his mentor/torturer and friend Butcher, this issue is not one last gasp of nihilistic destruction. Far from it. Issue #72 wraps up the fates of Susan Rayner, James Stillwell (now head of American Consolidated), Monkey and Hughie and Annie. Each with some finality, or telling irony, or even a little hint of justice in some cases. And it isn't all about murder (because Butcher's finally dead himself, and Hughie is in charge now); because the death toll is already ridiculously high.
The last issue devotes four pages to a complete cover gallery for The Boys (including miniseries Herogasm, Highland Laddie and Butcher's own sad story in Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker), sans titles, and you realize what a rich, full tapestry we've had since 2006. This is an Ennis epic, and he's taken the time to dot every "i" and cross every "t." He's been as methodical as Butcher himself, who we weren't quite sure was going to kill everyone from the very beginning (just the stuffed shirts, it seemed at first, and of course anyone who hurt his dog, Terror), but who actually realized he had to raze the ground somewhere around the time the Homelander and Black Noir razed each other and the White House itself. There were no more prisoners to take, no more punishments to mete out; heroes just had to be gone, forever. Good guys or bad guys, it made no difference to the bitter killing machine.
Only, Hughie didn't see it that way. As he said in #70 during their final confrontation "…I get the idea. I really do. The city's Lego an' people are toys: you sound like a fuckin' supervillain …" As if the rest of us hadn't noticed that's what Butcher had always been. As if we hadn't read his own tale, where the wondrous Becky was the only person who'd ever coaxed anything resembling a human being out of Billy Butcher's toxic family life, corrupt military career, and dangerous levels of self-destruction. Which might have even taken, had she not been raped by Black Noir (pretending to be his twin the Homelander, whom he was insanely intent on fucking with) and almost immediately given birth to a mutated killer baby that couldn't help but take her life.
Compound V works very fast, you see. We also learn that Mother's Milk's daughter is an incredibly physically mature pre-teen, and of course his own mother is mutated beyond human at this point in her life.
The final battle between our two macho Dirty Harrys wasn't even really shown, having occurred as a comedy of errors between issues #70 and #71. Hughie doses up on MM's mother's milk (with her permission, grieving over her son), and manages to plunge past Butcher out of a very upper window of the Empire State Building during their confrontation. Butcher just catches him, but they both fall to the observation deck, where Hughie is impaled on an iron railing, and Butcher's back is broken. It's a pathetic denouement, but not outside of Butcher's plan. He didn't succeed in causing as much destruction as he'd wanted, thanks to Hughie (blowing up the Flatiron Building, home of their offices, was about it). But he does manage to goad Hughie into one final action, his own death at Hughie's hands, by threatening his family. Just as he'd wanted.
Butcher has shaped Hughie in his image by series end, but then he saw him that way from the start. That's why he chose him to join, and started dosing him with the drug. It's more like he's unlocked Hughie's inner badass, and so far Wee Hughie is using his new black leather jacket powers for good: blackmailing all the right spies and politicians to keep the supers under control, to prevent the military-industrial-comicbook complex from the dire excesses of its past (like all of the G-men and their systematic child abuse and child murder, one hopes).
What's been amazing amidst all the very hard-going of this final arc is that the main character arcs all achieve a level of closure, fates Ennis has been carefully building towards all along. MM didn't really see it coming, but the Frenchman and the Female choose their fates and go out like soldiers. Susan Rayner's senatorial bid is embarrassingly, publically snuffed out. Stillwell's assistant plays the Tilda Swinton role from Michael Clayton: having gotten in way over her head with an amoral corporation, she becomes the scapegoat and fall girl for all their many crimes (at least the public ones).
This was all carefully orchestrated by Stillwell, she realizes, who
it turns out does have a kind of morality. As he tells Hughie in their last meeting: "[NYC is] a mercantile town. It always was. I'm an expression of a corporation." But even he gets his comeuppance, of a sort, when he sees the latest crop of conformist company supes being rolled out (they're called The True, and they wear charming KKK white). Stillwell notices that "one has an erection" and "one is plainly The Deep" (apparently unkillable as far as V-stooges go). Though he admits it only to himself, he's knows he's been left with the worse of all mercantile outcomes: bad product.
Hughie fares so much better, easily blowing off the businessman's slippery putdowns for a more important final meeting. Where he gets to kiss the girl, under a rebuilt Brooklyn Bridge.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.