The past few issues were intense, but also a near complete change in tone, and a clever move on Ennis’ part. Speaking through the grim pronouncements of the wizened former Boys Chief Mallory, The Boys turned into a Weird War Tales for a few issues. There was a dogged stolidity to the storytelling, as Ennis demonstrated succinctly and with an actual minimum of carnage (compared, for example, to the excesses of the much livelier Herogasm) just how useless costumes might be on the battlefield. The better to prepare the setup for the shock and awe when costumed himbos meet German tanks and other superior and new-fangled cutting edge ordinance.
The metas were almost a passing reference, though, supremely easy targets as Mallory’s tone kept the focus on the soldiers, on his men and their lives endangered by Vought-American’s nefarious plans on multiple levels. The shift was unusually sobering, though it traded in excitement for bitter realism. And it was deepened by the awareness of Ennis’ subtextual reference to the actual origin of superhero comics as a form of entertainment. Supes and Cap and Miss America, et al., were meant to beat up the Nazis, and that legacy of anti-fascism remains a potent subtext in the books of both companies (revived again currently in Fear Itself for example, if somewhat deflected onto Norse mythology for greater fanciful spectacle).
Ennis’ isn’t fooled by such propaganda, and neither was Mallory, and neither is Butcher. Hughie might have been, but Mallory makes him see the primal scene that unites all of them, victimization by commercial implementation of Compound V in each case. Of course, that’s where they also part ways, because Butcher takes it very personally indeed, not content to play his part in the cold war that has been going on ever since the World War fiasco. Mallory’s explanations during the issue are interspersed with silent flashback scenes of Butcher enacting his gleeful vengeance on super-victims (also the theme of Darick Robinson’s subtle cover, where the unsuspecting scientist hasn’t noticed Butcher sidle in the doorway behind him with a crowbar).
This heavy reality check triggers in Hughie the need to tell all to Anne, proving he’s moved well past his feelings of betrayal at her own compromised past. He even tells off Mallory, to an extent. Now he just wants her to be safe, though whether everyone’s agrees with Mallory that Butcher is just as bad as his foes, that he’s become a villain too, is still an open question. Anybody wanna bet and whether the Boys will have a happy ending?