EDITOR’S NOTE: The images in this review are preview images and don’t reflect the final colors.
The last mystery of The Boys is unfolding: what made Butcher the evil piece of work that he is? It turns out, guess what, he had a hard life on the mean streets. With an abusive dad, an overwhelmed mom, and a needy little brother, life’s pretty hard for a delinquent rebel. When his father falls ill, the best solution looks like a stint in the military.
This is as obvious and straightforward as a backstory can be. Billy comes from a classic dysfunctional family, one where he’s the black sheep to his younger, smarter, more delicate (“He’s a bit of a little girl, if the truth be told” declares dear old dad) brother, and the would-be protector of their imperiled mom. There aren’t really a lot of answers for a kid in that predicament, but Butcher’s smart enough to realize there’s little way out, and to resent his fate.
Robertson does great work contrasting the relatively innocent child with the leering madman who has become our anti-heroic serial killer of note. There’s also a great family resemblance to dad, who without his son’s military training has degenerated into the neighborhood bully. His dad tries to advise him on how to take what he wants, but even the kid can see that being king of the dung heap doesn’t amount to much.
There are the expected moments of unpleasantness (a bloody teen Billy gleefully beats up is perhaps non-coincidentally a kid of color; he then punches his gym teacher in the bollocks for good measure; he later gives his brother an accidental bloody nose), but it’s more unexpected, smaller moments that really bring the tale to life. While being berated for his bad behavior in school by his mom (playing war games with a nativity scene this time), she stops to comment on his faulty story logic in his use of the savior, a kind of family in-joke that sells us easily on the intimacy of their bond. Of course he thinks his mom was a saint, and she likely wasn’t, but she didn’t deserve what her husband put her through daily.
And it’s his brother Lenny, blood dripping down his face, who reasons the young thug towards making the best of their situation in concrete, pragmatic terms. Ennis and Robertson manage to depict a working class family with all the verisimilitude of the neorealism era of European cinema, culminating in the framing sequence where being a badass Royal Marine gets Butcher noticed during the Falklands conflict. If you haven’t realized by now, The Boys was never about superheroes. The trench coats alone should have told us that. The first spin-off was about Hughie and his supportive family and upbringing that he didn’t appreciate enough. Butcher’s story is about a horrible family that almost destroyed him, but it’s even moreso a bildungsroman in a comic book mask. If you want a more super heroic slant on the formula such as a cliffhanger, we don’t know yet what became of Lee, do we?
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.