Graphic Content: The violence and madness of Ennis’s The Boys


Garth Ennis is a sick, sick man. Reading the comics he writes is almost like a dare to yourself. It’s a bet about how far can you get in his work until you go “Ok, three graphic BJs is enough for me today.” My first encounter with Ennis was his work on Hellblazer during the early 90s. His stories were dark, empathetic, and twisted all at the same time, but it pales in comparison to the graphic nature in his seminal series Preacher. He’s a man known for pushing the limits of what you can handle and his work on his most recent series The Boys, published by Dynamite, is no exception.

The storyline of The Boys takes place in a parallel universe, where superhero groups are created by big corporations to “protect and serve” America. Except things have gotten a little skewed. Superheroes are both admired and vilified by the public. They protect only when profitable and spend most of their time doing public appearance and whatever else their perverted minds want to do. Throughout the series you see heroes, many parodies of DC and Marvel characters, engage in everything from drugs, pedophilia, rape, assault, and various hedonistic activities. These are not the good guys. The Boys are. These are quintet of people who keep the superheroes in check, and try to eliminate them every chance they can get. Take a look at them:

And yes, one of them is deliberately suppose to look like Simon Pegg.

This series is one of the darkest yet one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever read. I borrowed the first trade from my friend Ben and read it on the bus. Immediately I regretted this decision. In 40 or so pages I saw the main character/Pegg look-alike Hughie’s girlfriend’s arms get ripped off of her body. I read Butcher, the leader of the Boys, drop the C-bomb ten or so times. And to top it all off, there was an extremely uncomfortable scene where a woman is forced to give oral to the Superman-esque Homelander and his compatriots. I kept asking myself over and over again, why the hell am I reading this? Why do I keep reading this?

Because it’s one of the best comics out there right now.

Yes, The Boys is graphic. Very, very graphic. It’s not for the squeamish or the PC evangelists. Ennis and his longtime artist Darick Robertson leave no stone unturned when it comes to the comic’s content. These “superheroes” are the scum of the earth, and they’re going to do disgusting and vile things every free chance they get. In some way superheroes and the chemical compound that has created them have destroyed the lives of everyone of the Boys. And the Boys are going to stop them by any means necessary. Vengeance and violence are on the minds of the Boys at all times. Ennis gives you plenty of blood to ooh and ahh over but engages you intellectually with his consistently creative plot. He takes words and phrases that would easily offend me in most contexts and makes me laugh at them. That takes some talent to execute a task that bold.

Meaningless violence, gratuitous sex, and excessive cursing make for the worst story lines and can easily turn a concrete concept into visual torture porn or a crap action story. But Ennis’s knack for writing gritty, barbaric scenes and Robertson’s expertise in animating his words escape that pitfall. This is the way violence should be written. It disturbs you to your core with its portrayals of mayhem but keeps you laughing with witty dialogue and candor. And as Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof says in his intro to one of the books, Robertson draws some of the best breasts in the industry.

Just maybe don’t read it on public transportation.

If you want to get into the Boys, Chicago’s Challengers Comics + Conversation is currently having a sale on all of their graphic novels. You can pick up The Boys Vol. 1 in-store or online at 20% off if you do so before the end of the month.

  • Anonymous

    This intrigues me.  A lot of people can’t understand the concept of graphic violence and sexual abuse going hand in hand with comedy, but it’s a great coping mechanism.  I can tell you that by working more than 10 years in television news, you can make some pretty sick jokes at the expense of violence victims, but it keeps you sane.  In many instances it keeps you from killing yourself. 

    As one who believes that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, I would think this is how super heros would behave in the real world.  Just look at how a lot of cops act.

  • Lara

    Interesting article, Amy.  I’m still not convinced that what the world needs is another example of extreme violence, even when done intelligently and arguably with purpose, but I’d be willing to check it out.  Thanks!