The role of science fiction is, in general, to take the most pressing issues of society and criticize them in a “safe” setting—a distant planet, the distant past or the future or perhaps a parallel universe. The Boys, Amazon’s insanely binge-able new superhero series that premiered this July at the San Diego Comic-Con, does just that. While it is a superhero series, it’s not a superhero series as you might expect after a decade of Marvel heroes giving the world their strength, integrity, blood, sweat, and life. Instead, it is a depressingly believable “what if” about what the world might really look like if superheroes were real. And it’s not very nice.
The things actresses sometimes had to do to get certain roles were kind of an open secret in Hollywood long before the #metoo movement blasted into the common consciousness in 2017. This concealed reality found its way to the pages of the The Boys comic (published years before #metoo became mainstream) in the story of Annie January, aka Starlight. Starlight is a young superheroine recruited to join the ranks of the Seven, an ensemble similar to the Justice League. Immediately after being presented to the public, Starlight is coerced into performing… well, an intimate oral act on Homelander, the leader of the group (The Deep, the equivalent of Aquaman, in the series). As you might expect, the supe perpetrator only has to suffer the consequences after the event goes public and the #IStandWithStarlight hashtag starts trending on social media.
In the very first episode, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) takes Hughie (Jack Quaid) to a secret superhero club; there, they witness Ezekiel, an elastic member of The Seven, intertwined with two young men in an unambiguous position. The only problem is that in the face of the world, Ezekiel is a devout Christian; he hosts the “Believe Expo” with messages against same-sex relationships and premarital sex. Later, A-Train (like The Flash from DC) prepares for his race against another superhero, Shockwave, for the title of the fastest man alive. He doesn’t only rely on his own powers but also on a mysterious blue substance called “Compound-V”. This substance acts as a performance-enhancing drug for supes.
Money, power, influence
The superheroes in this series don’t work on their own—they are controlled by a multinational company called “Vought”. Vought promotes and assigns superheroes to various cities (in exchange for cold, hard cash, of course), and pockets all the money from endorsements, public appearances, social media, you name it. The company would also like to put its hands on military contracts; it lobbies for the armed forces to accept supes to serve. This is, of course, met with some resistance, especially by a senator… who then ends up caught on film while being intimate with a shape-shifting supe masquerading as a man. As a result, he “changes his mind” about the initiative, turning into one of its vocal supporters.
The Boys is not only a raunchy, graphic superhero story where the superheroes are the villains; it’s also a satire of modern American society, pointing fingers at everything from bigotry to celebrity worship.
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