In Watchmen, Alan Moore posited the idea that superheroes were actually not quite as perfect, as motivated by a desire for truth, justice and so on and so forth as you might think, creating a frightening world where the most morally responsible character happened to be the one who was most openly psychopathic. In The Authority Vol. 1: Relentless, Warren Ellis took a stab at taking this one stage further and seeing what a world controlled by superheroes might be like, but turned back from exposing the horror for what it was. But Garth Ennis knew no such fear: in The Boys he mounts a fearsome assault on the whole concept of the superhero, showing us what their world might really be like.
And what a world it is. Fed with the bread and circuses the superheroes provide, most of the populace sit back and seriously believe the stuff about moral rectitude and all that, blithely discounting the enormous amount of collateral damage that they create as they battle crime that, frankly, probably wouldn’t exist if they didn’t. We see the truth of their lives, driven by animal lusts, ego and greed. We see, is at possible, a naive, innocent young superhero, induced into the highest echelons of their world and forced to prostitute herself first to her ‘peers’ and then to the whole world. And behind these brainless parasites we see a faceless something that really calls the shots.
Something must be done, to save the world from the disaster that it runs to embrace with open arms. Cue the boys. All mad, all bad, all extremely dangerous to know, and most likely psychotic to boot, they are the only thing defending humanity from being squeezed to death between the lusts of the superheroes and the sinister purpose of their masters. The boys (and one female) fight the good fight to ensure that, even if the superheroes cannot be destroyed, they can at least be kept leashed, for what might happen if they were unleashed is truly terrible.
Read it, it’s soul scouring. The one-hundred-and-eighty degree view of the superhero is as riveting as the terrible fate of the heroine is shattering. The book is a necessary reminder that what is best about us is our humanity, not special powers.