In a Venn diagram of Ennis’ preferences/strengths, this issue would fall right in the meaty middle. This is superheroes and the gritty battlefields of WWII. This issue certainly delivers many areas of strength in ways that you’d expect Ennis to mesh these two great tastes that suddenly taste great together. This is action, and people being stupid, and one hell of a lesson to learn.
Making this issue stand alone, even though in the middle of an arc, is a very smart choice. Ennis gets to punch into this flashback, drop some knowledge, and then get out. It’s not about the plot points and narrative here, though they are delightful. Instead, it’s about the point of it all. War is hell, and hell is good business. It’s sickening mostly because it’s so real. There might never have been superheroes in the wars, but there are always war profiteers. No matter how they milk the money out, it is frustrating.
Soldier Boy and his Avenging Squad can be taken as a dig at Captain America quite easily. This is what happens in the world of “The Boys” when idiot thugs with powers end up in serious situations where it’s life or death and death has the advantage. Things go poorly. Power breeds arrogance and then creates a fertile ground for mistakes. In war, mistakes will get you killed. It’s that simple.
Ennis treads a fine line between playing things for laughs and making them real. In the end, war is tragedy and that in itself is a fine line to comedy. These people, super and normal, are decimated on the page and it’s farcical because it’s so sad. This is exactly what Ennis does best. He might go a little over the top at times, but this is “The Boys.” How reasonably and sensibly did you think he’d handle WWII?
“The Boys” has so often fallen into a lull because it tells instead of shows. This is not one of those issues. The idea behind it all is there but it’s embedded in action and motion and colors and death. This issue is unrelenting in its depiction of the horror of war and the terror of battle. This time, instead of heroes and villains in the clouds punching with no effect, the spandex set are put into a warzone we understand and still fear. And they come off second best.
John McCrea has not been a very good artist for “The Boys” since Darick Robertson’s departure. He doesn’t fit the style or the tone but in this issue he’s exactly what was needed. His simpler line style and open ended construction make this all feel like a memory. Avina adds a muted palette that doesn’t glorify a single thing. This comic looks exactly as it should.
“The Boys” should have more one-shot tales on the side like this rather than have Hughie talk about these events with the Legend. Seeing Mallory in action in WWII is something special and you get to better understand the history of supers in this universe. This issue is like a kick to the gut; it hurts, but it might just also make you slightly better than you were before. Or it will just make your eyes water.