Ennis & Robertson: The Boys Are Back

From its inception as a Wildstorm title through its dominance as one of Dynamite Entertainment's most acclaimed series, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's "The Boys" has always ridden a fine line between the controversial imagery of superhero satire and the earnest, honest stories of some pretty damaged people. As the series presses on towards its third act, that balance remains intact with recent stories ratcheting up the wilder parts of Boys mythology while the arc kicking off in October's issue #35 brings the focus back to the origins of the main cast along with Robertson's return to interior art.

"John [McCrea] and Carlos [Ezquerra] are both great artists in their own right, so seeing their interpretations of the Boys has been cool," explained Robertson of the two frequent Ennis collaborators who have been filling in for him while he draws projects like Wildstorm's "Prototype" series. Of course, the penciler remains dedicated to "The Boys" at all times, providing covers and designs for the more vital characters, like the Nazi Superman Stormfront, who took the brunt of some bloody payback at the end of issue #34.

"I'm not really sure how Stormfront being a Nazi is any more a big deal than say, Marvel's Red Skull being a Nazi, or Tarantino and Singer doing films about Nazis, but yeah, we always saw Stormfront as being a Nazi," Robertson explained of the villain who caused a stir when his appearance on the cover to #34 had to be slightly edited in Diamond's "Previews" catalogue so a Swastika wouldn't be displayed in German comic shops. "I thought 'Thank you for all the extra attention, Germany,'" the artist joked. "As I stated above, I don't see why we can't use the symbol while plenty of other people are exploiting it to their creative ends. It would be different, I suppose, if the character on the cover was supposed to be a good guy or a likable character within the storyline, but he's not. The book seems to be doing very well in Europe, from what I can see. I get good feedback on my forum."

As for his comeback to the book, Robertson told CBR that his time away only gave him a chance to put more and more detail into the origins of The Boys. "I'm doing all the origin stories right now, and jumped ahead to them to try and give them more impact and detail," he said, with Ennis adding, "They're his characters, so it's only right that he should come back for their origins. I think the others have done great work, and John McCrea in particular has caught the Boys in a way that I've found very gratifying - but ultimately no one draws the book like Darick does."

Origins of the series leads kick off in issue #35 with the team's heart and soul: Mother's Milk. As Ennis explained, "This is about the right time for it, particularly from Hughie's point of view, given how badly shaken he is after recent events. Mother's Milk's the best place to start because his story is a little more involved than the others, reflecting his rather more thoughtful, dependable character. It's also more closely bound up with the Boys' mission and what they're all about. We then move on to Frenchie and the Female, both of whose stories are rather more mental."

And while the writer described Wee Hughie's role in the two-part "Nothing Like It In The World" arc as being "very much the observer here, learning more about his comrades (or three out of four of them, at any rate)," the newest member of the team will remain the story's focal point as the book gets closer and closer to its final arcs - particularly his qualms over the lifestyle he's signed up for. "Hughie's biggest problem is with violence; his attitude is nowhere near as casual as the others. You'll see how that develops in the new storyline, 'The Innocents,' which begins in #39 - wherein his aversion to violence leads him to places he could never have imagined. Longer term, of course, this pacifism of his is going to become more and more of a problem, especially as Hughie finds himself with some serious grudges of his own to contend with."

In the meantime, Ennis remains happy to watch the fallout from the acts of unspeakable violence already perpetrated in the series, starting with the beatdowns handed to the Boys and Stormfront over the course of the previous story. "The point was to show how formidable, and simultaneously how vulnerable, the Boys can be. Even taken by surprise, they can give a good account of themselves, and Butcher can handle even a team as powerful as Payback on his own - albeit with their numbers and morale already diminished. Yet one truly dangerous Supe like Stormfront can cause havoc, as we saw when he caught the Female, and later Butcher, on their own. Ultimately, Payback failed because they don't know what they're doing with the (considerable) resources they command. One of the themes I've visited from time to time is how useless superpower can be if it isn't directed tactically - the long term implications of this come to the fore in the issue I'm writing now, #40.

"Stormfront's eventual fate highlights one of my favourite aspects of 'The Boys,' which is the contrast between the fighting style peculiar to superheroes and that of the Boys themselves. If you glance through a typical Supe book, you'll see there's generally a formal quality to the proceedings, as the two sides arrive to give battle, then divide up one-on-one. It's all beautifully choreographed as they dance around each other with balletic grace, lots of spinning kicks and kung fu going on. What Butcher and company prefer is the kind of thing that happens outside a bar at 3 am, where the victim gets ambushed by superior numbers and rapidly reduced to a pulp."

"The Boys" #34 is on sale now, followed next month by "Herogasm" #6 - the final chapter of the series' first spinoff mini from Dynamite Entertainment.

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