After five years, “The Boys” has most likely whittled its audience down to a core group of ‘in it ’til the end’ readers, the sort that find the first page of this issue rather amusing. That page is almost a litmus test of potential readers, with Hughie looking weary and a little bothered looking at a bunch of erotic photos in a superhuman brothel while a voice asks “Is this making you uncomfortable…?” More than that, the photos he’s looking at are carefully staged shots that we recognize as famous superhero comics covers. There’s nothing outrageous about them: they’re just famous (iconic, even) covers that have naked people in the place of the superheroes that were featured on them originally. Does it make you uncomfortable? If you’re still reading “The Boys” by this point, probably not.
That first page reveals one of Russ Braun’s great strengths as an artist. He captures Hughie’s reaction perfectly. It’s not the naÃ¯ve disgust that he once exhibited often; It’s more tired. It’s a reaction that says “When will I be done with these freaks?” The covers look as if they were drawn at full size and inserted into the page and, in the details, reveal that they’re supposed to stem from earlier in the 20th century. They’re artifacts of superhero erotica with men wearing handlebar mustaches and ‘Superman’ lifting an early automobile.
Not just a litmus test for the reader, this page also seems to mark a change for the book. For the past year or two, it’s been struggling to move past its initial image as a twisted mockery of superhero comics to tell the larger story of the conflict between the Boys and the Seven. This page and Hughie’s reaction indicates that the old trick of shocking the readers has grown thin. It’s not something that interests Garth Ennis terribly anymore, and anyone left by issue 58 isn’t likely to be made uncomfortable by old timey erotic parodies of well-known superhero covers.
And, yet, much of the issue that follows is that same sort of ‘shocking’ material with plenty of nudity and superheroes spouting obscenities and racial epithets. Something about it feels different than usual, though. Based around the case the Boys are investigating that points to Jack as the killer of a prostitute working at a superhuman brothel, the story reveals layers of depravity and interconnectedness in the Seven not yet known. Not so much about giggling at superheroes’ genitals, Ennis wants to remind us of who these heroes are and how they think, not just about humans but one another. They are cruel and selfish, and this is often expressed in crude, obvious sexual deviations that shows they lack imagination, too.
Nothing much about “The Boys” #58 will make you uncomfortable in its usual way. The underlying emotions and cruelty on display may; the unexpected turn towards the end of the issue is the big surprise, beginning the push towards the end of the title. It’s not a typical issue of “The Boys” despite beginning, on the surface, in a manner that people would expect from the title. But, look a little deeper and the truth of the situation is apparent. The time for snickering at superheroes looks to be at end; now the real business can begin.