My first review for CBR was of “The Boys” #24 back when the book was mostly concerned with making fun of superheroes. It spent so much time running the theme into the ground that most people wrote the series off as nothing more than juvenile mockery of superheroes. Three years and four months later, “The Boys” is a very different book, one with origins in earlier mockery and has grown into a disturbing meditation on power and corruption. Superheroes in “The Boys” aren’t a joke anymore; they’re deadly serious.
The Homelander has finally put his plan into play for superheroes to run amok and possibly take over the United States government. In response, Butcher has released all of the dirt he and the Boys have collected on the supes over the years. Some of that material is of the Homelander slaughtering people, exposing him and creating a situation where there’s no turning back. Yet, despite these obvious conditions for extreme violence, “The Boys” #64 is a quiet issue of building tension. No one is entirely sure what’s going on and no one wants to act prematurely.
Garth Ennis and Russ Braun deliver one of the series’ best scenes when the Homelander and James Stillwell come face to face, both knowing exactly what’s happening. It plays out in a surprising fashion with Stillwell tearing down the Homelander mentally, unafraid and welcoming death because of the part he’s played, all the while insulting the “hero” for his complete lack of imagination. In revealing his true self, the Homelander has only revealed the most base of thoughts and impulses, using his powers in bland, predictable ways. It’s a scene where the complete lack of importance of the Homelander is emphasized and driven home.
It’s hard not to miss the critique of superhero comics as well as Ennis’s self-awareness in this scene. The Homelander and the Seven have always walked the line between interesting and completely dull, usually favoring the latter when they explore the debaucheries they engage in. Of course they’re not the real “bad guys” of the series. The supes are just cover, a misdirection, for Butcher and the readers. Ennis has made it clear the title has more to it after the current arc and this scene drives it home in a spectacular fashion.
The subtext of Ennis’ writing in is brought out by Braun’s art. Stillwell’s constant look of boredom and the Homelander’s barely contained frustration sells the scene like nothing else. It screams, “Look, I’m an adult superhero! Pay attention!” while the audience yawns and wonders what else they can do with their time.
The wonderful character work continues with Butcher and Hughie. Butcher is completely in his element, ready to march into his final confrontation with the Homelander, while Hughie looks on in horror, unsure of what he can do. He struggles to support Butcher, not knowing if there’s any viable alternative, which is apparent in every panel. Braun captures those conflicting desires of loyalty and horror perfectly, contrasting them with the look of calm and peace on Butcher’s face.
Where exactly “The Boys” will go after the current story ends next issue is anyone’s guess, but it’s doubtful superheroes and mockery of them will play a large role. The series has been moving towards a larger exploration of power, the morality of a group like the Boys and brilliant character work. It’s been one hell of a ride and if the remaining issues are as good as this one, it will be a shame to see it end.