This review contains spoilers for the final issue of “The Boys.”
“The Boys” #72 caps the end on this titanic run of superheroic commentary from Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson and the other admirable artists who stepped up to the plate. When this book started, it was a revolution. With noses out of joint and publishers changed, “The Boys” was a force of nature sweeping through the superhero comic landscape. The subversive commentary and disdain for superheroes kept this pseudo-satire of violent proportions at the pinnacle of comics over the years. This final epilogue issue makes readers think, but only after the soft nature of the ending finally washes away.
Garth Ennis used this book to give his personal thesis on superheroes. This issue seems to ram home two points: in the words of one character, superheroes are “bad product.” You can change superheroes, reboot them, give them wardrobe malfunctions but in the end they’re always broken icons unable to be fixed. “The Boys” doesn’t exist to show a new awesome side to what superpowered individuals could be — it exists to tear them down. Ennis certainly did that in this book, but he’ll never topple the empire they hold in comics. I doubt he ever thought he would.
The other major point Ennis rams home is that superheroes do not have to ruin you. Wee Hughie is the only one to survive this sordid romp and perhaps that is due to his humanity. He was never hung up on superheroes, he was never defined by them. Hughie gets to continue a fantastic existence very near to the exact same place he started before superheroes entered his world. The central thesis of this point seems to be that superhero dalliances might be fun, but eventually all we’ll want to do is tear them down. However, by walking away, we have the opportunity to save ourselves. We are the more important variable in this exercise. Don’t think to change the machine, simply stop using and relying upon it.
These two points are fantastic and well told, but they lack the glue to hold this final issue together. Or at least, they can’t do so in a fashion that suitably bookends the series. The end feels soft and mushy and that isn’t what “The Boys” is. This book is a terrible affair that shocks and stalls. To have it kiss us all better and send readers off with the final page seems inherently askew. Ennis can certainly deliver a happy ending, and one with meaning, but the effect is like a warm handshake after a right passionate night of thunder. While he worked this in “Preacher” to great effect, in “The Boys,” it’s more wrapping the last people up in their own problems and then giving Hughie the easy happiness he hasn’t earned.
Darick Robertson back on art is a welcome pleasure, though I must say it’s a shame to miss Russ Braun so badly. While Robertson established this world, and it most certainly is his, I always enjoyed the way Braun brought these people to life. His comical expressions and almost cartoony style made the book feel more vibrant and so the shocks came harder. Robertson was great at the voracious violence and depravity, but he gets to deliver none of it here. This issue is all text and faces. Robertson does well with what he’s got but the content almost didn’t need him.
“The Boys” #72 is a coda and a simple one at that. Ennis and Robertson bring their book to a close and there are some familiar smiles to be had but this is far from the masterful ending I was looking for. The six-month gap in story allows for some easy transitions, but the pretty little bow of happily ever after isn’t necessarily deserved. Ennis chooses to deliver a positive message over one that could have been more powerful. I wonder if he as a creator and we as readers will heed it.