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September 03rd 2010

The Boys: Volume 6: The Self Preservation Society

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Darick Robertson and Carlos Ezquerra

Published by Titan| Available Now

Review written by Ross Holloway

Set in a contemporary universe not dissimilar to our own, but where costumed heroes are an everyday reality, The Boys introduces a couple of novel twists to the normal way of things in comic books. The first is that costumed heroes are the bad guys, tools of malevolent corporate interests; the second is that The Boys contains industrial levels of bad language. The sheer amount of swearing, drawing from both the urban North American pallet, and modern British with a particular emphasis on cockney football hooligan speak probably counts as serious innovation in the world of comics.

The 'Boys' themselves are a secretive group bent upon beating up on the superheroes – or as they are called in the strip 'supes'. There are five of them in all led by cockney wideboy and swearer in chief Billy Butcher and his 'British Bulldog', gentle of intellectual leanings Wee Hughie from Scotland, African-American Mother's Milk and vice captain of expletives, comic Frenchman Frenchie, and the enigmatic Female from Japan who has seemingly landed from a Takashi Miike film (I'm thinking Audition).

The Superhero genre in comics is a distinctly American one. I cannot think of one British truly convincing character appearing in any men-in-tights style strip, so it was with some trepidation that I opened a Brit comic featuring men in tights, even as the villains. That trepidation I soon realised was totally unwarranted, because the Boys in very much in the tradition of classic 2000AD strips – the involvement of original inker Judge Dredd Carlos Ezquerra should have been a giveaway – in that the Boys is a potent mixture of social satire, the blackest humour, and gleeful mindless violence. But the inclusion of an American character does allow for stateside settings that makes for characters with big muscles in tight costumes appear much more quotidian than they might if it were set in say, Coventry.

Although this compendium covers issues 31-38, the major narrative arcs and character back-stories are only slowly being unwound and revealed. The villain is a corporation, Vought-American, that have a hand evidentially in all sorts of businesses, but crucially have been involved in the development of 'Compound V' which engenders superpowers in a tiny minority and causes disabilities in very many more. Vought American have their own stable of superheroes manipulated and compromised by the corporate masters, where they need compromising that is.

The trajectory and ultimate motives of the Boys is not revealed in these episodes, but there is much fun to be had as Billy Butcher fights these superheroes terrace style with fists and boots to the groin. There are plenty of nice touches and some subtle points being made here, but largely this is adolescent revenge fantasy stuff. Clever and dumb can sometimes be a potent mix, and the Boys just about treads the right side of the divide, but for me some good story telling is sometimes let down by the more puerile elements.

The artwork, as you'd expect from Darick Robertson and Ezquerra is top drawer, and overall the Boys is very good fun, diverting stuff. Any literature that subversively cocks a snook at power is positive in my book and I will look out for it again.


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