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Amazon’s The Boys is a DC Comics satire — and that nearly killed it

Is The Boys about superheroes, corporations, or both?

Homelander and Queen Maeve standing at high alert on Amazon’s The Boys Jan Thijs/Amazon Studios
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

Comic writer Garth Ennis prefers his heroes to be human — deeply flawed and maybe preternaturally powerful, but humans nonetheless. Which makes The Boys a logical step for him. In the comics, and in the new Amazon series adaptation, the heroes are all human. They’re facing the superpowered “supes” who are living embodiments of the phrase power corrupts. Instead of unimpeachable heroes of truth and justice, Ennis’ supes are corrupt, money-driven, and debauched.

The grungy comic series, which began in 2006 under the Wildstorm imprint at DC, only lasted six issues before getting canceled. Luckily, Ennis managed to maintain the rights, and move his comic to Dynamite Entertainment for the remaining 66 issues (plus some one-shots and a tie-in series). His twisted take on what superheroes were just didn’t mesh with DC’s brand. Maybe because he wasn’t exactly subtle about the heroes he was satirizing.

The Boys’ premiere team of supes is called the Seven, a direct play on DC’s “Big Seven.” This phrase refers to the founding members of the Justice League in whichever version of DC continuity is in vogue at the moment; heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter.

In The Boys, though, these heroes and their ideals are amplified and taken to their extremes.

The Seven hover in the sky in their first introduction in Garth Ennis’ comic version of The Boys Garth Ennis/Wildstorm

Homelander is the blond-haired, blue-eyed, all-American hero. Except it’s a facade. Homelander is the emotionally stunted product of laboratory testing, not a wholesome midwestern upbringing.

In both the comics and the show, Black Noir doesn’t say a word. He’s the inscrutable, brooding hero.

Queen Maeve is a disillusioned crime fighter, burnt out by years of playing a part. In the comics, she loses herself in alcohol and adoring suitors.

The Deep is the “King of the Seas.” He’s kind of hapless in both versions of the story, and exhibits some truly awful behavior towards the women in his orbit.

A-Train is the Seven’s speedster — and he recognizes that being the fastest person alive is the only thing keeping him on the team. His carelessness is the impetus for the story’s events.

The Lamplighter doesn’t appear much in either version of The Boys. His fire- and illumination-based powers come from his torch.

In the comics, the final member of the Seven is Jack from Jupiter — a pretty direct spoof of the Martian Manhunter. In the Amazon series, the seventh member is Translucent, who can become invisible (if he’s naked) — which is one of the Martian Manhunter’s powers (minus the naked part).

Homelander puts a hand on The Deep’s shoulder during a pep talk at the Seven’s home base in the live-action version of The Boys. Jan Thijs/Amazon Studios

Throughout both versions of The Boys, the Seven are more the product of opinion polling and income projections than they are a heroic band of world-savers. Ennis’ mockery doesn’t just skewer the concept of superheroes — it saves some swipes for the comics industry as a whole.

These comically human versions of beloved superheroes call into question what superpowers really mean. What if Bruce Wayne’s broodiness became a head-to-toe suit of armor and zero human interaction? What does talking to sea life really let you do? What if the paragon of salt of the earth American values was a flawed human? Comics tend to lampshade, retcon, downplay, or explain away these questions. But with amplified character flaws, The Boys calls them back into question.

And that’s what makes The Boys more than just a potty-mouthed satire of the DC heroes. It’s potty-mouthed with a purpose. With the characters pushed to their cartoonish extremes, the subtler questions about abuses of power and corporate image-shaping become more obvious. It’s “who watches the Watchmen” with a corporate bent, both in-universe and out. It’s asking what the “truth, justice, and the American Way” heroes actually represent in today’s tumultuous reality.

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