Why Amazon Prime’s the Boys Is Unlike Any Superhero Show You’ve Seen

***Spoiler Alert**

Originally based on Garth Ennis’ 2006 comic book of the same name, The Boys has broken the mold for cut-and-paste superhero storylines. The series debuted as an Amazon original series in 2019 and quickly became one of the most watched series on Prime.

It proved its staying power when season 3 dropped in June 2022 and trailed second behind Netflix’s Stranger Things for several days in streaming rankings.

In a world full of superhero comics, movies, TV spinoffs, remakes, cult fans, and memorabilia, it can often feel like everything in the genre has been done at least once before. To garner such success as The Boys, with a novel plot based loosely on a comic you’ve probably never heard of, is unprecedented. Let’s compare The Boys to some well-known heroes and discover how it’s shaking up a genre saturated with tired tropes.

A Story About the Human (Not Superhuman) Condition

The popularity of the superhero genre feeds on our shared fantasy of developing superpowers. Fans dream of being able to cling to walls like Peter Parker or become indestructible like Wolverine. We posit the implications of becoming something beyond human and wonder what we might do with that kind of power.

Conventional comics paint superheroes as the pinnacle of morality and suggest that most humans would use superpowers for good. Tony Stark sacrificed himself to save the world, Spiderman bends over backward to prevent collateral damage, and Batman martyrs his reputation to give Gotham a villain they can unite against.

On the other hand, The Boys universe holds a much more cynical view of humanity. Vought’s commoditization of “supes” has turned them into an allegory for our world’s celebrity. Being revered by the public as gods from birth has made them narcissistic hedonists, only saving the day when they have followers to be gained or an angle to play.

Just about every super-abled character is rotten to their core, with minor exceptions. The story implies that humans usually crumble under great power. It’s a lot like how being a child star is notoriously damaging to the psyche.

Origin Stories

A classic ingredient for the perfect superhero is a tragic yet compelling origin story. The audience needs to learn how our favorite characters got their powers and what experiences in their past motivated them to use them for good. This recipe creates a relatable and trustworthy crusader they can root for.

For example, after witnessing his parent’s death in a mugging, Bruce Wayne swears to fight injustice in Gotham at all costs and becomes Batman.

The Boys is not devoid of great origin stories; their placement is entirely different. Vought superheroes, created at birth with “compound V,” have the most insignificant origin stories. Instead, compelling origins are reserved for the average humans tasked with fighting Vought’s corruption. Emphasis on the otherwise “ordinary” characters’ backstories flips the vantage point, and instead, they become extraordinary.

Why Amazon Prime’s The Boys is Unlike any Superhero Show You’ve Seen
Image Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The series’ main protagonist, Huey, is compelled to fight against Vought when A-Train kills his girlfriend while on a drug binge. Billy Butcher swears against all supes when Homelander rapes his wife Becca before she mysteriously disappears for years. Kimiko joins the fight against Vought after discovering they intentionally created her as a terrorist supe to push the company’s military agendas.

Against this backdrop, supe origins become largely trivialized. Viewers are unconcerned with how The Deep was probably bullied as a child for the gills on his torso, Queen Maeve’s alcoholism, or how Black Noir became mute.

Minimizing Collateral Damage Is Not a Thing

In other cinematic universes, superheroes at least try to curtail damage to property and save lives whenever possible, although it is sometimes not an option. Batman is famous for his no-kill rule, where he opts to incapacitate villains instead of killing them. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is constantly hindered in battle while he juggles saving civilian lives, like in his bridge battle with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

With no moral compass to speak of and a multi-billion-dollar superhero entertainment conglomerate to pay for damages and coverups, most Vought superheroes are messy and downright homicidal at times. However, as the series progresses, it becomes apparent that many supes on Vought’s payroll save lives when the cameras are rolling and enjoy unnecessary murder in private.

Take, for example, Homelander and Maeve’s active shooter mission in season 1, where Homelander punches through a surrendering man’s body before staging a shootout that never happened. Homelander’s deteriorating mental health becomes apparent when he ushers a suicidal girl to her death in season three.

A-Train ran through Huey’s girlfriend Robin and is later seen joking about swallowing one of her molars “like a bug” a week later. Season three’s Blue Hawk stomps a perp’s head so hard he breaks into the concrete and paralyzes A-Train’s human brother during his botched public apology. He then lies about being threatened to justify his racially motivated violence.

Wrap-up

The superhero genre is forever ingrained in American pop culture, and its popularity isn’t declining anytime soon. But fans are hungry for something new, honest, and raw, and The Boys delivers just that. This revolutionary series has opened the door for a grittier NSFW sub-genre. The renowned success of The Boys could mean that the superhero scene is headed in an entirely new direction. Here’s to hoping this thread continues to thrive and blossom.

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