Review: ‘The Boys Presents: Diabolical’ Anthology Is More Fun Than Anticipated

Usually, adaptations are a disappointment. The Boys, though, has been a shocking, and even almost unbelievable, exception. The original comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, is a drearily snickering exercise in edgelord tedium. What if superheroes, but with bowels and gouts of blood?! That would be awwweeeessssommmme. Haha! Look at that decapitation. Whoo-hoo.

And then somehow the television series took this puerile mass of bodily fluids and smugness, and turned it into a passionate, hilarious, often heartbreaking story about people struggling to survive predatory American capitalism and fascism. There’s still lots of blood and sex in the mix, of course, and the show can be deeply mean-spirited. But it also loves and respects its characters in a way the comic never did. And there’s never been a super on-screen villain as chillingly compelling as the psychopathic, xenophobic, all-powerful Homelander, played with a brilliant mix of heroic bluster and malice by Anthony Starr.

So when The Boys Presents: Diabolical was announced, I was both hopeful and nervous. The eight 12-13 minute short animations each features a different creative team exploring the world of The Boys. Would they manage to maintain the high quality of the TV series? Or would we default to the edgelord garbage?

The answer, perhaps inevitably, is a little of both. The seven of eight episodes available for review vary wildly in quality. The worst are bad in exactly the way you’d expect them to be bad, summed up by one titled, “An Animated Short Where Pissed Off Supes Kill Their Parents.”  Directed by Parker Simmons, it features a lot of gratuitous carnage and supposedly funny/gross superpowers. One guy can melt things with his groin; another has breasts where his face should be. It’s adolescent humor by adults who aren’t nearly as creative as adolescents.

“Boyd in 3D,” directed by Naz Ghodrati-Azadi, a pallid satire of social media’s influencer obsession, is not much better, while Matthew Bordenave’s “Nubian vs. Nubian” answers the question, “what if married superheroes wanted a divorce?” in the least interesting manner possible.

Jae Kim’s “One Plus One Equals Two” is the closest to the television series continuity; it tells the story of Homelander’s first mission. It isn’t terrible, but you spend most of the runtime wondering why on earth you’d want to tell a Homelander story in which Anthony Starr is reduced to a voice. If those twinkling, dead, terrifying eyes aren’t onscreen, what’s the point?

From there, things start to improve substantially. “BFFs,” written by Awkwafina and directed by Madeleine Flores is a touching story of a girl who gains the power to animate her poo. The anime-influenced cutesiness combines with the distasteful subject matter to create a delightfully repulsive sugared poop smoothy that feels completely different from both the original Boys comic and the dark television series.

“John and Sunhee,” directed by Steve In Chang Ahn, and written in uncharacteristically somber mode by comedian Andy Samberg, goes off on another tangent. It begins as an Akira/Lovecraft-influenced cosmic/body horror bloodbath before a weird, lyrical meditation on death and grief pulls itself from Sunhee’s glowing intestines.  It’s a remarkable episode,  and you’d expect it to be the highlight of any anthology series of which it was a part.

But it’s not quite the best entry. That would be the first episode, “Laser Baby’s Day Out.” Written by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, and directed by Crystal Chesney-Thompson and Derek Lee Thompson, the short is a wordless tribute to Loony Tunes cartoons.

Vought is experimenting with giving superpowers to babies, including an adorable little girl who doesn’t quite have control over her laser eyes—they only go off when she sneezes or hiccups. A scientist with a heart of gold tries to rescue her, triggering an extended chase involving elevators, gorillas, and a lot of beefy guards disintegrating into gouts of blood and occasional brain bits. The choreography is a breathtaking ballet of adorable uber-violence, almost matching those old Roadrunner cartoons in invention and grace. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

So, the scorecard out of eight is:

Unavailable for review: 1
Largely worthless: 3
Misguided: 1
Good: 1
Great: 1
Masterpiece: 1

That’s not quite as consistent as I hoped, but a lot better than I feared. Given its frankly mediocre origins, The Boys continues to be much better as a franchise than it has any right to be. I’m looking forward to season 3 of the live-action series. And if there is another round of Diabolical shorts, I recommend they be all Laser Baby, all the time (with maybe a pause for a nap).

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Image Credit: Prime Video. 


The Boys Presents: Diabolical

6

That’s not quite as consistent as I hoped, but a lot better than I feared. Given its frankly mediocre origins, The Boys continues to be much better as a franchise than it has any right to be.

6.0/10

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.