The Boys Doesn’t Deserve Its Harshest Criticisms

By Michileen Martin | Published

the boys season 3

The well-deserved popularity of Amazon’s The Boys has an unintended consequence that doesn’t sit right with me–it has inspired fans to seek out the source material and, upon discovering how different it is from the show, to trash it mercilessly. I’m not here to convince anyone to love The Boys comics, to hate them, or to feel any way in between. But if you judge The Boys comic negatively based on its differences with the show, then you do not understand The Boys comics.

The Show And The Comic Have Different Targets

One of the first things fans notice upon reading The Boys comic is that the supes characters aren’t as fleshed out as they are in the series. Supes like Homelander, The Deep, and A-Train are one-dimensional jerks with no more depth than a caricature you might find in Mad Magazine.

The supes’ Amazon counterparts have a lot more meat on their bones. Even someone like Chace Crawford’s The Deep–played mostly for laughs–reveals more layers than what we see in the comics.

Fans are right that the supes of The Boys comic are one-dimensional, but that’s because that’s exactly what they’re meant to be.

While both the show and the comics are satire, the show is much more concerned with the real world and contemporary issues. The conflict between those who support Homelander and those who support Starlight, for example, is very much played up as a reflection of right vs. left cultural conflicts.

But The Boys comic is not trying to lampoon anything in the real world, and if you don’t understand that, then you’re lost already. The Boys is a comic book about comic books.

A Comic Book About Comic Books

The Boys comic is a comic book about comic books. Specifically, it’s a comic book responding to the continued superhero dominance in American comics.

Garth Ennis, co-creator of The Boys comics, hates superheroes. I’ve got my own issues with Ennis–including the hypocrisy of a dude who yells from every mountaintop that he hates superheroes who then writes Thor and Hulk miniseries for Marvel–but the truth is that the guy has good reason to hate what he hates.

In 2024, it’s just stupid that superheroes still enjoy such a stranglehold on the American comic book industry. Look at the diversity of Japanese manga–there’s superhero manga but they’re far from the norm.

In fact, there’s manga that has nothing to do with science-fiction, fantasy, or any of the genres that are part of the superhero make-up. There are medical dramas, sports dramas, romances, etc.

The truth that we could have just as broad and diverse a set of stories in America as manga readers enjoy but don’t is what The Boys comics are responding to.

It’s Not Just For Shock Value

When checking out The Boys comic after watching the show, fans will often be surprised at how much more unapologetically violent, gruesome, offensive, and overall disgusting the source material is.

One early, memorable, and oft-cited example involves Starlight’s introduction to The Seven. While in the show Erin Moriarty’s Starlight is forced to perform a degrading act with The Deep to join the group, in The Boys comic she’s forced to perform it with three members of the team–Homelander, A-Train, and Black Noir.

Fans often respond to scenes like this, and others, in The Boys comic by saying it’s just for shock value, and to that I have two responses.

First, in this scene in The Boys comic, Homelander and his buddies are letting Starlight know that she has exactly one purpose in the team. Consider that, and then go do a google image search on “Power Girl” or “She-Hulk.” Do another search on “Frank Cho female superhero.

Then come back here and try to tell me how The Boys comic only had that Starlight scene for shock value, and it couldn’t possibly be trying to say anything about the portrayal of women in superhero comics.

Second–remember how Season 3 of The Boys started? Please tell me about how they had a little Ant-Man dude crawl into another man and had him explode… to convey a deep and complex message. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You Don’t Have To Like Them…

the boys comic

Again, I’m not saying you should like The Boys comic–I’m not even saying you shouldn’t hate them. I’m saying that it’s not fair to ask the comics to be more like the show.

Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson are trying to do something with The Boys comic, and it is not the same thing Eric Kripke is trying to do with the show. So negatively comparing the comics to the show is akin to complaining about Jurassic Park because there weren’t enough kissing scenes.

I would not judge The Boys comic to be anywhere near as brilliant as something like Watchmen or Planetary, it is similar to those comics in one way–if you do not have a fairly healthy cache of knowledge about not just comic book mythology, but the history of American comic book publishing, then when you open up an issue of The Boys you won’t even get a whiff of the real story.