The Boys Universe Does This One Thing Better Than Marvel

By Michileen Martin | Updated

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The Boys‘ Laila Robins as Grace Mallory in Gen V

Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison considering all the shows and films Marvel’s narrative spans, versus the comparatively young screen universe spawned by Amazon‘s The Boys. Regardless, with the inaugural season of Gen V–the first live-action The Boys spinoff–almost over, Eric Kripke and co. have handled the talent crossovers we’ve seen so far much more deftly than Kevin Feige has on his end. The new series comes off as spare with its guest stars from The Boys–with each appearance feeling much less forced than what tends to happen with Marvel–in spite of there actually being quite a few guests from the home series.

Last week’s episode, “Sick,” saw the Gen V debuts of Laila Robins as the CIA’s Grace Mallory and Claudia Doumit as politician/supe-on-the-down-low Victorian Neuman. The latter proves to be particularly key to the plot. We learn about a hidden connection between her and one of the Gen V heroes, and she steps in to make a move on the virus project of The Woods.

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Victoria Neuman in Gen V

This first season of Gen V has seen quite a few actors showing up from The Boys. Vought CEO Ashley Barrett (Colby Minifie) and her one-time romantic partner, Dawn of the Seven director Adam Bourke (P.J. Byrne) have both popped up in the new series. On the more super side of things, we’ve had cameos from The Deep (Chace Crawford), A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), and even the late Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles).

Jensen Ackles makes a cameo as Soldier Boy in the Gen V episode “Jumanji.” More accurately, he shows up as a psychic manifestation of Soldier Boy in Cate’s (Maddie Phillips) memories.

As opposed to similar cameos from Marvel, every cameo or full-fledged guest appearance in Gen V makes sense. Considering the potential of the virus being brewed in The Woods, there’s nothing surprising about Grace Mallory, Victoria Neuman, and Ashley Barrett getting involved. When we get cameos from A-Train and The Deep–in bite-sized commercials or other clips–it feels like it’s showing up as naturally as if we were in the world of The Boys.

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Chace Crawford as The Deep at the memorial service for Rich Brinkerhoff in Gen V “#ThinkBrink”

The only cameo so far that comes close to feeling like pure fan service might be the psychic manifestation of Soldier Boy in “Jumanji,” but only in the sense that it didn’t have to be Soldier Boy. Regardless, his appearance serves two purposes beyond fan service: it provides exposition–Soldier Boy informs the heroes of the desperate straits they’re in–and it’s hilarious.

Like The Boys, I love most of Marvel’s projects and I’m here for all the cameos as much as the next nerd. But more often than not–particularly these days when we’re clearly on the down slope of Marvel’s shark-jump–the cameos are either just fan service and/or they’re purely promotional.

The crossover appearances between The Boys and Gen V are being handled much better than what we see in the MCU.

For example, what narrative purpose do Mark Ruffalo and Brie Larson serve in the mid-credits scene of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Their characters offer little exposition and nothing that couldn’t have been explained by someone else; potentially Wong (Benedict Wong) who is in the scene and had already shown up earlier in the film.

Brie Larson and Mark Ruffalo in the mid-credits scene of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

On one hand it’s fan service, and on the other it reminds you to “stay tuned” to other Marvel projects featuring Captain Marvel and the Hulk.

If you think Marvel is beyond such naked self-promotion, guess again. Ever since Phase 1, Marvel has occasionally taken advantage of the audience’s expectation of mid and post credits surprises to–rather than craft entirely new content–simply inject scenes from upcoming films as advertisements. Examples include 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger (just a trailer for The Avengers), 2015’s Ant-Man (part of a scene from Captain America: Civil War), and this year’s Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania (part of a Loki scene).

The Season 1 finale of Gen V streams this Friday on Amazon Prime Video.

This isn’t what we’re seeing in the crossover between Gen V and The Boys. Likely, part of that is because there is an assumption that if you’re watching Gen V, you’re already a fan of The Boys and hardly need convincing to stay tuned for more. Maybe as the franchise inevitably expands, we’ll start seeing these crossovers acting more like Marvel’s (let’s hope not).

And who knows? Maybe this week’s Season 1 finale of Gen V will include some much more shamelessly Marvel-esque cameos, with Anthony Starr’s Homelander and/or Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher showing up for a wink to the fans. Somehow, I doubt it.