The Boys: A Graphic Series That’s too Graphic for the Screen?



“As the old saying goes: With great power comes the total fuckin’ certainty that you’re gonna turn into a cunt.” – Billy Butcher

For people who are tired of the over-saturated superhero media, comes a series that will show their heads being pummelled into the dirt or ripped off entirely. Amazon Prime is adapting Gareth Ennis’ twisted comic series The Boys for TV but will this prove to be as successful as the original source material this comic series was ripping into? Or is this highly graphic graphic series one that’s doomed to eat shit.

The Boys addresses the superhero Marvel/DC empire in media but with its own unique and disturbing approach. In this universe, all Supers are hailed as heroes and worshipped like Gods. However, instead of these heroes embodying good, they let their power infect their minds and have turned into arrogant, uncaring, selfish, destructive, sex-driven monsters. The chaos they leave in their wake from their sloppy attempts of “saving the world” to their self-indulgent and disgustingly wild parties are ignored by most of the public, except for one group – The Boys. The Boys consist of Billy Butcher, Hughie Campbell, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchmen, and The Female all of whom have dedicated their lives to taking down the tyranny of Supers and enacting bloody punishment for their crimes.

As with most adaptations the news was met with delight from fans, followed by dread how faithful this would be to the primary source, and then the inevitable question: did this need to be made? Technically there’s nothing wrong with growing the audience for a loved series, however film and TV is unfortunately often seen as the climax stage of art – if your work is adapted, you’ve made it. This not only dismisses the validity of other art mediums but also raises problems with the practicality of the decision.

The type of violence presented in The Boys’ comics were purposely and outrageously over-the-top. It’s a creative style that’s meant to dig out the most fucked-up impulses and desires of humanity and smear it across the page to shock and appal. The issue is that to make the violence so overt, reality must be stretched; this dismissal of realism works in graphic novels as it’s a medium that delights in showcasing the fantastical nature of human imagination, unbounded by funding or production effects. However, the medium of film and TV can be a little limiting. Obviously technology has advanced to a stage where we can have brilliant special and practical effects – we’ve created huge fantasy worlds, portrayed fish-men in loving and tender relationships with humans, showcased realistic looking lions awkwardly lip-syncing to our favourite childhood songs – however, achieving these effects often mean grounding the visuals and packaging them in a way that makes sense to our world. The nature of The Boys’ visuals is ridiculous, and it seems like something that should have remained in comic format.

Certain genres, such as horror, do push boundaries on what’s acceptable to show, especially the more exploitative or independent B-movies, which can have blood and gore coming out the yin-yang. However, it’s rare for a mainstream show funded by an established household-name company like Amazon Prime to delve into such shocking and likely, upsetting content.

Let’s focus in more on the specific type of content presented in The Boys. The comic series was written by Garth Ennis and co-created, designed and illustrated by Darick Robertson and oh boy are their minds fucked-up. The Boys was an amalgamation of story lines and imagery that intended to make their readers think “what the fuck??” In the 72-issue span, there’s so much wildly inappropriate content that it’s difficult to narrow down exactly what to discuss. Let’s just spin the wheel and see what we land on first – ah yes, how about that time one guy fucked a chinchilla to death. Yep. That happened. Or how about when someone takes a lubed up gun up the ass and licks off his own shit afterwards. Or when they snort ground up fetus’ as drugs. Do you want to see your favourite actors re-enacting those scenes? Really?

Now there’s nothing wrong with showing messed-up and gross imagery, it’s a valid form of entertainment; unfortunately, because of the nature of “pushing societal boundaries” there are some narratives that are going to be extremely difficult to show, which raises the question of if they should show them. There is certainly a lot of problematic scenes throughout the series and the treatment of certain issues is less than tactful. As already discussed, the Supers are all sex-fiends and with their enormous unbalance of power and unbridled means to abuse it, the story line of sexual abuse is constant throughout. There are huge orgy parties where people are raped to death; there’s a story line that has hundreds of children molested by their leader; a main female character is raped by a group of her colleagues and this is later used by her boyfriend (who we’re meant to like, by the way) to shame her and chastise her for being a “slut”. To be blunt, the use of female characters throughout the series is appalling. Out of the main four women we’re introduced to throughout the series, one is killed instantly to drive the narrative of her boyfriend, one experiences gang-rape, one is a cartoonishly bitter “bitch” who the main character uses to hate-fuck repeatedly, and one is a completely mute character who’s actually called “The Female”. Admittedly, The Female is pretty bad-ass but she still falls into the “cool women must be emotionless” trope. The representation of women in the series is beyond icky and it’s something that needs to be updated in the TV series. Female representation in the industry has finally started to make some progress and without addressing the problematic nature of the comic narratives, the TV series risks dragging us all back a few decades.

In short, this adaptation will be… interesting. Being produced by the guys who brought you Sausage Party isn’t exactly a confidence boost. Hopefully the adaptation will be an interpretation that alters a lot of problematic plot points and finds a unique way around the comic style gore that justifies the change of medium. Or maybe it’ll be a cluster-fuck on par with hero-gasm – let’s find out. 


by Michaela Barton

Michaela is a freelance journalist living in Glasgow who watches far too much Netflix so might as well make a career out of it. Her one true love is procrastination but she’s also a fan of feminist and queer theory, ugly dad shirts, and abducting cats. You can find her on Twitter at @MichaelaBarton_

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