For the last decade, Marvel has led the adaptations of superhero comic books into films. In 2019, the journey culminated in the release of Avengers: Endgame, which premiered to critical and commercial success. It had gone from a story about a playboy billionaire (Tony Stark/Iron Man) to a larger story than spanned universes as well as heroes and villains alike. Although, as the universe expanded, it was hard to ignore that Marvel’s roster of superheroes still lacked diversity. This was made even more apparent when other superhero stories started to make their way into the mainstream.
In the same year that Endgame came out, a quiet and subversive TV show was making waves. The Boys is adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, one that is notorious amongst fans and haters alike for its crude, graphic and violent nature. The series considers what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. The short answer is that they would become an untouchable commodity that could wreak havoc, which would be cleaned up by their slick and all-powerful parent company Vought. The series touches on power, social media, politics and causes the line between hero and villain to become truly blurred.
It is difficult not to draw comparisons between the storylines in The Boys and the reality of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). On-screen, this can be seen through the highly divisive all women team-up scene in Endgame. All the women superheroes come together in a shot that has no narrative precedence and feels like a last-minute choice to prove that Marvel is diverse. In The Boys, on the other hand, they mock this sort of pandering to the audience through hollow PR strategies. Queen Maeve, Stormfront and Starlight are the only female members of The Seven (the name of the group of heroes in The Boys) and they are subjected to promoting the patronising slogan ‘Girls Get it Done.’ This is similar to the marketing campaign that surrounded the release of Captain Marvel where all the trailers referred to her as ‘HERo’. Her gender is emphasised to the point that it becomes her focal characteristic. Not unlike the PR team in The Boys, this suggests that Marvel was interested in using Larson for their gain but didn’t continue to support her when she later received threats for her casting.
The Boys also critiques the all-women scene in Endgame by giving us one of their own in the final episode of Season 2. In The Boys Kimiko, Starlight and Queen Maeve come together to beat the shit out of Stormfront. Unlike Marvel’s scene, The Boys had spent the entirety of the second season building up to this moment. Kimiko, who is a member of The Boys, is an powerful superhuman who had witnessed Stormfront brutally murder her brother. Stormfront had threatened Starlight’s mother and even turned the public against her by calling her a terrorist. As for Queen Maeve, Stormfront had outed her in public leading to the breakdown of Maeve’s relationship and any joy she had in her life. So, it was more than understandable that, when they got the chance, these women would bring hell down on Stormfront. The best part was a tongue-in-cheek comment from Frenchie who, along with other members of The Boys had been watching the whole thing: ‘Wow. Girls do get it done.’ It’s a small moment but it broke down Marvel’s artificial attempts to showcase female superheroes in the same way they portray their male ones.
Perhaps more disturbing than Marvel’s on-screen failures are their off-screen failures. This was never more apparent than last week when everyone came together to support Chris Pratt when the internet named him ‘the worst Chris.’ It brought to light the list of times there had been no support for non-white and female cast members who had been the recipients of harassment and threats. Tessa Thompson, Brie Larson and Anthony Mackie have publicly received more than just criticism purely for being cast in the Marvel films. Sure, Marvel says Captain Marvel is a ‘HERo’ but when it comes to the real-life woman bringing her to life, they stay silent. It is alarming to note that The Boys isn’t set in a far-off dystopia where superheroes roam our planet. Superheroes have been roaming our planet for the last decade on our screens and they are often given the same God-like treatment The Seven get in The Boys.
Marvel is our Vought protecting their assets and disregarding those they don’t need once they’ve used them for their PR needs. In fact, there is the direct comparison of how casually A-Train (the only black member of The Seven) is used to showcase their diversity one minute and then thrown out the next when he doesn’t meet their image. Whereas Homelander — a white man— rapes a woman and Vought does everything in their power to keep her hidden so that his public image is not ruined. In a real case of art imitating life, The Boys have pointed out the stark reality that all of us have become the victims of a PR stunt we never even realised was happening.
by Aleena Augustine
Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms, coming of age films, animations and comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids). Her favourite films are Before Sunrise, Inside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can read her blog, That’s What She Said and more of her writing at Music Bloggery.