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What is Six Plus One? The Boys

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The first six issues of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s controversial series have been collected and issue #7 has sold out. Broken Frontier takes a look at the series-to-date.

If there is one thing writer Garth Ennis is well known for it is pulling no punches in his writing. There is no sacred cow he will not slaughter, no line he will not cross and his latest venture, The Boys, is no exception. After the well-publicized departure of the title from Wildstorm (a division of DC Comics) for Dynamite Entertainment, Dynamite has gathered the first six issues into the trade paperback, The Boys: The Name of the Game. Simultaneously, Dynamite released issue #7 of the series. So what game are these Boys playing at?

The Name of the Game introduces readers to Scotsman Hughie who feels his life is finally taken a turn for the right with a terrific girlfriend. And then that life is shattered when a careless superhero costs Hughie the woman he loves. This action has also raised some government eyebrows and convinced the tough Billy Butcher to come out of retirement and round up his squad again. Butcher has his own vendetta against the so-called superheroes but in the meantime he is more than happy to beat a few of them up and teach them that supervillains are not what they should be afraid of... he is. Butcher zeroes in on Hughie and quickly pulls him into orbit – breaking long-conceived notions of who is good and who is evil and plunging the young man into a world of violence and perversion.

With the latest issue, #7, Hughie has made up his mind to stay with the group and he is unofficially initiated into the group with the gifting of the team "uniform" of a long, black, leather trench coat. Butcher also takes Hughie on a mission to meet "the Legend", the one guy who knows everything about the "supers". It would seem that the Legend has a mission for The Boys... find out which hero killed his grandnephew. Meanwhile, superhero Tek Knight has a very personal and sensitive problem... one that could ruin his career and is already preying on his mind.

With this series Ennis is wickedly satirizing the superhero genre but this is not the first time, Ennis has taken aim at the subject – readers need only check out his excellent series Hitman to see more of the same. With issue #7, however, he takes a few swings at the comic book industry, culture and fan base. And those swings have all the subtlety of a Louisville Slugger. While the title is undeniably funny it is a kind of mean-spirited funny – a humor as black as midnight in Carlsbad Caverns without a flashlight. The problem with this type of humor is that it can get old quickly and more, it can cross the line into outright cruelty.

Much of Ennis’s previous work traded a lot on sex, drugs, and violence for shock value and The Boys is no exception. However, after all his work in the industry this is starting to feel old hat from Ennis. The Tek Knight’s predicament may be uncomfortably funny but feels like an old joke.

For all that there were shocking aspects to series like Preacher or Hitman, those more crude elements were balanced by a rapier sharp wit, a surprising intelligence, a joi de vie, wry observations on things like love, trust, and the human condition, and even some lyrical, touching moments. Those elements are so far largely missing from The Boys. Of all the characters, only Hughie comes off as truly human – the others remain ciphers or pastiches.

The art by Darick Robertson has a kind of hyperrealism to it (as can be seen with Hughie’s resemblance to actor Simon Pegg) that serves to underscore the violence. Robertson pulls no punches in his art and so synchs up perfectly with Ennis’ aims.

The Boys has proven undeniably popular and, despite anything else, it is still a darkly funny satire. However, if the series is to continue it would not hurt for Ennis to inject a little more humanity into it. Satire, mockery, and even wickedness have their places but a steady diet of darkness will usually burn out even the strongest soul.

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