- Countdown #31 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Manuel Garcia & Rodney Ramos (DC)
- Countdown to Adventure #2 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Eddy Barrow & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray, Travis Moore & Saleem Crawford (DC)
- Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #34, by Tony Bedard & Dennis Calero (DC)
- Astro City: The Dark Age vol 2 #4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
- Annihilation Conquest: Starlord #3 of 4, by Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II, & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
- Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite HC vol 6, by Phil & Kaja Foglio (Airship)
- The Boys: The Name of the Game vol 1 TPB, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
- Boneyard #26, by Richard Moore (NBM)
Wow, the last issue of Astro City came out back in April. I know there are many good reasons why it comes out so slowly, but it’s still frustrating considering this is one of the best comic book series ever published. This is a pretty good issue where the stuff hits the fan for our protagonists, the Williams brothers, as well as suggesting what the scoop with the Silver Agent is. One more special is up next, and then the third and final mini-series to conclude The Dark Age Can’t wait! I hope they can get it all out in the next year.
Speaking of excellent comics, I finally got my hardcover copy of volume 6 of Girl Genius. This is a hefty volume concluding Agatha Heterodyne’s adventures in Sturmhalten, including the truth about her mother, Lucretia Mongfish, the plans her mother left behind after she disappeared: Specifically, the plan to return her consciousness to life in the body of her daughter.
Unfortunately, though there’s a lot to like here, the story is both padded and confusing. Most of the padding is in the form of Agatha’s allies who spend much of the book wandering around in the sewers of Sturmhalten, an expedition which is sometimes amusing, but which does absolutely nothing to move the story forward. Most of the confusion comes in trying to figure out when we’re watching Agatha and when we’re watching Lucretia, and in trying to figure out exactly who did what, and why. The motivations here are slippery things, and I think the Foglios overextended themselves in trying to be too clever with what amounted to the mechanical aspects of the plot. I think I finally got it all figured out, but it shouldn’t have been this hard.
Those frustrations aside, the book is still tremendously entertaining, very funny, and full of action, adventure, and things blowing up real good. And the secrets of Agatha’s family history are slowly emerging, although – again – the issue of motivation is central to the goings-on, and it’s not at all clear to me what exactly happened in the war against The Other all those years ago. Are the revelations herein supposed to be taken at face value, or is it all a blind for something deeper? That’s the problem with a story that has games-within-games, you can never tell when you’ve reached the center, and that can be really annoying. Eventually the Foglios are going to have to make it absolutely clear in the story that “this is what happened, and there are no more secrets to be revealed”. I hope that’s where this is all going.
(I had a similar problem with Babylon 5: When it was revealed what the Shadows and the Vorlons were really up to, my reaction was, “Nah, that’s silly! It’s gotta be a blind for their real motivations. But in fact, silly or not, that was it. But directions had reversed so many times that it was hard to believe.)
The Boys didn’t really register on my consciousness until the controversial decision by DC to cancel it from its Wildstorm line, resulting in the book moving to Dynamite. While I’ve enjoyed Darick Robertson’s artwork in various places, I’ve not read much by Garth Ennis, who is probably best known for his series Preacher, which, well, I haven’t read. However, the brouhaha and a flip-through in the store made me decide to pick up the trade paperback, which collects the first 6 issues.
The first three words that come to mind about this book are not for children. This is a grim, edgy, extremely violent, and often gratuitous story about a world in which superheroes are real, and their fights and whims take a huge toll on normal humans. Ennis doesn’t shy away from just about anything he can imagine super-powered people would do with their powers, and Robertson illustrates it in graphic detail. So if any of that is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be able to appreciate, then The Boys is not for you.
“The Boys” themselves are five people who work as a covert team to put the fear of god into superbeings, through threats, blackmail, and sheer force. Needless to say, some of them are powered themselves. Their leader, Billy Butcher, is assembling the team anew after it having disbanded some time previously, and he recruits three of his old mates as well as a new recruit, Wee Hughie, to start executing his plans. His first target is an out-of-control teen group of superheroes. Even as Hughie is getting his first taste of working with the Boys, a charming midwestern superheroine named Starlight is recruited to join the Seven, the country’s premier super-team (with the usual analogues to members of the Justice League), who learns that playing with the big boys isn’t at all what she’d expected.
The Boys reminds me strongly of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, not just in its approach of an undercover team fighting the forces which dominate the world, but in giving the story an “everyman” point of view: The story (almost) opens with Hughie seeing the woman he lives brutally killed during a fight between two superbeings, much as Jack Frost is the young ne’er-do-well who joins the Invisibles. Ennis is more deft at characterization than Morrison is, but then, Morrison had bigger fish to fry than following Jack through the series, while The Boys is fundamentally very much about the perceptions and reactions of the characters.
It’s probably inevitable that The Boys also be compared to Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, as both books take place in which certain trands have resulted in a seriously damaged world in which our heroes (who are anti-heroes in both instances) operate, plus of course they’re both drawn by Robertson. Robertson’s artwork has advanced considerably since Transmet; it no longer feels like that of a darker Shawn McManus, it feels more realistic and more expressive, especially in his faces. I don’t think this book would have worked with anything less.
Does it work? Well yes, it does. As I said, there are many gratuitous elements: Nudity, sex, drug use, violence, which often don’t contribute directly to the story but serve merely as a backdrop. But every so often Ennis drops in that one “whoa, holy shit” moment which demonstrates that the book isn’t all about sex-and-violence, but that there are really things worth fighting for in this comic. The panoramic view of New York City part-way through was the moment that I realized the book is being serious. As I said, if you can’t get past the less-important moments, or if seeing horrible things done to good people with little immediate hope of justice being done is something you can’t stand, then this book is not for you.
Contrasting The Boys with Warren Ellis’ major works is I think most worthwhile: Ellis’ stories are, fundamentally, about people pursuing the right ends for the right reasons. His stories really are about heroes, although those heroes sometimes use questionable means to achieve their goals, but they are usually reluctant to do so, or feel that they’ve been backed into a corner and have no other choice. The Boys are about people pursuing the right ends, but maybe not for the right reasons, and certainly not choosing very clean ways of going about it. Both Butcher and Hughie have a revenge motive, and also a motive to keep what happened to their loved ones from happening to anyone else. (The motives of the other Boys are so far unknown.) And their frank vigilanteism (even if tacitly supported by shady arms of the government) is not exactly admirable. But I think the point of the story is to see how far these characters can be pushed in a decidedly hostile environment, and the story in this volume is the set-up for what comes next.
Am I thrilled to be reading this book? Well, it was pretty interesting, and a little nauseating at the same time. But also compelling. I definitely think there’s a lot of promise here, and I’m going to pick up the issues that Dynamite has published since.
If you’ve been waiting for the superhero equivalent of Transmetropolitan, then The Boys may be the book for you.