The Boys is a brand-new superhero drama on Amazon. It is dark and gritty, and ultraviolent. It’s difficult to reject that we live in an age controlled by the superhero. That traditional Superman chestnut, “Look up in the sky!”, feels as apropos as ever when you can’t drive down a significant roadway without seeing posters for the latest Marvel or DC franchise like Avengers or Wonder Woman. They rule the box office and they rule the popular culture conversation.

Adapted by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Eric Kripke from the Dynamite comic series by writer Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the eight-episode Amazon series has a wickedly sharp eye for what a real contemporary age of superheroes would look like. Costumed vigilantes include an army of press agents to craft public apologies. Significant media corporations set up the crime-stopping “team-ups” that would drive the optimal quantity of social media engagement.

Superheroes are such familiar territory, such an overdetermined premise, that this program’s appeal (or lack thereof) might well feel already decided for many audiences. In Between The Dark Knight, Jessica Jones, Watchmen, Daredevil, and more, a show that asks the concern “What if superheroes … were bad?” does not have the revolutionary edge it used to. The Boys takes the idea of a world where superheroes are real and follow it to the logical extension of superheroes who are human.

Troubled and disillusioned, Hughie is an ideal recruit for Butcher, who employs the sad lad in a scheme to reduce all of The Seven and their ominous benefactors Vought International. That’s not all that is happening as Starlight and her story is just as engaging.

Starlight (Erin Moriarty) is overwhelmed by the experience of walking into the 7’s stunning headquarters, awed by the grandiosity of it all. Her awe changes to disillusionment when the Deep (Chace Crawford), unzips his pants and makes clear that Starlight is anticipated to perform actions in addition to saving people from burning structures.

In the comics, Annie’s degradation was treated as a paradoxical joke, but the show treats her experience as something heartbreaking, which changes this story and includes real stakes to the show’s master narrative. Superheroes are revolting is the bottom line there.

The two plots link, and soon a grand conspiracy emerges surrounding the strange super-steroid “Compound V” that might totally ruin the superhero genre and the mega-corporation that funds it, Vought.

The Boys runs on a couple of different levels, all of which the creative group nails on one level or another. It’s your timeless gettin’-the-band-back-together story, as the Substance V conspiracy, convinces Butcher to track down the rest of the retired boys, who are ultimately joined by the hyper-violent killing machine called The Female (Karen Fukuhara). It’s likewise a pretty dang appealing mystery tale dressed up in tights and capes, in addition to a pitch-black comedy filled with enough flying guts, blowing up dolphins, and C-4 pushed into a person’s unholy crevices to keep even the sickest of you young puppies squirming.

The “Boys” are a group determined to showcase the beloved superheroes for the corrupt and criminal sociopaths that they are. Like the heroes themselves, who are obvious knockoffs of iconic characters like Superman and Aquaman, the boys are also a familiar trope, a ragtag lot of underdogs attempting to remove the most powerful forces in the world.

If that were all The Boys needed to say, if its only goal were to develop a familiar superhero world and after that squeeze, it into pulp the show’s range and appeal would be quite limited. The minute I realized the show may be doing something else, something more fascinating, beneath its glossy finishing of thick physical fluids, comes fairly early in the very first episode.

The 7 are relaxing their huge boardroom, going through a rundown of their recent experiences and top concerns, and a hero called Translucent (Alex Hassell) disrupts the meeting with a topic of fantastic concern: copyright violation. Pirates are distributing his film unlawfully, people are offering unlicensed superhero product, and Translucent wishes to know what they’re doing to stop the considerable drain on his bottom line. “We’ve all got, what, four points?” he asks, sparking a squabble amongst the 7 about their different profit-sharing offers.

If the Boys are extralegal Robin Hood figures and the Seven are the amoral, overpowered assholes of its universe, the organizing frame of this negative worldview is Vought, a tremendous worldwide corporation that manages all the world’s biggest superheroes. Vought doesn’t just keep them in line and organize their activities. It markets them, promotes and licenses their images, styles their fights, orchestrates their triumphs, runs their press appearances, and sells and trades them to various metropolitan centers like sports stars being traded amongst groups.

The secret to Vought, and to the wellspring of thoughtful acerbity pumping through The Boys’ veins, is Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), its vice-president and suggest mommy-figure-in-chief. There are a number of standouts in The Boys– Chace Crawford is unnervingly credible as the sleazy, dickish the Deep, for instance– however, Shue’s Stillwell is among the best of them. She is smooth and mindful, polished corporate smoothness with an utterly hollow space where an ethical center should be.

The Boys thinks of a world where fantasy characters with superhuman powers exist and are primarily villains. However, the program’s finest idea is its ultimate villain: The ceaseless working giant of corporate industrialism and the people who enable it. Those lawbreakers are all too genuine, which is precisely The Boys’ point. The Boys, the program, is at its finest when it sidelines all the things that made the comic so remarkable, and simply focuses on the characters.

If there’s a complaint to be had about The Boys, it’s that its first eight-episode run ends awkwardly, right in the middle of the story with numerous loose threads dangling and a few key characters left forgotten in the home stretch. The roller-coaster flight to that abrupt end is something you need to experience. Like Alan Moore’s Watchmen in the late-80s, The Boys has the chance to be the superhero deconstruction of our time. Less a peek behind the curtain, and more a seedy look behind the social networks likes and box office numbers, a story that handles to be heartbreakingly relevant while still discovering time to have Karl Urban kill a bunch of thugs with a super-powered baby – you really need to see it to understand what I mean!

Oh, there’s still plenty of the magnificent violence, profane wit and transgressive imagery that’s Ennis’s hallmark: people are soaked in blood and viscera on the routine, superheroes are exposed practically immediately as perverts, drug fiends and/or sociopaths, and Karl Urban drops more F-bombs and C-words per minute as swaggering antihero Billy Butcher, who’s made it his objective to lower the elite, corporate-backed league of justicers called The Seven by any means required.

And while that was the heart of the book, it’s not the heart of the show. The Boys shot in Toronto and overseen by veteran author and producer Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Classic), premises its outsized action in Hughie’s psychological journey … and while that sounds a little sappy, it actually works.

Another book from the Kindle Unlimited Library & Amazon & while I wish this one was better, it’s also not as bad as some of the others I’ve read … in fact there are some elements that I really liked.

To Honor You Call Us tells the story of a ship that has not had too much luck in terms of its previous Captain.  Now this isn’t a case of the person being a down on his luck Old Sot like I spoke about in Constitution, but rather in this case the Captain is very domineering and a stickler for spit and polish without any understanding of the reason or rationale for that requirement.  As the Captain of a ship that was responsible simply for transporting an Inspecting Admiral from location to location, his personality might work but in a combat theater his personality and attitude quickly impacted the crew to such an extent that in previous trials, his ship was either destroyed outright or fled the battlefield!  As you can well imagine, the morale of the crew on the Cumberland was nothing less than atrocious and in fact the rest of the fleet took to calling the ship the “Cumberland Gap” as she was so hopeless!

Into this morass is thrust a hard fighting and quick thinking young ensign.  Not having previous command experience, he while flattered to receive the promotion, to some extent also realizes that the reason he’s received it is because he can’t really screw things up anymore!  However, not only is Max able to do well, he’s able to turn around the feelings of the crew and win some stunning victories against their mortal enemies – the Krag – in the process!

What I liked and didn’t like

  • The Krag are actually quite an interesting villain and I like the detail provided about them.  Without ruining the story in any way, I can tell you that Earth was “visited” millions of years ago by unknown aliens.  These aliens took samples of Earth material to a new planet and it is here that the Krag developed.  However they didn’t evolve from monkeys as mankind did, but rather from Rats.  As such while they share DNA with us, they are definitely not in any way Human and have a completely different way of acting, breeding and fighting.  I think they make an excellent villain, but I really didn’t like how long it took to get any detail on them.  While I understand that you wouldn’t necessarily expound upon the nature of your foe in the first 20 pages, it felt like the book was almost complete before I knew who we were fighting and why.  I think it would have been much better to provide that information up front as it would have given me a greater insight and empathy for the characters and their struggles from the get go.
  • There is lots of similarity here to the Nicholas Seafort series of books by David Feintuch in my eyes.  While many compare Honor Harrington to the Horatio Hornblower series of books, I really think that Seafort is the worthy owner of that title.  I liked the explanation of why boarding parties are still in use and why they utilize swords and knives in battle (in addition to guns).  It made sense and definitely helped me visualize the action sequences in much greater detail.  I would have liked for there to be more scenes with hand-to-hand combat but that’s a small quibble!
  • Admiral Hornmeyer is an awesome character.  Irascible is the best way to describe him.  Doesn’t take shit from anyone and isn’t afraid to swear to get the job done.  Really well written and funny and his parts in the book are both too short and too infrequent.  Would love to see him more.
  • Dr. Sahin is a bit weird to my taste … he always seems to have the right response and knowledge and I’d think that his reactions would be slower than a marine not faster.  Really makes you wonder if perhaps he’s a spy or something like that in disguise?
  • The attack against the Battle Cruiser was extremely well done and I really enjoyed reading that whole sequence.  While I understand the reason and rationale of focusing so much of the book on the morale of the crew and even the shopping trips of the Doctor, I really wish there had been more sequences similar to this throughout the book as they were excellent.
  • The writing overall is not too bad … it does however at times feel a bit jerky? In addition while the characters are interesting they also don’t really seem 100% natural and it feels like they are playing a role.  It’s weird, there isn’t any one specific thing I can point to, but it’s just a bit off.

Escape to Earth is another series that I tried because of Kindle Unlimited and the ability to obtain books for “free”. You might recall my previous post on a similar trial with the series The Human Legion – Marine Cadet?

I guess lets start with my biggest gripe with the books in this series … that’s unfortunately the writing itself.  It’s very stilted and seems forced and while some of the characters are interesting you can’t really engage with them due to the language.  The idea itself isn’t bad & the concept as a whole is somewhat intriguing (I’ll describe that further below), but there isn’t really a flow to the story and while I’ve read through all of the books in this series, that’s primarily because they were free as I don’t think I would have paid for all four books.

Escape to Earth – Running from Fate

As the first book in the series, this is where some of the most intriguing ideas and concepts are put forward and while some of these elements continue to play out in subsequent books, they aren’t given as much weight there.

In the Fellowship a rule exists that a “primitive” planet cannot be contacted unless they develop a stardrive or forcefield.  However when a warrior from one of the races battling in the galaxy is forced to flee, his escape pod determines that the only way he can be kept safe is for him to hide.  His hiding place however just happens to be one of those planets – a planet called Earth!

Transformed by his escape pod so that he mimics a human in shape and form, the Welkin warrior becomes Lukas – a blonde haired, blue eyed 6 foot tall Norweigan.  Smarter, stronger and faster than other humans though, his now human body is impacted by strange and unexpected impulses that cause him to act and react in strange ways.  He also learns all about Love and because of these changes to his system he finds a new home for himself on Earth – one that he is willing to do anything to defend!

Escape to Earth-Fighting for Space

Continuing on from the first book, Fighting For Space has the human’s and their fleets now competing on almost equal footing with the Fellowship despite being overwhelmingly behind in terms of fleet sizes.  However if nothing else, this book and the ones that subsequently follow make the point that “quality has a quantity all its own!” as while they might not have the numbers, they are more than able to make up for this lack.

What doesn’t really seem to be considered however is the fact that 3 dimensional combat is significantly different to 2 dimensional and this would be even more evident in Space where the enemy has the ability to attack from a multitude of different directions – simultaneously.  While Saxon does cover the improvements in technology, he doesn’t spend an undue amount of time on it & it really has the feel of some of the older pulp classic E.E. Doc Smith books where every chapter had another new invention that was better, stronger, faster etc… than the one before.  While somewhat exacerbating, it did help to move the story along, however its one thing when its the alien making all of the advances … its somewhat more annoying when the geniuses are the humans themselves as it always brings up the point – why didn’t they do it before?

Regardless there are many different space battles, but perhaps most importantly this book introduces the real villain of the series which is the attack on our Galaxy by another Galaxy entirely!


Escape to Earth-Defending Holy Ground

Continuing on from the previous book, Defending Holy Ground has fleet battles numbering in the million ship range.  While the technology advantage is still on the humans side, the fact that literally a whole Galaxy is contributing forces to the attack vs. a single planet to the defense … well regardless of how good their quality is, in this case, overwhelming quantity wins out.

While some of the fleet battles (at least in size) evoke memories of some of the earlier books by David Weber and its similarities to old classics like Master of Orion the passion isn’t there for the characters and the multitude of ships that are destroyed.

Humans while no longer a defenseless species are still primarily on their own in this fight and bear the bulk of the work.  I think to some extent this would bring up questions of resources as they realistically could not put up fleets of the size they do, with the numbers they have left but its a small point.

Escape to Earth-The Legacy of a Conqueror

Finishing this series, we’re introduced to Lukas’ son and he is the primary character in this final book.  Realizing that humanity can never truly be safe until they take the fight to the enemy Lukas and crew nominate his son as the Conqueror.  The leader of all of humanities forces in their battle against the attacking Galaxy.

With telepathic abilities in addition to super strength, intelligence and speed the only fear is that he might grow to love his new found power too much, however being Lukas’ son and guided by the Sentinels he is able to maintain his humanity enough to find an alternative solution to genocide in several key battles earning humanity even more allies before the climactic battle against the Leaders of the evil Galaxy.

Overall Review

Some good ideas and interesting concepts, but unfortunately the bad writing tends to outweigh them.  While worth reading through Kindle Unlimited or another forum that allows you to “purchase” books for a nominal or free price, I probably would not pay for this series if I had to.