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The Boys #1-3

Written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Darick Robertson
Wildstorm/DC Comics
32-page comic books, $2.99 each

The graphic-novel boom left mainline comics publishers in a tricky position. On the one hand, graphic novels only work as satisfying narratives if the flow from page to page is seamless from start to finish. On the other hand, periodical comics pamphlets were and remain said publishers' bread and butter. The tricky part is that a pamphlet contains anywhere from 20-24 pages of story, and unless there's a story there, it's going to read like the first 20-24 pages of a novel... 20-24 pages for which you just paid three bucks.

It's possible to write stories that satisfy both aims — this little conundrum is nothing compared to the juggling of time, space and reader mindshare carried out daily by newspaper continuity-strip cartoonists for a century and counting — but unless you're an absolute master of pacing and streamlined storytelling, one aim will necessarily have to be sacrificed to the other. The reading experience of the modern Direct-Market funnybook, then, is determined by which aspect the storyteller values the most: the initial pamphlet sales that will determine whether or not a series will make it to trade paperback to begin with, or the perennial royalties to come from a successful line of graphic novels.


Hughie meets a superhero in The Boys #1, ©2006 Spitfire Productions, Ltd. and Darick Robertson.


With their new series, The Boys, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson have chosen the latter. Here's what little has happened so far: Hughie, our protagonist, has just watched his fiancée get brutally murdered in his arms by a superhero/supervillian fight gone haywire. Meanwhile: An American government agent known as Butcher gathers together a team of astonishingly badass character actors agents to hunt and neutralize superheroes gone too far, a team that inexplicably includes our poor, grief-stricken Hughie, having at last acquired the government sanction he needs to get the job done. Elsewhere: Superheroes are busy demonstrating what amoral fucks they are with a little on-the-job sexual harassment. Meanwhile: Our heroes set up their secret hideout.

It's entirely possible that by the fifth issue or so, some kind of story might start to develop.


Starlight meets three superheroes in The Boys #1, ©2006 Spitfire Productions, Ltd. and Darick Robertson.


I'd tell you more about the series, but absent a real, working plot, it's kind of difficult to do the job. What I can tell you is that Ennis is Ennis, and readers who've seen his previous work will know what to expect — sharp dialogue and scene construction, barbed with a wicked outlook on life and an underlying belief in honor and moral character. Robertson's art is lovely as always. And I will say this: I'll take Ennis' opinion on the rights of the superhero to practice vigilantism over that of Mark Millar any day of the week.

Smarter readers will wait for the trade. It's Ennis and Robertson's gamble, after all. Why should you feel morally complicit in it? Fuck 'em both if their bosses are too dumb to play tomorrow's game by anything other than yesterday's rules. As for myself, I may follow for an issue or two longer, just to see if something happens. Wake me up if it does, okay?


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


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