We’ve all read, have maybe even written, the Hero Against Insurmountable Odds. There’s usually an evil army involved, a small band of good ragamuffins, a touch of something magic or uber-powerful, and KABLAM! Good guys win–with a death or two–but Victory! Woohoo!
But I’m not here to talk about the heroes against typical maniacal-laughter-evil.
I’m talking about the hero against Monsters. Monsters so many of us know too damn well in our childhood nights, in our present nightmares.
The Boys was a comics series that ran in the mid-2000s and remains the only series Bo and I read together. In fact, we would take turns with the kids just so the other could read the latest issue. Then, with kids in bed, we would talk, giddy with awe and fascination over how screwed up this world is, but so bloody true at the same time. We couldn’t wait to see the villainy behind the villainy. We both cried at the series’ climax. I would love to do a few more posts to study character development here, because there is just…damn, it’s GOOD.
But you have to be prepared for it. The premise for the world itself is simple:
What if superheroes had no morals?
Everything we know in this reality’s superhero mythos gets turned on its head with that question. The super “heroes” in The Boys are nothing but publicity stunts, but these are genetically modified publicity stunts: these “heroes” and “villains” have all the powers, but this time, all their “battles” and such are planned by the corporation that owns them.
The Boys are those that keep the corporation and “supes,” as they’re called, from decimating the planet.
Hughie is the newest member, and whose perspective is used to tell this arc. His girlfriend dies during a “fight” between two supes whose lightning speed leads to Hughie’s girlfriend being crushed against a wall, her arms still in Hughie’s hands. The corporation tries to buy his silence.
So Butcher, leader of The Boys, picks him up, modifies him, and puts him to work.
One such adventure involves infiltrating the G-Men after one of their original members commits a public suicide. As you may have guessed, the G-Men is Ennis and Robertson’s version of the X-Men. And like the X-Men, there are gobs of different G groups, all of which give their humble beginnings to John Godolkin, the Professor Xavier of the G-Men. Like the X-Men, the G-Men are sold to the public as outcasts and runaways, taken under Godolkin’s wing to become a strong fighting force, a family spanning generations. And family they are: there are the adult groups, the teen group G-Wiz, and even a child group, Pre-Wiz.
That child group is nothing but six-year-olds.
Hughie and The Boys uncover the G-Men’s orphan ploy is just a cover: Godolkin literally plucks children off the streets, modifies them, and turns them into “heroes.”
And his sexual playthings.
And the sexual playthings for other G-Men.
If one member dares speak of anything to anyone, they are killed by a fellow G-Man. Period.
This happens, and viciously too, to the teenager telling Hughie and The Boys. A G-Man transports himself into the scene just long enough to drive his fist through the boy’s skull–“Silence is golden!”
The Boys turn, and there stands every member of every G group.
Hughie’s horrified. As you can see, the other members of The Boys are not. They’re sizing up the situation, and yeah–it’s pretty grave.
When the leader Butcher is prepared to leave, Hughie turns, sees the body of the boy…
That moment. That right there. Hughie’s one guy. One guy against dozens upon dozens of supes. He knows what they’re capable of.
And he doesn’t care.
Because he’s going to kill himself some fucking monsters.
I still remember reading this for the first time, and bawling. Pull off the costumes, and this is one soul up against the child molesters who always get off, who are believed perfect, wonderful, amazing. There’s no way one soul can stand against such a force.
But that soul stands against them anyway. He doesn’t give a piss if he stands alone. He just knows that he’s standing, dammit, and taking down whomever he can with him.
That. That, is a hero readers will root for to the very last page of the very last story.
Not just the Hero Against Insurmountable Odds.
But the Hero Against the Monsters We Know.