The Boys isn’t a parody of superheroes, it’s a critique of runaway capitalism
Satire is an important and powerful tool for any society, but it comes in endless forms, tones and levels of maturity. Sometimes a brutal parody of an aspect of society can be moved and realigned, allowing that critical eye to be directed to a far more deserving target.
The boys, written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Darick Robertson was the logical culmination of Ennis’ long contempt and mockery of the superhero concept. The series focuses on a group of CIA agents tasked with keeping famous and powerful superhumans in line. Most of his humor comes from wishy-washy gags at the expense of beloved DC or Marvel characters. The series was to be adapted to the cinema in 2008, but this project failed. In 2019, seven years after the comic book series ended, they finally made the jump to the screen, with some significant changes.
Make no mistake about it, misbehaving superheroes still make up a huge percentage of Amazon Prime The boys‘ Duration. Developed by Eric Kripke, best known for creating and directing the early seasons of Supernatural, the series retains much of the same DNA as its source material. The series revamps major aspects of the comic book series, reducing emphasis on certain aspects to devote more time to others. Many characters have been drastically changed in the adaptation, as have some big events, but the biggest change is in the explanation of its heroes and villains. The series puts much more emphasis on the illicit machinations of Vought International.
Known as the Vought American in the comics, Vought is the global megacorporation that owns The Seven. They own and operate a movie studio, streaming service, media outlet, amusement park, several restaurant chains and much more. Much of the company’s infrastructure is for the sole purpose of pumping Compound V into people’s bloodstream. As the series progresses, it is revealed that they created the Blue Serum and are responsible for the rise of Supes across the world. Much more emphasis is placed on the marketing, PR, and celebrity aspects of the supe craze than in the comics. Although the face changes often, the villain behind the villains is almost always sitting behind a desk in a nice costume. Each new twist the series takes unveils a little more of the control Vought has over the world.
Vought owns the media, his puppets are inserted into the government, his inside celebrities control the will of the public, and he even treats his cast of heroes as disposable. They influence public faith by making multi-million dollar movies that inspire people to see supes as heroes regardless of their actions. The first season depicts their comedic efforts to appear cheerful and down to earth, every element of their image is staged. In the second season, their Compound V operation is exposed, so they do what all big companies do; pivot. They begin seeding the public with lies about super-terrorists to promote cop dosing with Compound V. Their goal is to monopolize public and private security, as well as every other industry on Earth.
Vought is a dismantling of capitalism and the global monstrosities it creates. The main difference between Vought and any big company is that Vought can use Supes to do their bidding. Vought is a clever mix of real modern companies. The company helped the Nazis and they own politicians. They fund discriminatory religious movements as a front for their political desires like Hobby Lobby. When someone challenges them, their fans turn them into public enemy number one.
Their profitability is considered by the government, the media and the average citizen as an unmitigated moral good. They are powerful on a scale beyond imagination, far beyond men who can fly. When someone exposes Vought’s misdeeds, they turn it into a new profit opportunity. It’s a collaboration of all the terrible things that modern companies do for all to see, and the worst part is that it’s not overdone at all.
Where does that leave the supes themselves then? They do a bit of everything, but their primary applicability is marketing. They follow the line of the company, their life reigns there with the neat specificity of any media campaign manager. They are allowed to engage in any terrible activities that suit them, as long as they are not disclosed to the public. These are handmade celebrity mouthpieces, created in the lab by the company to pretend to do good deeds and gain public trust. Supes are the fun villains, they’re unpredictable, awful, fun to hate. Vought is the throne and the power behind it.
The thesis statement of The boys is that corporations under late capitalism own the planet so completely that they might as well have Superman on their payroll. It’s a fun magic twist on the headline nightmare we all have to live in every day. But there’s no Billy Butcher in the real world to kick down the doors of every corrupt business. Satire is a weapon in the fight against enemies that cannot be killed in a way that matters. Hopefully fans can get some satisfaction from The boys take their monopoly, without thinking too much about the owners of the show.
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