Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Boys Book 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker (#1-6)

"I'll be honest with you, I'm scared shitless here.  I... I don't wanna end up bein' that bloke again" - Billy Butcher

In a world where a corrupt multinational company called Vought-American have been manufacturing superheroes since before World War 2 to one day realise their goal of superheroes as the main arm of US national defence, a small group of five enhanced individuals called "The Boys" are backed by the CIA in order to police the worst excessess of "Supe" behaviour.  Their leader is an Englishman called Billy Butcher, a man who due to personal tragedy hates all supes with a fiery, burning passion and none more so than the most powerful supe on earth - The Homelander.  Billy over the previous nine books has proven himself to be a fascinating monster.  On the outside an affable, laddish bloke with a filthy vocabulary and an un-PC sense of humour, he has shown that there is no extreme he won't go to, to get things to happen the way he wants them to.  He lies, manipulates, plots and plans and keeps his cards extremely close to his chest.  Since the series first started, we as readers still know as little about him as the rest of The Boys, but finally in this final miniseries, we are to get the full story of the making of Billy Butcher.  I will state up front this is a magnificent set of issues, heartfelt and moving it's a real triumph of both writing and art, that I'm not sure I can fully do justice too. But I'll try.

It begins with Billy return to his childhood home in the Eastend of London.  His father has died and an obsequius mortician has had him laid out in an open coffin.  Billy asks to be left alone with him, and the mortician leaves.  Billy sits by his father's coffin and observes that he still has all the cunts round here terrified of him, then he begins to tell his story to his father's body.
Billy's mum, Billy and his little brother Lenny.
His father was a baker by trade, and was "king" of the local area, which he ruled through violence and fear as well as shagging many of the local wives.  Billy could never understand why as his mum was a "bleedin' saint".  But his dad would regularly beat her senseless.  We see Billy and Lenny in bed one night listening to an assault on their mum and Lenny says:

Lenny: "Why can't our dad be like everyone elses?  Why do we have to get him?"

Billy then recalls how people would say it must be nice coming from the Eastend, and how there is a sense of community there, but he remembers his mum vomiting in the street after one beating and no one came to help her because they were scared of his dad, and all he could think was "the Luftwaffe missed a bit."

Billy would act up in school and one day got expelled for punching a PE teacher in the nuts when he tried to break up a fight Billy was having.  His dad gave him his first beer after that and told him that while Lenny was a bit of a girl, Billy was more like him.  Those were the "magic words" that put Billy back on the straight and narrow for a bit.

Not long after Billy's dad had a stroke that left one arm useless, and not long after that he hit their mum so hard he caved in one of her eye sockets.  So one night Billy grabbed a knife and decided he was going to kill his father.  Lenny tried to stop him and Billy lashed out and knocked him into a wall.  Blood pouring down his face and tearful, Lenny pleads with Billy not to do it, and what it would do to their mum to have Billy be a killer.

Lenny: "Billy, you'll break her heart!"
Even teenage Billy could be terrifying.
Billy reluctantly stands down and they talk for a bit.  Billy says he's not going to work for his father in the family business, Lenny says they need to keep making ends meet.  Billy shows him a leaflet for the Royal Marines and says he's going to join up.  Back in the present Billy tells his father's corpse that Lenny saved his life, but:

Billy: "It would have felt so good, slidin' that knife between your fuckin' ribs."

His reminiscing jumps forward to his time as a Royal Marine during the Falklands war.  His war only lasted three weeks, but he "packed in quite a lot."  His team were dropped via helicopter on a mountainside, but there was only one "Argie" patrol on it and the S.A.S got them first.  His platoon were then given the job of taking Mount Harriet in a push to retake the capital of Port Stanley.  Billy's team discuss this, saying they want to make it through safely, Billy says he justs wants to "kill some cunt".

In the push later that night, his team are trapped in a bunker under heavy Argentinian fire.  Billy says the only way out of this would be to charge the gun emplacement.  After some debate they do so.  Billy reaches the Argentians and kills them all with his bayonet.  Unfortunately the rest of the team are killed and Billy has also taken a bullet to the chest.  He lies down and starts to drift away.

Billy: "Didn't hurt really.  Just got harder and harder to breathe.  I sorta knew I was gonna be closin' me eyes in a bit an' wouldn't be openin' them again.  An' that was alright with me."
I find this sequence almost unbearably melancholic
However he was found by medics in time and shipped back home as the war ended two days later.  Once he got out of hospital and rehab he found his mates had all transferred on, or been promoted or just left.  The new soldiers would treat him like a hero because he'd done what they hadn't, he'd killed.  Billy started assaulting and picking fights with his fellow marines until he got court martialled out of the army.  He didn't give a fuck and kept on getting "lagered up" and fighting in pubs.  One day he was beaten senseless by six men but:

Billy: "That was all right, really, 'cos the day after that I met Becky."

Billy and Becky are sitting next to each other on the tube.  Billy has two black eyes, and Becky smiles at him and says he looks like a panda.  She shows him his face in her pocket mirror and he smiles back and says "you got any bamboo?"  She invites him out for a drink and he accepts.  She was like no one he had ever met before "she made you wanna be you at your best."  They chat for a bit in the pub, she tells him she's a social worker.  Billy goes to get a second drink and to shut up the "mouthy twat" by the jukebox.  She asks him not to,  when he asks why, she says because "it's nicer if you don't".
Meet Becky.
A week later they go out to dinner together.  He asks her why she doesn't like him having more than one drink.

Becky: "You look angry.  You look like you can't wait to make yourself angrier."

He realises it's been making him behave like his dad and he gets a glass of water instead.  He then tells her she's amazing, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and they end up making love that night.  And for Billy it really is the first time he's made love, everything before that was just "servicin' a need."  He stopped drinking entirely after that and started working on building sites.  He was utterly in love with her and the memory of her is "a knife" he can't stop pushing inside himself.
A far cry from his affair with Rayner.
He takes her out to dinner with his mum and Lenny who is now at university.  Lenny observes when Billy is with her he looks like he's at peace for the first time. Then Billy, Lenny and Becky get to work on his mum trying to persuade her to escape her abusive situation.  It takes some doing as she keeps making excuses for him and saying she remembers him how he was when they first met.  Becky says those memories are dead:

Becky: "He killed them with his fists.  You're hanging onto a shadow an' if you don't believe me, try throwin' your arms around it.  There ain't nothin' there."

And his mum finally agrees to leave.  They all go and collect her and his father rains abuse down on them.  He calls Becky a "homewrecker!  A fuckin' evil cunt!"  Billy goes to hit him but Becky pleads with him to stop.  His dad sneers that Billy was too cowardly to take him on when he was still able bodied, trying to provoke Billy further, but Becky says "he ain't worth it" and they all leave.  That night Billy proposes to Becky and she joyfully accepts.  On their wedding day Billy says to her:

Billy: "Am I dreamin'?"

Becky: "No, it only feels like it, 'cos we found each other Billy.  Out of all the millions of people out there, we found each other.  Ain't it the most brilliant thing in the world?"
Oh, all of my feels...
But tragedy struck soon after.  Lenny was hit by a bus and killed.  After the wake, Billy sadly remembers how Lenny told him never to lose Becky.  Later that night they have a conversation about having children.  She says he's a "brilliant husband" and would be a great dad.  Billy is hesitant, he worries that if he had kids his father's nature might come out in him or he'd pass it along somehow.  He says they are in no rush so why not leave it for now.  In the present, Billy says he regrets one thing about that:

Billy: "It made Becky sad.  An' anything that took the smile of her face, even for a second, I'm gonna regret that 'til the day I die."

Billy and Becky carry on in wedded bliss.  We get a snapshot of how much Billy has changed when he goes out for a meal with some work colleagues of hers.  One of them, a bloke called Guy is a pontificating lefty bore, but Billy is polite, doesn't swear or raise his voice and has a perfectly civilised debate with him.

Billy: "There was a time when ol' Guy woulda been head first through the window inside the first ten seconds.  Now I almost felt sorry for the cunt."

We then move onto Billy and Becky on holiday in Florida which she had arranged for Billy's birthday.  They catch a glimpse of The Seven while they are there.  Becky says they're creepy and "Nazi circus freaks."  Bily jokes about them and laughing she says to him:

Billy: "I love you 'cos you got more heart than any man I ever met."
Most likely the last time Billy was truly happy.
That night she stays in while he goes for a walk after dinner.  When he gets back she is miserable and subdued.  This continues after they get back to the UK.  She doesn't want to be touched and jumps at the slightest sound.   He didn't understand what was wrong with her and she lied and said she was getting tests from the doctor to find out what was the matter with her.  One day he visits his brother's grave and says he thinks he's losing her.

Then comes the terrible night, three months after their Florida trip when Becky died.  The superpowered foetus burst out of her and attacked Billy with it's laser eyes and he had to beat it to death with the lamp.  That story he told Hughie in book one was true at least.  And when it's dead, all he can do is say to Becky's corpse is "talk to me." over and over.  But she would never talk again.
One of the most nightmarish scenes I've ever read.
Billy: "Becky was mine.  But the world lost her. She was a loss to the world.  That's what I would have said at her funeral, except I never got to go."

We then see Billy in a police interrogation room being talked at by a Vought representative.  He gives Billy two choices, either his wife died of internal hemorraging after a miscarriage or he murdered her after she told him she was bearing her lovers child.  They are trying to blackmail him into absolving Vought of responsibility.  Billy asks the man what he would do if he couldn't see his wife again and then lunges at him and puts his eyes out with his thumbs.

Several days later, Mallory visits him in his cell and tells him the miscarriage story was the one the police went with at his request.  He tells Billy a little bit about the superhuman problem and what his superiors are trying to do about it, then he hands Billy Becky's diary and leaves him alone to read it.  In it Becky tells the whole story of how she was raped in Florida by The Homelander.  How she couldn't tell Billy about it because he'd get himself killed going after him.  She ends her story with the heartbreaking words:

Becky: "Oh Billy.  I never understood just what he sees in me.  I know he thinks I saved him from a life of God knows what and I'm the greatest person alive, he's never done telling me.  But I never thought I was really all that special.  I'm just the girl that loves him that's all."
Billy is understandably upset.
When a rage-filled Billy says it was only three months since it happened, Mallory says that super-foetuses have been observed growing normally for a short while then suddenly accelerating rapidly so she never knew she was pregnant.  He then says Billy can get his revenge by joining his new team and hands him a passport and money and says he's "been an American citizen since this morning".

We then jump forward to Billy and Mallory pulling up outside a Lakehouse with a supe team inside it.  Billy goes inside and kills every one of them with an automatic rifle.  Returning to Mallory, he laconically observes:

Billy: "I think I just got me sense o' humour back."

The final issue begins with Billy and Mallory meting out some punishment to a supe who got some policement injured at "the scene of your latest debacle".  When the man asks who the hell they are, Mallory replies:  "We're what happens.  Spread the word."  Later in the office, Mallory is dealing with bureacracy over the phone while Billy reads a file labelled "Beyond Vogelbaum: Improving Compound V"  in it is a photo of a headless ape (see Book 2).  Mallory grumbles about their new boss (most likely Rayner), then Mallory takes Billy to see The Legend.
There they discuss a new government bill to prevent superhuman conflict.  The Legend says most of the fights are mocked up anyway.  Mallory says the fact the bill didn't get enough votes to pass means that his and Billy's methods are more likely to be fallen back on.   Mallory wants to take down a big name supe to get more operational support and The Legend suggests The Webweaver.  He puts them in touch with Russian supe Vasilii Vorishikin (see books 2 and 6) whose superteam had once almost had a crossover with him.  They take The Webweaver down and within the year The Boys have been put together.

Billy goes to visit his mum for the first time since Becky died.  He has a puppy with him - Terror - a gift from a friend after The Legend said he should get something in his life to care for. He lies about what happened after Becky died, said he spent some time in a mental hospital, then went up north to do some security work and now works as a bodyguard in the US.  His mum has a new man in her life and is very happy much to his delight.  He then goes and visits Becky's grave for the first time.  He had a speech prepared but:

Billy: "What the fuck's cold marble next to the way her skin felt?  What's words in stone next to the green of her eyes?"

He says he knows Becky would hate what he's doing and what he's going to do.  That it's all on him because he "can't stand the thought of the cunt that done it bein' alive."  He says he's glad he doesn't believe in an afterlife because he'd never see her again.  He rounds off his "conversation" with his father by saying that if there's one thing he's proud of, that he couldn't have done without Becky, it was getting his mum away from him.  She met a good man who did everything he could "to put a smile on her face every day."
Billy reunites with his mum *sniff*
Billy: "An' me, I lied to her through my fuckin' teeth, so she wouldn't have had to worry about what scared her the most which is the thought that I've got your fuckin' evil in me."

And he ends his talk by pissing in the coffin, all over his dead father's face.  And that brings this last miniseries to a close.

I have to admit, this one was a little difficult to write up.  The two issues with him meeting, wooing, marrying and then losing Becky actually made me tear up a few times.  And Becky's diary kills me everytime.  What's so very fascinating about this miniseries is that while it explains Billy's pathological hatred of supes, it doesn't exonerate him.  In fact it further condemns him.  He is deep down a good man, his excuse about his father putting his evil inside him is just that, an excuse.  He always had it within himself to be a decent human being under the right circumstances and he could have honoured Becky by staying that good man he always could have been.  But he let himself take the easy way out and gave back in to the violence and hatred that was part of his upbringing.
Billy always gets the last word.
Becky was a wonderful person and in just two issues Ennis makes you love her as much as Billy does, and she would have absolutely hated what he became, in fact Billy acknowledges as much. Mallory in the previous volume described her death as one of two tragedies, and I believe the other tragedy was the way her death turned Billy into a monster, something Mallory, with the benefit of hindsight feels partly responsible for.  And it's hard not to want to point the finger at Mallory here. Billy himself thinks he would have reverted to his pre-Becky self anyway, even though it was the thing about himself he was most scared of. With the revelations in this volume, crucially only shared with the reader and not anyone else, Billy Butcher becomes one of the most fascinating and well-rounded characters I've ever read in a comicbook series, Ennis nails all the emotional beats perfectly, and with his background finally revealed and the ultimate target of his vengeance finally confirmed with only two books left to go we're on course for something pretty damn spectacular. Stay tuned!


  1. its a very sad story i agree. becky was such a lovely person and her death ruined billy. :(

  2. It was a tragedy of epic proportions considering what it leads to....

  3. 'Obsequious' is a good word.

    Nice to see the somewhat patronising stereotype of 'they may be poor but they've got 'earts of gold' being taken down a peg or two. It shows that when misogyny is a societal problem, endemic, woven into the fabric of things, then people will behave according to its dictates and nothing will change until people push and shove and make it change, like feminists who campaigned for equal rights. Because someone has to bell the cat.

    You're right, it is almost unbearably melancholic.

    Wow, that's awful. And one of the awful things about it is that it was just a baby and didn't know what it was doing, like a dog or a cat.

    ...and if Becky had already been carrying Billy's child then she wouldn't have conceived when she was raped.... good grief :-(

  4. Yeah it's nice to see someone take on the culture of silence around the abusive treatment of women in a close knit community. Which still sadly happens today.

    The superbaby is a horrifying concept, just lashing out because it knows no better and Billy really didn't have a choice, it was either it or him. It's like how Annie blinded her parents just after she was born too. Very sad all round.