Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Boys Book 12: The Bloody Doors Off (#66-72)

"'An none of it made a blind bit o' difference.  You stayed yourself no matter what I done" - Billy Butcher

It's all over.  Or is it?  Vought-American's attempt to use their power and influence to gain a grip over US defence affairs and militarise the superhuomans they've been responsible for creating since the 1930's ended in disaster.  Loose cannon leader of the supes The Homelander fooled his fellow supes into thinking they should take action to support Vought and mobilised them at key government buildings, but he himself went beserk in The Whitehouse and killed everyone including the President.  When Billy Butcher, leader of The Boys, a team of five empowered humans backed by the CIA to police supes, confronted The Homelander over the rape and subsequent death of his wife by him, it was revealed that Black Noir was a clone of The Homelander and he was responsible for all the atrocities The Homelander didn't remember doing.  This lead to The Homelander and Black Noir fighting and when a barely alive Black Noir triumphed and staggered out of The Whitehouse, Billy led the armed forces in kilin him for good the same way they'd taken out all the other supes.  With everything seemingly wrapped up, there was only Billy's ominous comment that his dead wife Becky would hate what he's going to next most of all...

THE BLOODY DOORS OFF - The final arc begins with Vas, the friendly Russian supe from books 2 and 6, lying badly wounded on the ground.  He stands with great difficulty saying to the voice off panel that he must stop Billy.  Billy points at a man hanging from the ceiling and says Vas tried to hide him from him, then Billy is finally fully revealed.  He aims a bazooka at Vas and fires.
Alas, poor Vas.
Back with Hughie in New York, we get several pages of him walking to work listening to a talk radio show recapping all the revelations about supes and Vought.  He arrives at Boys HQ, Billy is not there, but the rest are.  They start to talk about how this might be time to go their seperate ways.  Mother's Milk says he has family stuff to deal with and Frenchie says The Females bloodlust has seemingly finally abated and they should go far, far away to keep her away from temptation.

Mother's Milk:  "We all done people.  Time we went the fuck home."

Billy then comes in and says to them they can have three months off while he holds the fort there. He also says when they come back, Hughie will be second-in-command like he asked.  This immediately annoys Frenchie and MM.  Billy grins to himself as they begin to bicker about it.  Frenchie and The Female sweep grumpily out leave a protesting Hughie in their wake.
Annie needs a break.
We then cut to Annie in a taxi cab.  She is leaving New York for a while.  She wants to get over the terrible things she saw.  Hughie says she can talk to him about it, but she says they only end up going round in circles.

Hughie: "But what found me?"

Annie: "Maybe that's just a line."

And she is driven off.  Despondent Hughie returns to his hotel and treads in the cum puddle outside his door.  Inside he sighs and says to Jamie the hamster that he still has him and sits on the floor looking forlorn.

We then catch up with Hughie talking with The Legend.  Hughie tells him that he, Frenchie and The Female have had their citizenship revoked and have ninety days to get out of the country.  The Legend says it's obviously Rayner's doing, cleaning house before her Senate bid.  Hughie says Vas sent him a cryptic text message, and The Legend tells him Vas is dead, killed by a rocket launcher.

MM has found his daughter Janine, she is subdued and scared.  She reminds him that though she looks like an young woman she is in fact only twelve due to the Compound V in MM affecting her growth.  She says she'd been doing drugs with her mum for a while to get back at him for not being around to long periods and the porn was another punishment for him.  MM grits his teeth and says he wants a word with her mum.  She tells him to cut the crap:

Janine: "It's not very easy with you pretending you don't know how we got here or that I'm under fucking suspended sentence of death!"

MM is genuinely confused.  Janine tells him that Billy came to the porn studio and killed everyone, making sure Janine saw him crush her mom's head like a tin can.  And his only words to her were: "Leave that man alone".
Janine fills her dad in.
Back with Hughie and The Legend, The Legend says The Boys were lucky to get through everything and only lose a dog.  They puzzle over Vas's text and Hughie wonders why it was him Vas sent his final communication to.  The Legend then asks if Hughie is ready to leave the US.  Hughie says he has a girl he's not ready to give up on, and if he did leave New York a part of him would always be in mourning.  As Hughie goes to leave, The Legend says the number in the text could refer to a type of Russian tank.

Later that night, The Legend wakes up and finds Billy looking down at him.  Billy wants to know what he's been telling Hughie and notes that one day The Legend might talk about Vogelbaum "'an' that I cannot have."  The Legend tries to escape but succumbs to a terror induced heart attack instead and dies.
The Legend is the next to die.
Hughie is sat on his bed with a laptop and figures out the text is actually an email address.  He tries it out and it opens an email Vas had sent to himself and it gives him a link to click on saying his worst fears has come true.  Hughie follows the link and his eyes widen in shock.  MM phones, but Hughie says to him that whatever news MM has, Hughie is pretty sure he has him beat.

The Boys minus Billy meet up in the downstairs room of their HQ. Hughie first points out that Billy bringing up the second-in-command thing was a deliberate attempt to split them up and sow discontent between them.  He then tells them Vas and The Legend are dead and it's very likely Billy did both of them.  After the events in Russia told in Book 2, the one hundred and fifty supes Billy killed by setting off the unstable Compound V they'd been exposed to got Vas suspicious.

He put out word he wanted information and finally found a guy who said he was working for an Englishman who bought up Nina's remaining stock and got more refined.  There are now one hundred and eighteen metric tonnes of it in existence.  Vas put things together and when he found out he'd been bugged by Billy he tried to get his source and himself to safety, but Billy found him and killed him.  The Compound V has been delivered to the USA to.
Figuring Billy's plan out.
As to why he's doing it, Mallory has said he gave Billy a war.  Ongoing and one he could never win, despite his oft stated desire to wipe out every supe in existence.  The deaths of The Homelander/Black Noir satisfied his personal revenge, but now what's left?

Mother's Milk: "Every other supe on the fuckin' planet."

Frenchie says the explosive stuff needed to be injested or injected.  But Hughie thinks Billy's found a way to turn it into a dirty bomb.  MM says Butcher "ain't no biochemist", but Hughie says he might have one working for him.  When Mallory sent him to kill Vogelbaum, what if Billy didn't and got him working for him instead.  Frenchie asks what are they going to do, and a lost looking Hughie says "talk to him like..."
The Female has a breakthrough.
The Female looks upset at all these revelations and makes like she doesn't want to fight Billy.  Hughie says to her it's not just supes exposed to Compound V, there are maybe millions out there who have it in their systems without being supes.  Frenchie says maybe she can sit this out, because she has made so much progress recently.  Hughie and MM agree and make to leave, suddenly The Female says:

The Female: "I hate mean people".

And she puts on her coat and joins them.  Those words are the first she has ever spoken in the series and have a real impact, you really believe she's walking down the road of becoming a normal human being not a traumatised, violence addicted weapon.

MM goes to the Operations room and searches Billy's PC, which has been wiped.  Suddenly Billy appears and asks him why he isn't in LA sorting things out with Janine.  Tensely they talks about MM sending Hughie to Mallory, then his threats to MM's daughter.  Billy admits he didn't thnk he'd walk away alive from his encounter with The Homelander and Black Noir, but now he has, he supposes he'll have to get on with his plan.

MM punches him hard, and they start to brawl.  Billy says he thought about killing MM's mum to cut off his supply of milk and weaken him, but couldn't bring himself to do it.  As they fight he says MM is the best mate he could ever have wished for.  Then he reaches into his coat and brings out a grenade which he explodes in MM face, knocking him back onto the floor.  Billy then suffocates him telling him "but I ain't got no mates."
At the same time, Vought are being investigated by a senate committee.  Jess Bradley has to run the gamut of reporters and protesters outside the building.  Inside she says to Stillwell that she's become the face of Vought now.  Stillwell says that she should have come via a side door but no one told her about that.  He then reassures her and they go inside to face the music.  Later they sleep with each other.

Hughie is driving through a snowy landscape when Frenchie phones him with the news about Mother's Milk.  Hughie says maybe they ought to get Rayner involved now, but Frenchie says she'll just declare them criminals to cover things up and they'll be hunted and killed.  Their clearances have been reinstated by Monkey (whom Hughie blackmailed into playing ball earlier in the arc).

Frenchie: "All is in order now.  Except that it never will be again."

Frenchie asks where Hughie is now, and Hughie tells him of the long trail of evidence he followed that culminated in finding a house that Mallory bought round about the time Vogelbaum was kidnapped, it's in New Hampshire and he thinks Vogelbaum will be there.  He then asks if it came to it, would they be able to take Billy down?  Frenchie says with The Female, probably.  But Hughie on his own?

Frenchie: "He would remove your arms and legs and reinsert them into the wrong sockets".

Hughie enters the house and finds the corpse of the freshly killed Vogelbaum.  Then Billy phones him.  After Billy has made some vague threats, Hughie asks him why.  "Gotta finish the job Hughie" he replies.  He says the never ripped out Vogelbaum's throat like Mallory told Hughie, it was a lump of raspberry jam he used.  He made a deal with Vogelbaum to research a way of killing supes and he could stay alive.
Vogelbaum, the man who caused it all.
He's cleaned the place out, so Hughie finds nothing  He then reveals the big plan to Hughie.  He's got IED's rigged to explode and scatter the altered Compound V across the globe.  It would acheive total atmospheric penetration within six to seven months.  Anyone with Compound V already in them will die, even non-supes who've been exposed.

Hughie says he's doing a despicable thing and why the hell did he get him involved in this if he was planning on killing him as well, he says it's like something the Nazi's would do.  Billy says this is actually it's more like the Jews killing the Nazi's.  He then freaks Hughie out by asking him how he knows Hughie is there...

We cut to Frenchie on the phone to Hughie who has arrived back in New York and is picking up some food for the three of them.  Frenchie looks at The Female and wonders if he helped her at all by bringing her into this.  Then he hears a noise and looks under a nearby cloth thrown over a box.  He sees a huge bomb with a few seconds left on the timer.  He smiles and turns to The Female and says:

Frenchie: "Je T'amie.  From the first."
I.. I have something in my eye..
And BOOM!  The bomb explodes taking them out and most of the top of the flatiron building their HQ was in.  Hughie, stunned from the blast and knocked back onto the hood of a car starts having various things Billy said to him over the last two years swim through his mind and comes to a horrible realisation:

Hughie: "Oh fuckin' God Almighty.  I'm supposed to stop you."

Hughie is still in shock as paramedics examine him.  He recovers his wits and when he shows his CIA credentials to the police he is allowed to go.  He visits MM's mum who is a huge mound of flesh with snake like breasts, and reluctantly takes a feed, he later says he did this in the hope he be made stronger when he goes up against Billy.  Then he returns to his hotel room and finds the landlord was the one who kept wanking under his door.  When he asks him why, the landlord says he was paid to do it by an Englishman who wanted Hughie to move to a better place.

Inside Hughie says to Jamie that he has no chance now against Billy, and he should hand things over to the CIA.  He rings Monkey, but before he can say much Monkey asks him why the hell Billy has had The Empire State building evacuated? Hughie realises he has no time left to get others involved and travels to the top floor of the building and confronts Billy up there.
Only Hughie can save the day now.
Hughie asks Billy if the city hasn't suffered enough?  Billy says there are no explosive packages in the city, he's just here to set off the signal.  Billy says he's got the same feeling he always gets when he's really going for it.

Billy: "Like I'm somewhere else.  Watchin' it happen."

Hughie says his plan is something a supervillain would come up with.  Billy congratulates him on fighting dirty  Billy then goads Hughie saying he can't look him in the eye, can't say his name... And Hughie charges Billy, misses and goes crashing through the window.  Without thinking Billy grabs Hughie and has a hold of him as Hughie dangles from his hand.  Hughie frantically apologises and Billy laughs saying:

Billy: "After everythin's happened. You're sayin' sorry to me".

Then the glass he is using to steady himself breaks.  In the gap between issues they both fall to a lower platform.  Billy lies slumped with a broken neck, but still alive and Hughie is caught on a spiked railing with one of the spikes right through one of his legs.
Trust Hughie to win by being daft.
Hughie manages to snap the railing and pull the spike out.  Billy tells him to use his belt as a tourniquet so he doesn't bleed out.  Hughie starts to cry, saying "how could you?  How could you do it?"  Referring to the deaths of MM, Frenchie and The Female.  Billy says he just wanted them out of the way so they'd die not knowing.

Billy: "It ain't like I don't know it's wrong.  But it feels like a dream.  An' it's what lets me get the job done without worryin' about it later...Probably means I'm some sort o' psychopath."

And Hughie was meant to stand up to him and stop him doing terrible things like his little brother did when they were young.  He admits to setting up all the situations where Hughie could learn to toughen up, but it never worked.  Hughie says he still can't believe Billy turned out like this.  Billy comments that without the supe seeking missles they'd be in a lot of bother right now.  "You need people like me" he smiles.
A streak Billy never managed to destroy.
The action cuts to Jess Bradley, watching the TV in horror.  Stillwell has thrown her under a bus and made her the company scapegoat.  All the control he gave her over the supe program is revealed, of course the fact that Stillwell has been setting her up to take the fall from the first time they met is not lost on her as she tears her hair out in rage and frustration.

Billy says all the bomb locations are stored in his phone, so Hughie can give it to Rayner.  Hughie says that Bily did all this for the memory of one woman.  Billy asks if there was anything he wouldn't do for Annie?  He asks Hughie if he loves her, Hughie says he does though he might have fucked things up.

Billy: "Grab hold of her Hughie.  Wrap yer arms around her.  Breathe her in. Feel her strength inside your own.  And never, ever let her go."

The police helicopters appear and Billy tells Hughie he doesn't have much time left, Hughie has to kill him.  Hughie refuses, Billy says he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life as a quadraplegic.  Hughie says he deserves it.  Billy tells him that he killed Hughie's parents.  When Hughie says he doesn't believe him, Billy relentlessly and sneeringly describes Hughies parents and every detail of their house, riling Hughie up until he screams "CUNT!!!" and stabs Billy with the broken railing spike. "Nice one mate" says Billy and dies.
Death of a monster.
Frantically Hughie phones his parents and his mum answers and says they had a nice visit from Hughie's English friend and he got on very well with them and all Hughie can do as she natters on is sit and stare and that brings this arc to an end.  Just one last issue to go.

YOU FOUND ME - Six months later, a relaxed Hughie is basking on the roof of the building with Jamie on his knee.  He takes Jamie inside and goes to where the Brooklyn Bridge is.  Work on it has finished and it will be reopened that day.  He shows his credentials and is allowed onto the bridge.  He looks at the memorial plaque and scratches "M.M. F + F" in the wet concrete around it with tears in his eyes.
Hughie blackmails Vought.
He then goes to meet Stillwell.  Vought has reformed as American Consolidated.  Hughie hands Stillwell a small sample of the explosive Compound V variant.  He tells Stillwell if Vought try selling the idea of supes in the military again, he'll set off all the dirty Compound V bombs. Stillwell says New York is a merchantile town and they just did business.

Hughie: "Jesus Christ you bloodless fuckin'... who are you?"

Stillwell: "I'm an expression of the corporation.  I'm the voice that says, you're right, sue us.  That never gets upset.. We always win."

Hughie asks what they'll do with the supes now military usage is out of the question.  "Why something else" replies Stillwell.

Meanwhile Rayner is having a rally in support of her Senate bid.  But as she makes her speech, the recording Billy made of their last sordid sexual encounter starts playing over the tannoy.  She shouts that she's a whore over and over, and it gets topped off by a plane flying past with a banner saying she's a whore.  It was Monkey who was responsible as she didn't confirm him as permanent CIA director.  Hughie is amused and thanks Monkey for the passport as well.

Stillwell is shown a team of superheroes.  But he tells his employees to do something that isn't "the same old shit dressed up."  When he is alone, he looks out of a window across New York, then slumps forward and says to himself "bad product."
Reunited at last.
Finally Annie returns.  She and Hughie have a long hug, and after some affectionate banter he says to her:

Hughie: "I never had to turn into a monster I saw all sorts o' nightmares an' made all sorts o' daft mistakes, but I got to stay the fella I am.  An' the fella I am loves Annie January."

She says that's good because Annie January loves Hughie.  They decide to make the Brooklyn Bridge their new special place.  They hold hands and start to spin round.

Narrator: "It stirred an old familiar terror, if only for a moment.  But she saw and she smiled and she said..."

Annie: "It's Okay.  It's Okay Hughie.  You found me."
And that brings The Boys to an end.  And it's a volume that really puts you through the emotional wringer.  On first reading Billy's plot seems to come out of nowhere.  But reread the series and hints and clues of what he's up to are dropped here and there from book 2 onwards.  Even though he stared into the abyss too long and became worse than what he was fighting, he still retained enough humanity to have Hughie around to stop him.  The deaths of Mother's Milk, Frenchie and The Female are harsh.  Frenchie calmly telling The Female he has always loved her always makes me snuffle, and The Female's death is doubly tragic as she seemed to have managed to overcome the violence in her soul.  I think maybe Hughie also survived because he was the most "innocent" of The Boys.  He only kills three people during the two years he's part of the group.  One was by mistake, and the other two were due to the manipulative goading of Billy.  It's also satisfying to see Stillwell suddenly realise he's never going to be able do anything viable with the leftover supes, and how useless they really are.  And the return of Annie at the end is the icing on the cake.  Without her the series would have been a much darker and miserable story and maybe Hughie wouldn't have kept his humanity without her.

So In Summary Then....

Interestingly it's two non-badasses who get to walk away at the end.  Annie is just as much a non-badass as Hughie.  She does harden up emotionally as the series moves along, but it's to survive almost intolerable bullying and when the time comes she quits what was potentially a very good life with no regrets or qualms at all thanks to the confidence she's gained from finally having a "real" person in her life who loves her with no strings attached.  I said in the intro that the series is basically a battle for Hughie's soul between two people - her and Billy - who never actually meet and she wins by allowing Hughie to stay Hughie.  Billy is the one constantly nagging, lying, undermining and manipulating Hughie in an attempt to make him a killer like him under the spurious guise of trying to help him toughen up and the hidden motive of making Hughie someone capable of stopping him.

Annie allows Hughie to be who he really is, a sweet-natured guy who just happens to be fiercely intelligent and perceptive when allowed to do things his own way.  And it's that Hughie who gets to walk off into the sunset with Annie.  And indeed Annie gets to walk off into the sunset with Hughie, for a character intially conceived as a one-note joke, Ennis made her a fully rounded human being and not just an appendage for Hughie.  They are an equal couple at the end, and while the ending is bittersweet in all other respects, their joyful happiness on the final page is what you take away from the end of the series.  A romance that was tested more sorely than most and endured.  Lovely stuff.
Overall of the four on-going series' of Ennis I have read, The Boy's is by far my favourite, it has the right mixture of humour and sweetness to leaven the cynicism and nihilism some aspects of the tale has, keeping it from becoming as unrelentingly grim and depressing Punisher MAX series.  When Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, he posited that the appearance of superheroes would change the course of history.  The Boy's says that actually things wouldn't change very much at all.  As long as they were raised to tow the company/political line and well looked after they'd simply be revenue creating beings with negligable impact outside of pop-culture ephemera.  It's only through Vought-American's arrogance, greed and hubris that this backfires in the end.  Even Stillwell at the end realises that for any purpose they are yet another bad Vought product.

And oddly, despite everything, this series also reignited my interest in superheroes.  Having been somewhat sniffy about them when I returned to comics, I soon realised what Ennis probably knows himself.  There is a real totemic power to the idea of the superhero that can't be kept down.  It can be deconstructed, reconstructed, reinvented, satarised and parodied with increasing viciousness but it can't ever really be destroyed.  So I can enjoy The Boys for it's dark take on them in the same way I can enjoy All Star Superman for it's celebration of them.  And I'd never have read All Star Superman or any of the other superhero books now in my bookcase if it wasn't for The Boys.
 So thanks Garth.  And thanks Darick Robertson for your many wonderful pages and covers.  And thank you Russ Braun for the uneviable task of stepping into Robertson's shoes and pulling it off magnificently.  And thanks John McCrea for your arcs as well, and for making "Highland Laddie" especially work as as well as it did. This series was a real treat and without it I possibly wouldn't have returned to comics as fully as I now have and made Garth Ennis shoot up to second place in my list of favourite comicbook writers (Alan Moore being tops of course so he's in the company of the best).  And so ends my look at The Boys, I hope some of you out there enjoyed it.


  1. yeah frenchie and the female dying mad me sad too, and mothers milk. but at least hughie and annie got their happy ending, they deserved it.

  2. The only comic couple I like more than Hughie and Annie are Abby and Swamp Thing under the pens of first Alan Moore then Rick Veitch. That's the highest praise I can give to a comicbook relationship! I like Apollo and The Midnighter a lot too. Shame they've been split up. The good thing about The Boys is that it had a definite end rather than an ongoing which will split happy couples up for OMG Drama.