Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Boys Book 6: The Self Preservation Society (#31-38)

"Both of us gettin' to old for this shit" - Mother's Milk

"We'll last long enough" - Billy Butcher.

In a world where a corrupt, multinational corporation called Vought-American creates and controls the majority of people born with superhuman powers, while licensing them for comics, films, action figures, games and so on, someone has to police them.  Backed by the CIA are The Boys, a superstrong, super tough gang of four men and one woman (Londoner Billy Butcher, Scotsman Wee Hughie, New Yorker Mother's Milk, the Japanese The Female and The Frenchman) who bug, blackmail and beat up any "supe" who steps out of line.  And if it comes to it, won't shy away from killing them either. A conspiracy has formed around Vought-American's attempts to get superpowered individual's involved in national US defence and plans are in motion to eliminate the President and install their puppet Vice President in his place.  However, these eight issue's take a break from the on-going Vought story although we'll be hearing more about their sorry history.  This volume contains Garth Ennis at both his best and his worst, the first arc "The Self Preservation Society" is by far the weakest arc of the whole series, however it's followed by four issues delving into the backstories of Mother's Milk, Frenchie and The Female which is one of the best.  Let's get the bad stuff over first.

THE SELF PRESERVATION SOCIETY -  What's disappointing about this arc is twofold.  First the writing feels like Garth Ennis on autopilot somewhat.  He wanted to kill off the Avengers and does so in the most blood thirsty and perfunctory way, his hatred for the character of Captain America leading him to mete out the most humiliation upon him.  I know the figure of Captain America is contentious to those of us who appreciate the service and sacrifice of soldiers during WW2, but did he need to be portrayed as a dimwit who lets The Homelander literally screw him (see Book Five: Herogasm), get's his nose bitten off, be shown on one of the front covers of this arc having soiled himself and finally brutally tortured and killed off screen by Billy?  This and the glee with which the rest of the Not!Avengers are dispatched feel like Garth playing into the hands of people who would label him a one-dimensional violence obssessed hack.
Some of this can be alleviated in retrospect by the revelations of just what a psychopath Billy actually is, and Hughie is given a humane and disgusted response to the final overkill on Stormfront.  But otherwise this is just four issues of killing with no humour and little humanity to ease it along.  And it's not helped by the lazy and slapdash art of fill-in Carlos Ezquerra.  It feels like heresy to criticise Ezquerra as he's a legend, but here we see a lot of "sameface" going on, Frenchie looks about eighty years old, The Female looks like his standard female template and not East Asian at all and there are few backgrounds.  I did briefly wonder if over the years he had lost it, but I'm currently reading his work on the most recent colour adventures of Johnny Alpha and it looks brilliant.  So maybe he was just unenthused by the script.  Anyway, the story.
The Maverikz
It begins with a group of supes who were affiliated with Tek-Knight, the Iron Man/Batman parody featured in book two.  They've been told to wait somewhere and attack whoever turns up by Vought.  Of course it's The Boy's who turn up and The Maverikz get the shit kicked out of them.  On board The Seven's flying base, Vought are introducing their new costumes.  A-Train and Jack From Jupiter like theirs, but The Deep (who is black) point blank refuses to wear leopardskin.  The Homelander and Stillwell discuss Payback going after The Boy's and The Homelander says to warn them not to harm Billy's dog.  As Stillwell leaves The Homelander has to restrain himself from not blowing his helicopter up.

In Central Park, Hughie and Annie "Starlight" January spend some time together,  Hughie admits he isn't enjoying his "job" and Annie seems miserable in hers (he doesn't know she is a member of The Seven).  He wonders if they should just run away together.  "Don't tempt me" responds Annie.  Meanwhile, The Female is still - despite Frenchie's best efforts to stop her - doing freelance killing for the mob.  But this time she's been lured into a trap.  Waiting for her is the German supe Stormfront, an unrepentant Nazi and member of Payback.  He's also considered second only to The Homelander in raw power.
Stormfront vs. The Female
They fight and The Female is overwhelmed, but she manages to inflict substantial damage on Stormfront, including gouging out one of his eyes before he beats her unconcious.  One the Seven's base, Starlight is shown her new costume which is basically two strips of cloth attached to a thong and a pair of high heels.  The male's laugh but Queen Maeve looks on, annoyed.  Frenchie arrives back at Boy's HQ looking utterly gutted.  He was called to the hospital where The Female was taken, with the people who found her using her phone to contact him.  They all rush to her side. Hughie despairingly reflects on the cycle of violence they seem to be trapped in.

Billy: "Big Boys' rules, chum.  You know that" 

Hughie: "Big Boys' rules?  That wee girl is in a coma... I wanna know the next nightmare I'm gonna be livin' over an' over in my head, wi' nothin' to stop it except these zingers o' yours!"
This sin't far off what Starfire, her inspiration, wears now.
Before they can argue further, Mother's Milk points out there is something fishy about the hospital they are in.  Meanwhile Starlight has reluctantly tried on her new costume and is being told her new backstory which will incorporate rape.  Which turned her "dark.. and sexual."  She forcefully disabuses the Vought men of the notion she'll be going along with this.

Starlight: "I was almost raped!  Me!  In real life!  And it didn't make me dark.  And it didn't make me sexual.  It made me want to scream until I died!"

Back with The Boys, Frenchie is carrying The Female as they escape the trap they have been lured into.  Payback come crashing in, they are made up of Stormfront, Soldier Boy, The Crimson Countess, Mind-Droid and Swatto.  A battle ensues.  Stormfront starts throttling Mother Milk, but he grabs Stormfronts balls and crushes them and escapes.  Billy beats down Soldier Boy and rips his nose off with his teeth.  Billy's dog Terror attacks the Crimson Countess.  She chases Terror into the basement and Billy follows and breaks her neck.  The rest of the injured Boys escape in an ambulance while Billy lures the rest of Payback to a nearby building site.
Bad mistake Countess, not the dog.
Stormfront stiffens the spines of the surviving members of Payback saying dealing with Billy will get them on the same level as The Seven in the eyes of Vought.  But Billy baits him into attacking him and throws glass into his remaining eye and Stormfront flees.  Meanwhile, Stillwell's boss is questioning Stillwell over his recent decisions, such as siccing Little Nina on The Boys (see book 2), wiping out the G-men (see book 4) and setting Payback on the Boys, jeopordising their earning potential. He then goes for a massage while Stillwell looks thoughtful.
And that's Swatto down.
What's left of Payback is freaking out.  Soldier Boy wants to run, but Mind-Droid says Stormfront is right about this getting respect from Vought.  They go look for Swatto and find him dead with a pickaxe through his head.  Mind-Droid finally realises they can't win and he and Soldier Boy make a break for it.  Billy catches them and slices Mind-Droid's head off with a spade, then looms over an injured, grovelling Soldier Boy.

Billy: "You never fought in the war, you cunt.  An' you're a fuckin' insult to the lads that did."

The Seven are arguing.  Starlight refuses to wear the demeaning costume.  A-Train is demanding she do so, but she laughs him off.  Black Noir steps up holding the costume out and it looks like things might turn bad for Starlight, but suddenly Queen Maeve stands between him and Starlight and he backs down without a word.
Queen Maeve to the rescue.
The rest of The Boys are fixing themselves up in the ambulance.  Mother's Milk fills Hughie in about Stormfront.  He was Vogelbaum's first test subject for Compound V back in Germany in the thirties.  His mind was poisoned by Hitler's creed and even though he was extracted from Germany along with Vogelbaum before World War 2, he's remained a Nazi.  "Now he's our problem" says Mother's Milk.

Billy rejoins the rest of The Boys next day, waiting for Stormfront outside Payback HQ.  He arrives in an explosion which knocks Hughie out.  Billy baits him again and draws him away from the unconcious Hughie.  Back with Stillwell, he's being told over the phone that his boss died in the spa of a heart attack.  "No I doubt you could call this a happy finish either, thank you doctor." He hangs up and looks out of the window.  "Hmh" he remarks.
Incoming WW2 analogy!
Stormfront confronts Billy who says his Grandad fought the Nazi's during the war and they were a bunch of wankers,  Billy then attacks Stormfront and hurts him, but this makes Stormfront very angry and he lays an epic beatdown on Billy.  Stormfront says he was told to kill the rest of The Boys but not Billy.  He is no longer going to follow that order.

He says the British could never have beaten the Germans alone.  Billy says that they hung on long enough for the Americans to join in, and Mother's Milk attacks.  And don't forget the Free French he says, as Frenchie attacks as well. And finally there were the ones that got all the way to Berlin, and Vas the friendly Russian supe from Book 2 jumps into the fray.  Between the four of them they overpower Stormfront and stamp on him until he is a dead, gory mess.  All the while Hughie looks on appalled and nauseated.
You're not the only one grossed out Hughie.
The Boy's then get patched up in a real hospital, where The Female is being treated properly.  While on the Seven's base, a confident Starlight has changed back into the modest costume she wore at the start of the series.  Hughie sits in with The Female an tells her he was starting to write the others off as violent nutters.  But seeing her like this:

Hughie: "It's like seein' someone I've known since I was.. Aw God hen, I hope you wake up."

Then he spots a bag of chocolate limes by her beside and starts to help himself.  The Female grabs his arm and breaks it.  "AAAAAAAH God She's Awake!!" yells Hughie.  Later Billy and Mother's Milk discuss Hughies growing disillusionment.  Billy says it's time to tell Hughie who they are.  The arc winds up with Soldier Boy tied up and Billy ready to torture him to find out who sent him.

NOTHING LIKE IT IN THE WORLD -  Billy was being slightly disingenuous.  The rest of the Boys reveal their pasts to him in the next four issues, but finding out more about Billy past doesn't happen until volume ten and even then that's information only the reader gets not Hughie, although he will get filled in on Billy's activities in The Boy's mark one at alater date.  Anyway, the first one to open up to Hughie is Mother's Milk in a two-issue story.
Mother's Milk (left) and family.
Hughie and Mother's Milk meet next to the ruined Brooklyn Bridge which is finally being repaired.  MM admits he was on the bridge on 9/11.  ALso that he's the only one born with his powers, although they didn't appear right away.   He had a brother called Michael who was retarded and MM suffered from a condition that if he didn't regularly breastfeed every month or so he'd start to shrivel up and starve to death.

His mum had worked in a factory which has previously been a Vought-American laboratory.  They had not sanitised the place when the left and it was contaminated with Compound V.  Mallory, Hughie's predecessor in The Boys thought Vought were trying to refine it for cheaper prices there.  Mallory also stole the CIA supplies of Compound V as well.
Never give up, never surrender.
MM's father enters the picture now.  The women who worked there were exposed to hazardous materials and their health suffered.  He slowly, methodically began to build a case against Vought, who fought him every step of the way.  And he finally won.  No much of a payout, no chance of anyone from Vought going to jail.  "but what the fuck.  Score one for the little guy, right?"  But he overheard something from one of the Vought lawyers "Win some. Lose some."  And the contempt it expressed stayed with him ever since.

After all that a terrible tragedy occurred in the family.  Michaels power started to manifest.  He started to grow uncontrollably and as he was wearing a helmet his brain got crushed and he died.
It's a grotesque image, and yet utterly heartbreaking at the same time.  The father's wordless scream of sorrow and Mother's Milk enfolded in his mum's arms it really emphasises how "normal" people had their lives fucked up by Vought as well.
Their father started another case against Vought, but ended up having a heart attack and dying before he could bring it to court.  MM thought he should carry on his work but one day his mum said "Baby... I don't wanna fight no more."  So he joined the army.  He was pretty powerfully built by now and ended up in an army boxing match.  Then his powers manifested and he punched his opponent'd head clean off.

He was confined to a cell, but Billy and Mallory show up and Billy says he can get revenge on Vought by joining his team. MM of course agreed.  Tentatively Hughie asks if Mm still needs to breastfeed.  MM just asks him to get him a coffee and stares off into the distance.  "Jings..." mutters Hughie as he goes for the coffee.

We then get a flashback to Billy and Mallory off panel saying MM is going crazy over the fact the crackhead cunt of a wife of his kidnapped their daughter.  Billy says they need to get her back to get MM's mind back on the job.  Back in the present MM shows Hughie a photo of Janine his daughter.  Then he tells Hughie the story of how Billy helped him find the crackden she was being kept in and how he accompanied MM into that den while MM negociated with the leader of the druggies.  Unfortunately Billy accidentally started a fight and got badly beaten by the mob of crackheads there.  MM smashed them all off him and was able to get Janine back.  Although currently his horrible wife does have visitation rights.
A bad day on the Brooklyn Bridge
After this MM and The Boys went back to monitoring supes and "truth be told..the job was beginning to wear me down."  So one day he was daydreaming on the Brooklyn Bridge on 9/11 and the plane hit.  He tried to rescue a woman hanging out of her car but the car fell and ripped her in half.

Mother's Milk: "We gotta stop 'em Hughie.  What happens to the factory workers if the place is all fucked up with V?  What happens to the city if The Seven can't stop the plane?  We gotta stop Vought 'cause they don't give a shit about people."

Hughie asks if he blames the supes more than the terrorists for the disaster.  MM tells him the story of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is a tale of determination, ingenuity and sacrifice.

Mother's Milk: "You got someone with a dream.  An' they build somethin'.  Somethin' that makes people say My God.  Somethin' wonderful.  An' along comes someone with a cause, an' they smash it into the ground. An' whatever you put up instead, things ain't never quite the same again."
The sentiments speak for themselves I feel.
LA PLUME DE MA TANTE EST SUR LA TABLE - Now for something completely silly.  Frenchie tells his tale which manages to include every daft stereotype the British have about the French.  He starts with him coming home after serving in an unspecified war, to his home town of Franglais.

Frenchie: "Where an ancient and unique dialect is spoken by the inhabitants."

His father is especially pleased to see him as the festival "Les Saintes des Haw-Haw" is coming up.  Frenchie wants to know what happened to his girlfriend while he was away.  Unfortunately she has hooked up with Frenchie's arch enemy, Black Pierre.  This sends Frenchie into a slough of despond.

His father says Frenchie should battle Pierre in the upcoming festival.  But Frenchie says he's had his fill of conflict.  The festival Les Saintes des Haw-Haw involves jousting on bicycles armed with baguettes.  Frenchies father says he will compete for his families honour against Black Pierre.  Pierre agrees.  But as they pass each other, he jams a stale croissant in the spokes of Frenchie's dad's bike and Frenchie's dad flies off it and is killed when he lands on the ground.
It's like a documentary!
Frenchie's mum died soon after of despair.  Frenchie remounces his pacifism and goes wandering the world.  He starts a brawl in a bar while Billy watches him "He's a mad cunt" says Billy and recruits him.

Frenchie: "With The Boys A L'outrance, petit Hughie... 'To The Bitter End'"

Frenchie then leaves and Hughie wonders if any of his story was true.  Billy says it's just the last line that counts.

THE INSTANT WHITE-HOT WILD - The female's story is related in the first person via Frenchie.  It begins with her as a toddler.  Her mother was a bimbo who worked as a receptionist in a Japanese laboratory dedicated to trying to replicate Compound V.  Her mother kept her in a basket under her desk and one day The Female crawled off and climbed into a bucket of failed Compound V.  But it somehow made her super-strong and also gave her the insatiable lust for blood as she rips off the face of the first scientist to bend down near her.

Frenchie: "I was captured of course and kept.  If mother ever wondered where I'd gone to, I never heard from her.  If she did remember... the corporation bought her off.. most likely with a Marie Claire subscription."
The Female's "Upbringing"
She was kept in solitary confinement and as she grew up, would periodically escape but felt alienated from the outside world due to lack of socialisation.  She would be recaptured and one day she overhears one of her captors say that they haven't managed to unlock the secrets of her superstrength from her blood and may end up wasting her.

So she decided to escape for the last time.  A team of security guards are sent into the sewers to retrieve her, but end up shooting each other in a panic and she finishes off the rest.  But The Boy's are on hand this time and use a stun grenade to pacify her. On the way back to the USA, Billy wants to know who'll "teach it to sit up and beg".  Frenchie volunteers and using kindess manages to civilise her, though he still can't control her lust for excess violence.
The Female is treated well for the first time.
Frenchie: "I had been made the way I was by men.  By their violation of nature.  By their treatment of me attempting to remake me in image of their own devising.  But I found a new life with The Boys."

And that wraps up The Female's sad tale.  Hughie wants to know about Butcher but is told, "those files are sealed" and the book finishes up with The Female travelling on the underground, possibly to undertake another mob hit.

So after a disappointing start with the first arc, we get some much needed background into three of The Boys and why they stay with the team.  It's interesting to note that in someways The Homelanders upbringing must have been similar to The Females for the early years of his life, before he could be trained in social graces.  Is it any wonder the both of them are sociopaths?  Mother's Milk's story is heartbreaking, but helps explain why he is such a mehtodical detective and why he is willing to follow Billy into hell.  Was Frenchie's tale true or not?  Ah, who cares, it was a nice bit of light-heartedness between two quite dark tales.  With Hughie understanding more why they stay with Billy, he seems to have decided to put his own doubts on one side and stay as well.  But the next volume will see his loyalty tested to the absolute limit...


  1. i agree, the first story was weak, but it was cool finding out more about the boys. frenchies story is one of the funniest things i have ever read in a comic!

  2. Yes, it's a total blast isn't it? Ennis is really good at switching from tragedy (MM's story) to comedy (Frenchies) without missing a beat. I thought his subtle tribute to 9/11 showed his strengths as well.