"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.
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|
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.|
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.|
|And that's Swatto down.|
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.|
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!|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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|
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.|
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: "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"|
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.|
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...