Friday, 15 May 2015

The Boys Book 8: Highland Laddie (#1-6)

"Whatever faces our friends choose to show us... well.. they're rather all we've got aren't they?" - Alastair Vigors.

In a world where artificially created superheroes behave more like supervillains, five people with super strength and resilience have been employed by the CIA to police the activities of the rest of the "supes".  They are Billy Butcher, Wee Hughie, Mother's Milk, The Frenchman and The Female, known collectively as "The Boys".  In the previous volume Wee Hughie found the woman he was dating who he knew as Annie January - aspiring model, was in fact also a supe called Starlight and one of "The Seven" the most powerful and influential supes on the planet.  Thanks to the manipulations of Billy Butcher he also saw the sex act she performed on three of The Seven to make it onto the team and he broke up with her.  Devastated by what he found out and traumatised by the break-up he decides to take a break from the world of The Boys and supes and New York and returns home to where he grew up in Scotland to get himself back together.  And thus the events of Highland Laddie, a spin-off miniseries illustrated by long time Ennis collaborator John McCrea begins.

Hughie gets off the bus when it reaches the village of Auchterladle and goes to meet his parents.  We find out later in the miniseries that he's adopted, he was found as a baby on the steps of the local church.  But he thinks of his adoptive parents as his only ones.  His "maw" and "paw" are pleased to see him.  Over dinner he explains that America din't work out but he might go back but he doesn't want to talk further about it.
Hughies mum and dad.
Later he goes to visit his friends.  There's is the gas mask wearing Det who suffers from a permanent "pong" (smell), and Bobby, a huge bear of a man who's decided he's more confortable as a woman.  They are both happy to see Hughie who they haven't seen since he first moved to Glasgow several years back.  Hughie is somewhat evasive about what's happened to him.

Bobby: "Fuck, ye're a fountain o' bloody information aren't ye?  Glasgow was good then it was shite.  America you can't make your mind up about."

Hughie: "I ken what you mean, I'm just... just, just glad to be back here I suppose."

As the night wears on, Bobby explains she feels more comfortable as a woman, although she still fancies them so she is more a lesbian now.  Initially I was worried about Bobby's depiction of a transwoman, but reading feedback from a transwoman about it, who said they appreciated Bobby not being made a figure of fun and that she was treated with respect and affection by the locals, made me happier about her place in the story.
Big Bobby, somewhat different from what Hughie remembers.
Det and Bobby then reminisce about how they fooled Hughie into thinking his real father was an airline pilot who fell out of a plane and was killed by a stick of frozen piss.  As they laugh, Hughie looks angry.  As they part after a nights drinking, Det and Bobby can barely stand while the Compound V filled Hughie is barely affected.

He goes for a walk and bumps into an Englishman called Alastair Vigors, up from Surrey and doing some paintings of the local area, right now he's painting the sunset.  He and Hughie chat for a bit and Hughie finds himself opening up to Alistair about his mates.  How at first he was pleased to see them, having put them on a pedastal while he was away.  But now "There's a parta me's already pissed off wi' them."

Hughie:  "I suppose I'm wondering which version o' them's more, more true."

The action then cuts to a mysterious car, inside they speak of the first load coming in tommorrow and there must be "no mistakes, no distractions."
Alastair Vigors.
Next day, Hughie and Alastair chat.  Alastair tells Hughie to never confuse a seagull with a fulmar as a fulmar when threatened will unleash a stream of part digested fish at a range of up to ten feet.  Hughie then goes back to telling him how he feels like he is "one step o' the side, most people live their lives." He'd really like to be like everyone else but things never seem to work out that way.  After telling Alastair about a childhood memory  where he got to go in the cockpit of a plane, only to have the pilot next to him have a nervous breakdown and how it spoilt something special for him:

Hughie: "Sometimes, when I see somethin' really cool happen for someone.  I just think...why did it no' turn out like that for me? Why can't I have that?"

He goes on to say that when people in Glasgow and then America pissed him off he thought he'd come back to Auchterladle and see the lads.  And now he wants to go back to the US to show them.

Later he meets up with Det and Bobby at Smuggler's Cove.  Hughie sees a sex doll floating out to see and wonders why it's tethered there.  This sparks a flashback to when the lads as young boys helped bust an illegal, tobacco smuggling operation there.  Det then brings up their "greatest investigation" which was what Katie Wayne was doing with the local football team in the woods.  This brings up painful, Annie related emotions up for Hughie and he stomps off asking if they "wanna go to the pub?"
Hughie, Bobby and Det with the gasmask.
We then get another flashback of Hughie and Mother's Milk having dinner in a restaurant the night before Hughie was due to leave.  They discuss the fact that for Billy, The Seven are the ultimate target.  MM says Billy is a soldier, fighting a war.  Hughie asks if the way he does it bothers MM.  Who responds with "not 'til recently" but won't elaborate.  Billy says he'll miss MM, who grins and says "get the fuck outta here."

Back in the present, it's nighttime at Smuggler's Cove.  A man called Tupper is surpervising the unloading of a shipment of coke, cut with Compound V (the sex toy was a marker of where to bring the boat).  He's due to hand if off to two local lads who'll be driving it round Scotland for him.  They decide they want paying more, so Tupper calls "Sarah", and a massive woman with a pair of garden shears comes out and grips one of the mens face's between the blades.  The other panics and says Tupper has been more than fair.  The Russian delivering the drugs says he'll deliver the rest tommorrow night so Tupper asks the two frightened local boys what people "do for fun round here?"
Sarah and her shears.
The next day Hughie tells Alastair about the horrific childhood memory he has about when his aunt was staying with them and passed a huge tapeworm in the toilet one night and how he came face-to-face with it.  He thinks he's too squeamish to be a tough guy.  Everytime something "mental" happens to him he goes back to the tapeworm moment:

Hughie: "I remember goin' cold an' tingly an' then just shuttin' down."

Alastair asks him if he sees a lot of violence in his life.  Hughie evades the question then muses that not being a tough guy means you can't make a difference in life.  Alastair asks if that's what he wants.  Hughie says he just wants to stop things getting worse.  Alastair says he has no pat answers to advise him with.  Hughie says it's just nice to be able to talk about it the way he can't with his parents or mates.

Back at his parents house, Hughie chats with his dad in the garden about the times during his childhood when they went out in the boat together and how muchhe loved it.  His mum brings out scones then sees a mark on Hughie's face an despite his protestations, wipes it off. Cut to Hughie stomping down the road, muttering to himself about how guilty his parents make him feel for getting mad at them and treating him like a kid.

Hughie:  "Is it any wonder I turned out a fuckin' wimp?"
Temper Hughie.
He meets up with Det and Bobby and the reminisce about a girl Hughie once fancies called Nikki Kennedy.  Bobby asks if Hughie shagged her, but Hughie will say nothing on the matter.  Then they go to the pub.  Inside are Tupper and Sarah, Tupper gets a phonecall from the Russians saying there is a problem with the boat and the rest of the delivery will have to be done "tommorrow night".

Sitting nearby, Bobby contemplates Sarah and say she sees some "red-hot girl-on-girl action in the immediate future."  He keeps winding them up about sex with her until Hughie is helpess with laughter and gets the next round in.  Later, arrving back at his parents house, his father says he's got a visitor.  It's Annie.  Hughie scowls and says "Out."
Not a good start...
Annie and Hughie sit outside, there is a somewhat frosty atmosphere.  Hughie says there is no chance of getting back together.  Annie says he made that pretty clear, but he also said that he loved her, that he'd reached through everything that was terrible and shitty and miserable in the world and taken a hold of her.  Hughie says she lied though, and she's a supe and they both said they loved each other too soon before the really knew each other.  Annie says he can sit and listen to her story then.

She doesn't know how her parents got exposed to Compund V, but in the hospital just after she was born she let forth a flash of light so bright it permanently blinded her parents and a doctor and nurse who were in the room with them.  Vought swooped in got her parents to sign her over to them in return for money to help them adjust to their new condition and protection from a lawsuit by the doctor and nurse.

She was kept traquilised for the first few years of her life until she was old enough to be reasoned with, then handed over to Vought approved foster parents.

Annie: "...I was an extremely lucky little girl indeed, because if I was very good and did as I was told then I could be a superhero."
Creepy hero pageants.
The job of the foster parents was to prepare the kids for life as a superhero.  When they were ready, Vought would hold a pageant.  She did very well at her pageant, despite all the pressure and emotional blackmail her foster family subjected her to.  However the girl on after her couldn't perform and when Vought rejected her she melted her own eyeballs is distress.  There was a lot of screaming and Vought descended on her.

Annie: "Swept her up.  And then the little shape of her was gone."

Annie then moves on to when she joined her first superteam, The Young Americans.  They were give a group co-ordinator, a PR lady, event planner, make-up artist and counsellor and told which bit of America they'd be responsible for.  Then they were left to their own devices.  And that's when they realised they didn't actually know how to be superheroes in the real world.  Hughie wonders why with all their abilities they don't work with the ambulance services or fire brigade.  Annie says that's a good question that never came up.  She thinks Vought wants superpowers kept from local and federal agencies.

She finally reaches the point in her tale where she joined The Seven.  She asks Hughie again how he came to see the footage, that it didn't make sense how he was sent five minutes of footage that just happened to show her blowing The Homelander, Black Noir and A-Train.  As Hughie covers her ears she relentlessly pushes on:

Annie: "Me getting down... and putting them in my mouth... and sucking the fucking things!"
You tell 'im Annie.
Finally, as she finishes Hughie says brokenly: "I'm so sorry".  He says he's never spoken like that to a lassie before and didn't know he was the kind of man who could.  Annie says in a funny way she still doesn't think he is, that his heart wasn't in the words like a bad actor recitinga script.  Hughie says he still did say them though, Annie replies: "But can you make it stick?"

Next day, Annie has spent the night in the guest bedroom, she says she thinks Hughie's parents are sweet.  Hughie says he never cared who his real parents were because his adoptive ones love him so much, "even if they do drive me round the bend half the bloody time."  She thanks him for apologizing to her, then as she gets dressed he goes down to as sorry to his dad for swearing at Annie the previous evening.  Annie comes out with his mum and Hughie says they should get going before the "photo albums make an appearance."

They go and sit on a hill by the sea.  Hughie says he can't see a future for them together because he'll always have that image of her in his head.  She says she's been thinking of quitting being a supe for a long time and Hughie says she should as there are people out there who really hate them.  She says there is something he is keeping from her, he evades the question again by demanding to know what she sees in him.  She says she "fell in love with you, you dick."  He puts his head in his hands and say's they're "fucked."
Things get more convivial.
Then Alastair appears and introduces himself to Annie.  They sit and talk, Hughie picking up from a previous conversation says he doesn't want to be a "hard bastard".

Hughie: "Can you imagine the price you'd pay to be that violent all the time.  Mentally like?"

He obliquely describes Billy rescuing him from Malchemical.  How Billy made his mind up in one second that the guy was getting it and what followed was a foregone conclusion.  Alastair asks if his "friend" minds paying the mental price Hughie was talking about.  Hughie says he doesn't think he cares.  Then Alastair remembers he bumped into Bobby earlier who gave him a message to give to Hughie, to be at Smugglers Cove at ten pm.  Hughie tries to find his phone to message him back but can't find it.

He goes to the cove at ten pm and finds Bobby there, but Bobby never passed a message on, he was summoned there himself by a text from Hughie phone.  They then notice the drug smugglers unloading on the beach. They sneak closer and see that one of the men checking the purity of the drug the Russians have bought is Det.  They both yell "Det!" at the same time, giving themselves away.  Sarah rises up behind them with her shears and Bobby takes her one, yelling "girlfight!"  Hughie runds down to confront Det and Tupper draws a weapon an fires it at him.
Alaas redemption equals death for Det.
Det jumps in front of Hughie and takes the bullet for him.  As he dies he tells Hughie he needed the money to get an operation in China to get rind of his pong.  Sarah downs Bobby, but Alastair sneaks up behind her and kills her with a rock to the back of the skull.  The police arrive on the scene and Tupper runs, but startles a fulmar who projectile vomits slimy fish crap into his mouth, incapacitating him.

Later Hughie and Annie visit Bobby in hospital.  Sarah chopped off his balls, but as she was going to get them removed anyway she's not too bothered by this.  Hughie says goodbye to her and then he and Annie go for a drink.  Hughie tells Annie about a time when he, Bobby and Det as little kids threw stones at a dog trapped on a rock in the middle of a pond.  But when he hit it, he felt guilty and saved it and took it back to it's home.  Hughie called what they did "evil".  Annie says all kids are psychos and anyway he "put things right."

She says he hasn't got it in him to be harsh and cold, "you aren't even any good at being mean to women."  Back at his parents house he gets ready to leave and his dad hands him his mobile phone that Mr Vigors found.  It has a piece of paper wrapped round it with the name "Mallory" on it and a phone number.  Le gasp!  Alastair was Mallory all the time!  His parents come and see Annie and Hughie off on the bus.  As it pulls away from them, Hughie looks back and starts sobbing about not being able to tell them he loves them properly.  Then turns to Annie and says:

Hughie: "Annie I am so sorry!  I'm sorry for everything I said to you!  I'm sorry for what I did!  I'm sorry!"

She comforts him and the miniseries comes to a close.
D'awwww (again)
Highland Laddie, while not one of my top arcs of the series, nevertheless has much to recommend it.  The background given for both Hughie and Annie is fascinating.  They make an interesting comparison, both raised by non-birth parents, Hughie had all the love he could want while Annie had to work for hers. Hughie ended up drifting through adult life,  never quite fitting in wherever he ended up.  Annie had and still has her whole life managed down to the last detail.  Both found a measure of escape from all that in their relationship with each other.  Hughie finally had something solid to hold on to, Annie had a part of her life evolving naturally and independantly of the structure Vought imposed upon her.  Which made it all the more tragic when Bily split them up so cruelly.  Thankfully Annie is was determined to save what they had and Hughie needed to face the facts that he still loves her.  The supporting cast in the mini are a fun bunch of quirky characters, and the reveal of Alastair actually being Mallory throws up another conundrum.  What was he doing there?  Fortunately it's not too long before this mystery is answered in the main series, so check out my look at the next collection to find out what his game was and if Hughie and Annie can carry on their relationship now they seem to have made up.

Interestingly Ennis says the relationship between Annie and Hughie was completely unplanned as was the development of Annie's character overall.  "Annie started out as a joke, and was actually going to degenerate further in terms of the shit she'd put up with, the degradations she'd suffer just to be in the world's premier superteam. But I found myself writing Hughie moping in Central Park, and then to my great surprise I saw Annie coming walking down the path. That was when I realized I wanted to take her in a different direction, make her stronger and more rounded... I probably felt a bit guilty about Annie and ended up treating her a bit more responsibly as a result."  I can only be thankful he did so, because her gradual realisation of what bullshit being a supe is, plus the tenderness of her and Hughie relationship means the series overall is a hell of a lot less nihilistic than it would have been. And I might not have stuck with the series if the only major female character who actually talks was just being used as a prop for ever escalating humiliations.  For a series that seems so meticulously planned learning that a large part of Hughie character development was completely unplanned goes back to what I've covered before, that some characters take on a life of their own and in some ways write themselves.  Fascinating stuff.


  1. i am glad you didnt post the picture of hughie and the tapeworm, that made me feel sick!

  2. I was very tempted G, but in the end it was too revolting to include. Yes, even I have limits! I remember seeing an episode of House I think where they lured a tapeworm out of someones mouth and it made me retch. Unless I just dreamed that....