Friday, 27 August 2010

The Boys: Highland Laddie #1 - Garth Ennis

The Boys: Highland Laddie #1
(Garth Ennis)

The problem with The Boys, at least in my opinion, is that it attempts to bridge the gap between a genuine comic book series and a work of satire commenting on the many absurdities of the comic book world. Therefore we have a mixture of serious issues – what really happens in a world where superheroes exist – and sarcastic takes on the clich├ęs of the genre. In a series of stories exploring the different aspects of The Boys, we see superheroes created to look after a particular demographic (Get Some), superheroes attempting – and failing miserably – to prevent a disaster (I Tell You No Lie) and a set of three unbelievable origin stories for three of the team.

The problem with Garth Ennis, on the other hand, is that Ennis is largely incapable of writing a comic book series without inserting a thoroughly anal sense of humour into the work. Sometimes this is amusing or even fitting; at other times, it is just disgusting. This has become an increasing problem for The Boys, spoiling the story for me – and, I believe – quite a few other readers. I did not particularly want to see what happens when Wee Hughie performs oral sex on his girlfriend while she is menstruating, or any number of other disgusting scenes that fail to advance the plot. When people laugh, Ennis, they are laughing at you, not with you.

That is something of a shame, because Wee Hughie has the making of a genuine hero. He stands up for people who need help, something that is clear in both the G-Men arc and the more recent ‘what I know’ storyline. It’s a shame because Hughie is pretty much treated as an idiot by the writer; he makes dumb mistakes, asks dumb questions and – in a properly run spy team – would either have been trained to carry out his duties or unceremoniously shown the door. The shortage of proper training actually leads us to question Butcher; Ennis told us, right from the start, that Butcher doesn’t fuck up, yet Butcher has done little but fuck up. I really hate plots that require someone to be an idiot to make them work. The last two arcs in the storyline have demanded just that.

Anyway, following the events of ‘Believe’ – a as-yet unfinished story arc – Wee Hughie has decided that he needs to take a break and returned home to the tiny Scottish village of Auchterladle. So far so good. The story goes off the rails almost at once, with the bus driver offering Hughie some drugs before he gets off the bus. In what weird part of Scotland – my stomping ground – does that happen? It turns out that Hughie was adopted as a kid – raising the question of just who his father actually was – and his adopted parents are genuinely decent folk. (Shades of Clark Kent here, I wonder?) Hughie meets up with two of his old friends – a transvestite who looks thoroughly gruesome and a boy with such an awful body odour that he and his family have to wear gas masks at all times. Quite what’s wrong with him isn’t spelled out, although personally I’m guessing that the Ennis Syndrome has struck again and he’s inserted something disgusting into the plot for the hell of it.

As the plot thickens like (insert something disgusting here) we discover that Hughie and his three friends used to be part of a junior detective league or something equally stupid. Apparently they foiled someone doing something. That’s right – a guy who was portrayed for 50odd issues as a complete moron somehow used to be like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. The conversation between two of the bad guys is so retarded that the plot seems to be fighting back against the writer, even to the point where one of them points out that it is retarded. What’s Hughie when they should be worrying about the police? This would only make sense if Hughie’s role in The Boys was well known, but it isn’t – is it? The Boys have always been portrayed as a covert operation, unknown to the general public.

We do actually get some nice moments of flashbacks (flash-forwards?) to the end of ‘Believe.’ Hughie leaves his hamster with The Female and asks Butcher a single question. We don’t get to hear Butcher’s answer.

In other words, I will not be picking up the remainder of this miniseries.

To be blunt, Highland Laddie annoyed the hell out of me. First, there was the stereotypical Scottish village and the attempt to present Scottish accents. It reads more like Oor Wullie or The Broons. (The comic’s cover, with Hughie sitting on a bucket, is a direct reference to Oor Wullie.) And then there was the disgusting characters and absurd plot. If this is satire, I don’t want any more of it.

The artwork is not, alas, up to the excellent standard of Darick Robertson, although it is considerably better than the artwork presented during Herogasm. (The last Boys miniseries.)

Overall…don’t bother.


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