The Boys: Highland Laddie
-Or, how I learned to stop worrying and give up The Boys.
I’m going to be honest and admit that I only paid for the first issue of the six-issue miniseries. The quality of the first issue was so appallingly bad that I cancelled my subscription for the remaining five issues and resolved to read them in my local comic book store before I committed to buying them. Five issues later, I am profoundly grateful for my wise choice and I’d like those ten minutes per comic back.
In case it isn’t obvious, I did not like the series.
For people who haven’t been following The Boys since before they grew too hot for DC Comics to handle, The Boys are a small covert team of enhanced humans charged with keeping the superheroes from getting out of hand. Wee Hughie, the highland laddie of the title, was recruited by Butcher, the team’s leader, after his girlfriend was killed by a superhero, seemingly by accident. Hughie, it should be admitted, has a good heart, but a very little brain. Suffice it to say that he is not cut out for the life of a superhero, let alone a covert operative, and at the end of the last story in The Boys, he is heading home for some R&R.
One of the problems with The Boys is that the series is both a serious look at how superheroes would function in the real world and a piss-take on the clinches of the genre. The two do not go together very well, particularly when Garth Ennis introduces other tropes like Evil Megalomaniacal Corporation – and endless disgusting concepts – into the story. Ennis, it seems, is determined to be as disgusting as possible, whatever it takes. This lets the story down badly.
It seems to me that Garth Ennis was trying to play around with dozens of different ideas and concepts when he was writing this particular script. The story is impossible, if only because of its myriad flaws, to take seriously.
To summarise: Wee Hughie takes a bus ride to his home town. On the bus, the bus driver offers him some drugs, something which – as a native of Scotland – I have never seen in real life. Hughie’s adopted mother and father – the first we, the readers, hear that he was adopted – are surprisingly normal. The same cannot be said for his old friends. One of them has something wrong with his body that condemns him to stink; the other is progressing towards becoming a transvestite. It turns out that the three of them used to be part of a junior detective league, which had exactly one successful case to its credit. For some reason, the local drug smugglers are worried about this, rather more than they are worried about the police.
In the course of the week, Hughie meets a fisherman who may be more than he seems, before Anne January – his former girlfriend, who also happens to be Starlight of the Seven, an analogue of the JLA – arrives and tells him all about her tragic past. Anne hasn’t wised up any either; even though Hughie told her that he knows that she gave head to three of the Seven, she doesn’t think to force him to tell her how he knows. It turns out that the drug smugglers are working with one of Hughie’s friends, while the other is trying to foil their plans. Oh, and we also discover that Hughie was repeatedly traumatised as a kid, in a number of unrealistic ways.
There are so many influences in this story that it is hard to count them all. Ennis was clearly referencing (and taking the piss out of) The Broons and Oor Willie, Scooby Doo, Swallows and Amazons, celebrity contests like Big Brother and The X Factor, Enid Blyton and at least a dozen others. Adding them all together merely makes for a mishmash of a story, one that isn’t even remotely grounded in reality.
Let me suggest a far superior version of the story. Hughie goes home; discovers that drugs smugglers are bringing in drugs and deals with it. Two issues; three at most.
I’m sorry, but I am not going to waste my money on this trash. Ennis just isn’t trying any more.