Amazon’s The Boys is better than the comics because it knows what to leave out

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WARNING! THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF THE BOYS

The other day in our article about Amazon having already renewed The Expanse for another season, some of you asked in the comments about whether a subscription to Amazon Prime was worth it. The answer is unequivocally and emphatically “YES!” and it’s all thanks to The Boys.

The live-action TV series adapts writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson’s cult-fave comic book series which follows a group of normal humans trying to take down and expose the world’s biggest superhero team for the depraved psychos they really are. Debuting on Amazon Prime this past Friday, The Boys has become an instant hit. I just finished the eighth and final episode of season 1 last night and loved every minute of it. I didn’t think this would be the case though, as it’s no secret that I’m not all that high on the original comics.

While I thought Ennis’ commentary on both the state of capes and tights superhero comics and real-world commercialism and institutions of power was great, the comics were ridiculously gratuitous in terms of twisted violence and sex which completely detracted from what was actually a great story. Ennis himself said that he was going to “out-Preacher Preacher” referring to how he wanted to top his previous controversial series in terms of craziness. The effect of this though was a whole lot of shock just for shock’s sake. “Why write a page of two characters talking, when you could write them talking while engaged in some insane superpowered sex?” That was the mindset and it got too much, not only pushing the boundaries of taste in some regards (things happen with babies in here that would turn your stomach) but numbing you to the story’s genuine moments of shock and overshadowing its great themes.

Things are very different in Amazon’s show though. Oh there are plenty of moments of excessive violence and sexual depravity, but they never feel like the point of the story. During a Reddit AMA done last night, showrunner Eric Kripke was asked about removing these “offensive” aspects, specifically tweaking one scene of Homelander allowing a commercial passenger plane full of people to crash, which in the comics was actually one of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

We never really discussed what would be too offensive. The main rule was whether it furthered the story, the character or the world. We didn’t want to be shocking for shocking’s sake, we just wanted to create this world as realistically as possible. Which meant sometimes seeing really brutal things, because that’s what would really happen if, say, a super fist really met human flesh. We chose not to address 9/11 for several reasons — one being it’s already 18 years ago, and none of the current Seven would’ve been there. Again, we try to approach everything as realistically as possible and begin there.

This doesn’t mean that Kripke and co didn’t try to get in some shocking stuff though. After all, we do get glimpses of the superhero sex club, Butcher basically weaponizing a baby, the Deep’s hilarious failed breakout of a dolphin from Seaworld, and more. According to Kripke, Amazon allowed them to take things as far as they wanted, but there was one exception though.

There was ONE SCENE that Amazon said FUCK NO, you have to cut. I couldn’t quite understand why considering everything else we have in the show, but: Homelander, after being dressed down by Stilwell in episode 2, was standing on one of the Chrysler building Eagles. He pulled his pants down and started jerking off, mumbling “I can do whatever I want” over and over again until he climaxed all over New York City. We shot it! Oh my God, Anthony was the BEST in that scene. Amazon seemed to think it wasn’t necessary. I thought it told me something about his psyche. To be clear, they’ve been great, that may have been the ONLY fight I lost in Season 1.

I don’t think we needed more glimpses into Homelander’s mental state though, as Banshee alum Antony Starr knocked his performance out of the park. He’s a far more complex villain in the series thanks to Starr nailing both his heartbreaking tragedy and his gleeful villainy.

And by removing all this “shock for the sake of shock” window dressing Homelander and the rest of the cast, it allows characters like Hughie Campbell, Billy Butcher, Frenchie, Mother’s Milk, Starlight, etc way more room to grow. They feel like actual people instead of walking rude punchlines.

Another major change that ties into that humanization and more is how Compound V is handled. In the show, the drug is revealed to be the origin of superpowers, just like in the comics, but here it’s only the supers taking it to enhance their powers and get themselves high. In the comics though, V is given to prostitutes to enhance their bodies to survive otherwise fatal sex sessions with the superheroes, while Butcher also gives it to his team so that they can be strong enough to beat the superheroes to a bloody pulp. In other words, just more opportunities for graphically shocking encounters. But Kripke didn’t think the comic’s usage of V worked for him and cutting it down actually allowed for better character development.

I thought giving the Boys Compound V really leveled the playing field in not-a-great-way. Then it just becomes like many other super hero stories — two high-powered fuckers slugging it out. To me, what was interesting was the average, regular, blue collar dude, completely powerless, taking on the 1 percent of the 1 percent, the most powerful. And having to do it without brute strength, but relying on their wits. It’s way harder to figure out in the writer’s room, but I think more satisfying. Message: we don’t need powers to save the world. We just need each other.

It’s not just about celebrating humanity though. The show now also has more room to point out the terrible aspects of modern society.

The elevator pitch of the show is: Marvel is real. Their superheroes are real. They take over the world. I think what’s more dangerous than places like Marvel or Disney are places that purport to be entertainment organizations, but then use their slickness to actually manipulate political change. (I’m looking at you, Fox News. Oh, and since I’m looking at you: fuck you). That to be is really what we’re targeting with Vought.

Often when popular stories get adapted to the screen, the end result is inferior precisely because material ends up being cut (either due to length or applicability in a new format). The Boys TV series is damn fantastic precisely because it knows that it needs to cut out certain aspects. I’ve seen some hardcore fans in the AMA accuse Kripke of “not having the balls” to do a 1:1 adaptation of the comics, but I would say that those critics don’t understand that the gross-out violence and sex wasn’t the point of this story. As Kripke himself says, “The Boys comic and The Boys show are different animals,” and I would definitely say that the latter is the superior creature.

Last Updated: July 31, 2019

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