The files containing the history of the title group’s as-brutal-as-he-is-clever leader were said to have been burned long ago if they had even existed at all. With that in mind, Butcher’s “secret origin” is chronicled in the man’s own words in this latest mini-series to be spun off from the main title. I’m willing to bet that “The Boys” will wind up being the least of Garth Ennis’ long-form stories, but the man has still managed to wring some truly affecting material from a premise that seems like it was designed primarily to cater to his disdain for superheroes. Here, he zeroes back his sophomoric side and delivers one of the better volumes of the title to date.
Butcher’s father has died and he’s traveled back to England to bid the old bastard farewell. Left with some time alone, he tells the corpse the story of his life from his perspective while giving us some insight into how he turned out the way he did. We see the man’s relationship with his long-suffering mother and little brother, the tour he did in the Falklands conflict, and when he met the love of his life Becky. She brought about a real change in him, and in the book’s creepiest and most shocking scene, we find out how superheroes wound up taking her away from him.
More than once has this series been hamstrung by Ennis’ gleefully immature sense of humor as it clashes with the deadly serious conflicts and relationships at its heart. There’s none of that here, and “Butcher” is all the better for it. More welcome is the care that is taken with setting up Butcher’s character through the first half of the book. It may not seem like it has any direct relation to his character in the main title, but the reasons for why he would see Hughie as a little brother, why Mallory thinks the man is “prime officer material,” and why he would want to see all supes wiped off the Earth for what was done to his wife is all shown here. It also succeeds for the basic storytelling reason that it gets us fully invested in his arc by showing us what his character was like and that his life was on the right track before it was taken away by freak, random chance.
Though Butcher may have started off as a fairly one-note character, there have been enough flashes of depth over the course of “The Boys” to show that there was much more to him. Showing us this formative arc here casts new light on his motivations and makes him into much more of a tragic character than you would’ve thought. If his team does wind up playing a pivotal role in foiling the Homelander’s plans, the irony that they orchestrated their own downfall will be nothing less than delicious.
And if the Homelander winds up bent over and at Butcher’s mercy, then he’ll deserve that too.
This volume also marks the return of co-creator and original penciller Darick Robertson as he was able to work on the miniseries while fulfilling his exclusive commitments to DC -- or something like that. Though Russ Braun has been a fine replacement for him on the main title, he still can’t match the level of detail or expressivness that Robertson brings to his work. Bits like how he shows Butcher becoming increasingly unhinged before shoving a glass in someone’s face, or the stroke-induced paralysis that threatens to dull the hate in his father’s face show you why the man is a unique talent and an asset to any project. I think it’s unlikely at this point, but I hope we’ll see him come back to the main title for one last go before the finale later this year.
Even if the humor tends to be a distraction more often than not, stories like this show me that Ennis understands that the characters are the real core of the series. As ever, the man also shows that he continues to have a great handle on them. I doubt it’ll be perfect, but I think that things will wrap up satisfyingly in the end.