(Still on track to get the podcast up sometime tomorrow evening...)
There are times when I think that Garth Ennis just looks through his collection of books, albums and movies and thinks, “Yeah, this’ll be a good title for the next arc of ‘The Boys.’” More often than not, there’s a kind of random disconnect in the way that the titles sometimes fail to properly convey what the story is about and frequently land on the wrong side of pretentiousness. That being said, when the actual story is as good as what we have here the man could’ve called this volume “I Banged Your Mom Last Night” and I wouldn’t have had a problem with it.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first: There are still plenty of scenes where Ennis’ trademark derision of superheroes comes through in a ways that are neither funny nor relevant to the plot. The bit at the beginning with Mother’s Milk finding out what has happened to his daughter comes right out of nowhere and feels like a needless bit of artificial tension. Hughie’s decision to forego violence comes off as unbelievably deluded of him not only after everything else he has been a part of in the series up to now, but it also comes at a time when violence is the only recourse. And, while I’m normally a fan of John McCrea’s style, it winds up looking rushed and sloppy next to the smoothness of Russ Braun’s work in the final issue.
Even with those issues, this volume represents the culmination of just about everything that has been planned since the beginning of the series and built upon for the past five years. The short version: It’s pulled off beautifully. After the president meets his untimely demise, The Homelander makes his play for power by sending all of the superheroes at his command to seize control of the White House. While Hughie, Butcher, and co. are meant to think that this is Vought American’s power play, the confusion gets sorted out fast enough for Butcher to finally get a shot at the payback he’s longed for all these years. Only... what if Homelander isn’t the real bastard in this scenario.
The buildup to this revelation is handled so smoothly that you’re drawn in by the steady escalation of tension before you think that there’s a twist here. But when the trap is sprung, it is a thing of beauty. The best twists are the ones that have just enough hints and evidence planted so what when they’re unveiled, you can almost kick yourself for not realizing what it was sooner. This is one of those, and the implications it has for The Homelander and Butcher will change how you think about these characters.
We also get some great scenes with the Vought American company man -- who finally gets a name, James Stillwell -- as he continues to remain utterly unmoved no matter what the plot throws at him. Though he’s a key figure in nearly all of the evil schemes in this series, I still find it hard to hate him because he seems incapable of taking anything personally. For him, it’s all business. Especially the scene when The Homelander comes to tell him what he has planned and Stillwell’s reaction sums up their relationship beautifully.
Really, it’s fantastic stuff and makes me glad I’ve stuck with this title through its rough patches and frequent bouts of self-indulgence. After “Preacher,” “Punisher MAX,” and “Hitman,” this is still the least of Ennis’ long-form comics work but it’s also proof that he can wring quality out of the most questionable of premises. There’s only one volume left and all signs point to the writer and the artists sticking the landing at the end. Bring it on!