All superheroes are bastards has been the running theme of this series since its inception. However, writer Garth Ennis stated that the title arc of this volume would take a look at the superheroes who weren’t complete asshats. The kind of heroes who genuinely want to help out other people and make the world a better place. Unfortunately these heroes have more in common with how superheroes have been portrayed in Ennis’ mainstream work at Marvel and DC: as morons whose efforts are more laughable than anything else.
“The Innocents” starts off with a prologue issue that catches us up on what the main cast are currently up to, and has team leader Butcher spotting Hughie and his girlfriend Annie in a tender moment on the street. Recognizing her immediately as Starlight of The Seven, Butcher immediately sets a plan into motion to find out where his teammate’s true loyalties lie. This plan involves sending Hughie to stake out Superduper with the excuse that he’s supposed to find out why grade-A bastard supe Malchemical has been sent to take over as team leader.
Superduper is basically Ennis’ worst satiric impulses when it comes to superheroes made flesh. They’re a team who patrol their local neighborhood rescuing stray kittens, and have superpowers that range from the marginally useful (Kid Camo’s camoflauge abilities) to the useless (Klanker turns into various objects made of iron while Billy Badoing is just a fat kid who bounces around) and that’s assuming that they have powers at all. Stool Shadow ostensibly has the power to phase through objects, but all we ever see her do is walk into walls. Character traits such as Klanker’s Tourette’s Syndrome and Badoing’s inability to find his “wee-wee stick” further show Ennis at his sophomoric worst.
What saves this arc is the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of Butcher and Mother’s Milk. Hughie’s interactions with Superduper don’t really tell us anything new about him, though his emergency tracheotomy skills are quite impressive, but it’s more interesting to observe Butcher’s reactions to his partner’s actions as he hopes that he won’t have to kill the man he considers a little brother. More interesting still is how MM goes behind his leader’s back to find out the real reason that Hughie was sent out on his little excursion. Their blow-up argument at the end of the arc feels truly genuine coming after what they’ve both gone through, and the fact that they don’t completely reconcile also feels true to how the characters have been developed in the series so far.
The second arc in the volume, “Believe,” gives you the impression that it might be about how superheroes and religion mix in this world. It’s not, but that isn’t a bad thing. This arc serves to advance a lot of long-standing subplots with Hughie and Annie’s relationship being chief amongst them. She comes “out of the closet” to him about being a superhero first, and that idea along with having to come clean about his role in The Boys sends him fleeing back to his apartment.
Things get interesting when Butcher finally comes to the realization that using Hughie’s relationship with Annie isn’t going to help his campaign against The Seven, but it could help him give his partner the “kick up the arse” that he’s needed for quite some time. From there, Hughie comes clean about his relationship to Butcher and the man responds by taking the rookie further into his confidence. Though Butcher is as big a bastard as they come, his scenes with Hughie in this arc have a real vulnerability to them as the man genuinely seems to believe that he’s doing this for the benefit of his partner. I think he’d be doing things differently if he knew the full story behind Annie’s superhero career, but dramatic irony is funny like that.
This isn’t the only thing going on in the arc as we see more fractures between The Homelander and Vought-American, the company behind all the superheroes. These fractures come from the revelation that The Homelander isn’t very mentally stable at all, which makes his aims to have the superhero community back Vought’s “weaponized superheroes” plan come off as very creepy and unsettling. We also get a few more hints about who former “Boys” member Greg Mallory was, find out who has been bugging The Seven’s hideout, and see Frenchie find new and interesting ways to occupy The Female’s time. Fans of those two are mostly out of luck in this volume as their antics take a backseat to the rest of the cast’s. I wouldn’t say that their relationship isn’t handled well, but it’s very one-note and it’s probably for the best that it’s not focused on too much.
Vol. 7 also marks a change in the art duties as original artist and co-creator Darick Robertson steps down after “The Innocents” to let Russ Braun take over with “Believe.” Braun is a very capable artist and looking at his style one makes the connection that he was brought on to help maintain artistic consistency with Robertson. That’s a bad thing for Braun as he’s a little lacking compared to his predecessor when it comes to facial expressions or overall detail. Fortunately he’s only a “little lacking” and there’s room for him to improve as well. If he can maintain a monthly pace through the end of the book’s run, then I’ll be happy.
Overall, this volume is worth picking up for the characterization and developments in the ongoing series than the stories that the arcs within it purport to tell. This series has reached the point where you’re not going to be able to jump on with this volume, but if you’ve stuck with it so far then your loyalty will be rewarded.