Remember when I watched season one of The Boys and I said, “I very much enjoyed watching (most) of The Boys, but I don’t want to think too hard about it“? Well the same goes for season two except I did think about it this time, and… well. I have lots of really complicated, semi-personal, not really all that positive thoughts. Some of it’s more to do with people’s reactions to the show, I think, rather than the show itself, but still.
(There are MASSIVE spoilers from this point on.)
This show does very much take the political position that police brutality, capitalism and Trumpism are bad, and that’s always nice to see. But it rings hollow because this show thinks everything is bad –
Let’s go straight to the ending. All through the show we’re presented with a character who is very obviously supposed to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, right down to the lipstick. We’re meant to think she might be the antithesis of the white supremacy Homelander and Stormfront are peddling, but nope, she’s evil too. Or at the very least extremely morally compromised. So the message there appears to be, “Yeah, Trumpism is bad, but AOC is bad as well!” And I think this article here points out why that’s a downright irresponsible move to make:
“We’ve never had Congress on our side before,” says the ally (Grace Mallory, ex-CIA, played by Laila Robbins), asking Butcher to play along. To which Butcher spits, in his classic brutal form: “Congress? Please! What a bunch of corrupt fucking cunts they are!” Neuman replies, casually: “You’re not the first to call me a cunt, Mr. Butcher; I’m starting to think it’s like a badge of honor.” Rep. Ted Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez “a fucking bitch” on the Capitol steps in July of this year, so this can’t have been an explicit connection since this season of the show was already in the can, but Ocasio-Cortez certainly gets enough abuse online to make the connection resonate.
When we find out she’s a supe secretly working against the Boys, Victoria Neuman’s force of personality—the leadership qualities that draw people to attend the rallies she convenes, toting signs that say “Victoria Neuman, Political Badass”—becomes instantly suspicious. It’s just too reminiscent of online right-wingers making up fables about AOC’s secret nature (Snopes.com has debunked conspiracy theories from “AOC is an actress playing a congresswoman” to “AOC wants to ban motorcycles.”) Clearly jealous of her youth and beauty, these real-life conspiracists insist she’s too good to be true. I wish this show hadn’t done the same.
Which brings me round to Butcher. I really hate him, and I can’t stand the show’s constant positioning of him as a hero, the person who has the narrative fully on his side when he calls a woman a cunt. What’s most baffling of all to me is that this man pressed a button which would kill a baby in the last season, knowing full well what he was doing, and this is just… never brought up again. (Yes, the baby lived but he wasn’t to know that.) The show’s attempt to position him as a father figure right at the end is almost laughable to me. Butcher hates the child in question for being the result of rape and for being born with an abnormality, and those are the among the many reasons violent men in real life murder kids. And he is, I cannot stress this enough, already a person who harms children! I wanted Ryan to kick him in the nuts and run.
I also wanted Becca to do the same because I find the Becca/Butcher relationship so incredibly creepy and unsettling. There have been some good articles about how she existed in the show only to push Butcher forward and make him a better person but that was her function to Butcher as well. He didn’t care until the last possible second that she loved her child and would pick Ryan over him, he wanted her all for himself. She dies begging him to look after her son and as soon as her eyes are closed he picks up a crowbar to try and murder the innocent traumatized boy she was desperate to save. Just as she predicted he would actually! This is a man Becca is so scared of she didn’t tell him she’d been raped and the moment she was dead he proved he never gave a shit about her as a person.
So in the end, Becca’s only role in the story was to be raped, be abused, and provide a shot at redemption for a man who utterly and completely does not deserve one. God, even Game of Thrones managed to do better than that eventually.
I think the last thing I’m gonna talk about here is the bit most personal to me. I wasn’t raised in the Jewish religion, but I did always know I was a fourth (a third? A half? Man who knows) ethnically Jewish, and I think there’s always a point in childhood where you sit up and go “Wait, Nazis would DEFINITELY have killed my mother, wouldn’t they, especially since she’s also disabled.”
So for me there was… a lot to unpack there and I find it hard to really express my thoughts. It’s frustrating to me in a way I can’t really describe that a lot of the Discourse ™ that surrounds Homelander is in the vein of, “Sure, he’s evil but at least he’s not a Nazi!” because he is a Nazi. What else would you call a man who kills a disabled person just for being disabled? And that one scene in question bugs me too because it seems like unneccessary brutality, you know? We are very much aware Homelander is pure evil, we don’t need to see that.
And this seems to be a running theme with the series in general. I believe wholeheartedly that the showrunners are against fascism and racism! Honestly. But it’s like – when the show has one of the fascists in question kill an innocent person in an visually cool or interesting way, it changes the game, you know? It turns something horrible into something thrilling, it makes you want to watch more of the fascists killing innocent people. And obviously, this is the sort of thing that’s existed for probably as long as movies has, it’s not unique to The Boys. But the writers are, I think, playing with pretty high stakes here and there’s just a feeling of wrongness you get when Homelander or Stormfront kills someone and it looks cool. Maybe that wrongness is how you’re meant to feel, I dunno. But add that to the fact that almost all their victims are nameless and voiceless and I don’t think it’s… great? But it’s in a way I can’t describe.
Like, take the scene in the first episode where Black Noir is tracking someone in Syria. He takes a moment to murder a female bystander and her blood drips stylishly into the glass she’s holding as her throat is slit. And there’s no real point to that, you know? Not least because the “Fictional American soldiers committing violence against nameless Muslims in Syria” quota has already been thoroughly filled. Someone else can probably explain this better than me but it’s like, if you want your show to protest fascism effectively then kinda by default you also need to not show off stylized violence against already marginalised groups, ya know? Does that make sense…? Like you have to treat the victims of the fascists as people instead of props and that’s something this show just doesn’t seem to do very much.
Where was I? Yeah, the part about Jewishness. This sort of ties into another thought. The Boys takes some shots at Disney/Marvel, which seems fair enough until you remember this show is made by Amazon. And though I’m a very firm believer that stories belong to no-one but the audience what we’ve basically got here is one pessimistic multi-million superhero franchise telling us the other more optimistic multi-million superhero franchise is bad and we’re dumb for caring about it, and I hate it when fictional things tell me I’m dumb for caring about other fictional things. You can rest assured I still loathe Disney-the-company (Walt Disney after all famously gave Leni Riefenstahl a tour of his studio) but I do like superheroes. And there’s a thing there which I guess a lot of people don’t know… almost all the major superheroes were created by Jewish people.
And that feels Important, it always has really. During World War II and its aftermath it also feels to me like these writers were people fighting a battle of information and representation that just happened to involve men in capes.
“…Jack took a call. A voice on the other end said, ‘There are three of us down here in the lobby. We want to see the guy who does this disgusting comic book and show him what real Nazis would do to his Captain America’. To the horror of others in the office, Kirby rolled up his sleeves and headed downstairs. The callers, however, were gone by the time he arrived.” [x]
Alan Moore once said that superheroes are “very much white supremacist dreams of the master race” and it’s one of the many reasons I don’t take him seriously anymore. How can a concept we got from Jewish people be a white supremist dream of the master race? That was an offensive thing to say, and it was cruel.
“It’s a history with many parallels to the beginning of the American film industry. Jews were discriminated against on the job market. If you were a writer or illustrator, not many jobs were available if you could be identified as Jewish. Some Jews changed their name and hid their identity in order to seek employment. Jewish artists such as Jakob Kurtzberg or Stanley Lieber became Jack Kirby and Stan Lee [respectively], even if they often claimed that their name change had nothing to do with them trying to hide their Jewish background.
“When, thanks to Superman, comics became a lucrative industry, job recruitment in this new market happened by word of mouth. Friends and family were hired. That’s why, for instance, many comic book pioneers came from even the same high school, such as DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx, where pioneers such as Will Eisner, Stan Lee or Bill Finger, to name but a few, had been students. [x]
I think that some of the frustration I feel about The Boys (especially its finale) is the feeling that it could easily fix a lot of the problems with itself if it wasn’t so devoted to shock value. I get why it is and everything but it’s shocking for the wrong reasons. The ending of season two shouldn’t be, “Yeah, the guy who kills babies is right, the world sucks and everyone is evil.” And maybe they’ll turn it around next season, who knows. I will be watching it, because I’m invested in Hughie and Starlight and the Boys who aren’t Butcher, at least. And I do appreciate that they made it clear Stormfront being a Nazi makes her dangerous and evil. A look at some online forums and you get the feeling many would happily have missed that point if it hadn’t been explicitly made. (Which is unfathomably depressing.)
But I also feel like, the Jewish superhero creators did a more effective job of fighting Nazism and they managed to do it without having to show the Red Skull fucking someone over the mangled body of one of his victims.