Imagine for a moment that the money to be made from superhero movies and the associated merchandising went not only to the big studios but also to the heroes themselves. Not to actors playing the powered individuals but the actual caped crusaders and costumed crimefighters who lived in real life. Would their vigilante justice take on the air of a public relations endeavor, designed to boost approval ratings and stroke the ego of the heroic celebrities, whose fame has likely corrupted them behind the scenes?
Such is the world imagined by The Boys, the series based on the Garth Ennis/Darick Robertson comic coming to Amazon Prime Video on July 26, 2019. We visited the vaulted halls of The Seven, the top tier superteam not-so-loosely based on The Justice League and The Avengers, and although the flat-screen monitors and giant conference table among Roman-style columns were immediately recognizable as the trappings of a team headquarters straight out of the comics, there was also an unsettling mixture of self-aggrandizing movie posters on the walls and worshipful frescoes inside the central dome. The Seven — and Vought, the Marvel-like company that manages them — clearly think a lot of themselves.
Executive producer and showrunner Eric Kripke was asked if he worried at all that it was a little bit too much like a version of Stark Tower if Marvel were in charge. “No,” he said immediately. “Vought is Marvel only in the way that it’s a massive corporation that controls the world and runs superheroes. But, no, they are all different heroes and different characters and different logos. Frankly, the superheroes in The Boys are probably more take-offs of the DC Universe than they are of the Marvel Universe anyway. Homelander and Maeve are clearly inspired by Superman and Wonder Woman.”
The Seven has its own analogue of Aquaman and the Flash as well; here they’re known as the Deep and A-Train. “OK, the Deep. How does the Deep fit in?” Kripke asked rhetorically. “He’s the pretty-boy actor who wants serious roles, but no one gives him serious roles. Then [there’s] A-Train… A-Train’s an athlete. It sucks to be a performance-based superhero — you are only as good as your last time. Superman is going to be Superman the rest of his life. The Flash? You are only good if you are training and working and you are still the fastest man in the world. Once you are the second fastest man in the world, fuck you.”
Once you introduce the world of celebrity to the superhero framework, the stress of the limelight becomes a seemingly obvious thing to explore. “Starlight is the Broadway ingenue who steps off the bus from Iowa and is immediately thrown into how horrific showbiz really is,” Kripke said, speaking about the newest recruit to the superteam at the start of The Boys. “The Seven are a pleasure to write because they all have their own metaphors of where they fall into celebrity. We talk about Maeve and we’re like, ‘She’s Bette Davis. She’s amazing. She had a heart, but then she drank it away. Now she has to reawaken anything that is still human about her.’ It all lines up once you start thinking of them as celebrities and this as the weirdest show business story ever.”
Elsewhere during our set visit, we saw Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, the head of the Boys, trying to recruit others to his mad cause of punishing superheroes when their egos cause them to do reprehensible things which Vought immediately covers up with its political influence. Urban feels his character has the right idea, in a way. “We have so many television shows and movies out there that are predominantly focused on the stereotypical perception we all have of superheroes,” he told us. “What intrigued me was reading this material and that being completely flipped and seeing that these superheroes were tragically flawed and often anything but heroic. That appealed to me… the fact that it was a story essentially about the little guy taking on the man.”
Kripke notes that The Boys comes at an especially relevant time compared to when Ennis and Robertson first created the comic over a decade ago. “The world has come to reflect our show in a really unsettling way, to me, where the line between politics and celebrity are blurred to a really troubling degree,” he said. “I think people have been leveraging celebrity and flash and glamor as a way to push through things that are not advantageous to the regular guy, but they buy it because it’s wrapped up in a lot of showmanship. That, to me, is what The Seven do… Sometimes they are a metaphor for politics; sometimes they are a metaphor for professional athletes. They are sort of this endless fountain of stuff that we can comment on what’s really happening in society… so that’s been a blast to write for.”
Viewers can experience the world of The Seven and the Boys for themselves when The Boys releases all eight episodes of its first season on Friday, July 26, 2019 to Amazon Prime Video subscribers. In the meantime, keep up with all of the news surrounding The Boys here.
Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and coordinates interviews for The Fourth Wall podcast.