Hughie (Jack Quaid) is devastated when his girlfriend is accidentally killed by a superhero, so when rogue black-ops guy Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) offers him the chance to get revenge on corrupt superhero team The Seven Hughie finds himself on a path of danger, murder, and lots of blood. In the meantime, Starlight (Erin Moriarty) joins The Seven and soon finds her idealistic dreams of saving people as a superhero are a joke.
The Boys takes its name from Butcher’s anti-supes team, who are gradually assembled across the course of the season, but it’s The Seven who steal the show. The messed-up superheroes are led by Antony Starr’s Homelander, an all-American monster who can ratchet up the tension in a scene with one smile.
There’s something thrillingly subversive about seeing superheroes portrayed as irreverently as they are in The Boys. This is the power fantasy taken to its bleak, big-business end, where superheroes are more interested in PR cash-ins and illicit sex clubs than in saving people, and you can’t help but titter in shock at the show’s insane excesses.
That said, the show wisely reins in some of the elements of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic book series. Sexual assault still features but isn’t played for laughs here, and Hughie’s grief and Starlight’s growing disillusionment ground the show in real issues. Urban’s crazily-accented Billy Butcher starts off as outlandish comic relief until we – and Hughie – have been around him long enough to realise that his filthy jokes are covering an alarmingly destructive nature. There are enough serious notes to ground the excesses, and the show is all the better for them.
The action in the series is memorably inventive; the first-episode battle with invisible superhero Translucent is particularly great, and it’s fun to see laser vision put to a purpose Superman wouldn’t dream of. Finding new takes on superheroes in this crowded marketplace is challenging, but The Boys manages it, alongside a hefty dig at the big corporations behind them.