The Boys (2019)
‘The Boys’ Deconstructs Superhero & Celebrity Culture
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Who would have thought that a superhero show, The Boys (2019), could tell such a refreshingly entertaining, nuanced, and relevant story of the inner workings of society? Of the formulaic DC and Marvel shows that dominate superhero storytelling on the small screen, The Boys, instead, chooses a confident and satisfyingly daring approach with sophistication. Adapted from the comics of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the shows creator Eric Kripke takes the story to a whole new level. Kripke commits to a deliciously irreverent, cynical, and dark tone within a modern world that is much like any large city today while engaging in relevant themes.
Therefore, the story follows through the lens of generally corrupt superhero’s that make up The Seven and the group of vendetta-driven antiheroes known as The Boys. These two groups collide to descend us into a world that deals with corruption and greed—masked by superhero and celebrity culture—eerily similar to our reality. Thus, The Boys serves to be a compelling mix of superhero fare and social commentary that deconstructs the superhero and celebrity culture. Expanding on this suggestion and making it concrete, we will take a look closer at the member of The Seven that provides the most dramatic and pivotal deconstruction of the two cultures in the show: Homelander.
The leader and most powerful of The Seven, Homelander, is brilliantly played by the New Zealand actor Antony Starr with explosive and subtle malevolent flair. He is the twisted version of Captain America/Superman, and it is glorious to see. The character is layered and worthy of hate but also an appreciation for creating an enticing deconstruction of the superhero and celebrity culture. Throughout the show, he commits to masquerading as a savior for the public, uttering his most famous line in season one, “You guys are the real heroes.”
This persona serves to deconstruct the celebrity culture that is heavily driven by a persona, not necessarily who they are. It allows for public figures like The Seven to continually be seen in a falsely positive light, so when it is abused, the public reacts to their misconduct with more sympathy, disbelief, or complete dismissal of any transgression. When in reality, Homelander is repeatedly seen reacting irritated and hallow towards fans and the public once out of sight, as when he utters “You fucking cocksuckers” in one scene. Alternatively, the extreme example when he decides to condemn a plane full of people to death to ensure no survivor will expose him.
Thus, Homelander is revealed to be a merciless murderer that also is emotionally stunted, for which we see specifically between his relationship with the Vice President of Vought, Madelyn Stillwell. Early in the season, there are hints when Madelyn has her baby, Teddy, with her. Homelander is noticeably jealous and disturbed by Teddy’s presence and becomes unreasonably short-tempered and impatient with Madelyn, which she picks up on. Therefore, as their relationship unfolds, Madelyn gradually is more nurturing and increasingly sexual when dealing with Homelander; in an attempt to keep him tamed, and we learn in the last episode, out of fear.
This relationship also lets us see the most vulnerable version of Homelander and his deepest needs that are not met. It can be suggested that the absence of a family and growing up like a lab rat is the reason why he has a sadistic disregard for most. Ultimately, Homelander remains to be the starkest deconstruction of the celebrity and superhero culture out of The Seven. He is devious, kills innocent people, and uses his status and manipulation to attain control and prominence.
What are your thoughts about The Boys? Any favorite characters?