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The Boys moves to TV, but is television ready?

The Garth Ennis comic book series is being adapted for television.

The Boys
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Who doesn’t love a superhero? Naysayers of caped crusaders are in short supply these days; between television series, movies, and comics, it’s a good time to don a mask and fight the bad guys. Unless of course, you live in the world of The Boys – then it might not be a bad idea to leave the crime-fighting to someone else.

Written by Garth Ennis (of Preacher fame), The Boys is one of the most brutal and darkly funny comic series in recent memory. The comic asks a familiar question: if absolute power corrupts absolutely, what does that mean for those imbued with superhuman gifts? Heroes populate the world Ennis has created (alongside artist Darick Robertson), but more often than not they’ve been completely corrupted by the fame and celebrity of their positions. That’s where The Boys come in: a ragtag group tasked with policing superheroes and making sure they walk the line — and dish out punishment whenever the line is crossed.

The Boys garnered a large and loyal following during its lengthy run, and now it’s making the leap to the screen; reports are in that Cinemax has greenlit the series, which will be headed by the same team behind AMC’s Preacher adaptation. And while fans are excited to see Butcher, Wee Hughie, the Female, and the rest of the team make their onscreen debut, there’s a lot of concern over whether any adaptation can do this series justice.

To put it bluntly, The Boys takes violence and depravity to a whole different level. It’s done with fun, style, and clear intent, but don’t be misled: this comic series pulls no punches when it comes to pushing the limits of what an audience can handle. Keep in mind, Preacher has some of the most disturbing and twisted sequences in popular comic history, and creator Garth Ennis thinks The Boys is worse.

What does that entail? From a decidedly long list (some of which defies description), there’s extreme violence, drug use, child abuse, animal abuse, and graphic sexuality. But in this age of network shows and jaded audiences, aren’t we all used to such horrors? Not when they come from The Boys: in the first issue, we see a man spin around happily with the love of his life — only to find himself holding two dismembered arms after she happens to get in the way of a passing superhero.

It gets steadily worse from there in terms of shocking, uncomfortable, and downright dark moments. The pitch-black humor and razor-sharp writing keep this from becoming purely about alarming the audience, though (although I’m still not entirely over the plot regarding Jamie the hamster). At its finest moments, The Boys merged insane violence with fascinating political intrigue and incisive social commentary — surrounded by some downright disgusting moments.

The question that plagues fans is this: how will this translate to the screen? Even if Cinemax gives producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg free rein to go as dark as they want, it’s uncertain how fans (and the television audience in general) will react.
A similar problem faces AMC’s Preacher. It seems the show has opted for a slow burn when it comes to the more depraved aspects of the storyline, a method that has so far garnered rave reviews but middling ratings from viewers. (For those that would argue the first few episodes of Preacher have been sufficiently violent and bizarre, get ready: compared to later events, this is practically PG). The success or failure of Preacher could have a very large impact on how Ennis’ next comic creation enters the television world.

The Boys may opt to dive right into the more outlandish and shocking storylines, hoping to find the right audience for its signature dark humor and storytelling. Or it could try to ease the uninitiated into its dark world of corrupt superheroes and political espionage. The former might be better, as the weak of heart and stomach don’t last long in a world of body horror, violent evisceration, and face-ripping. Make no mistake about it: The Boys is not for everyone (especially children, the easily offended, and those with a low tolerance for gore). But with the right cast and a passionate production team (Supernatural’s Eric Kripke is writing the series), The Boys could end up being a television series the likes of which no one saw coming.

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