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  • Brandon Choi

The Boys: The Antithesis of the Superhero Genre

By Brandon Choi


The worldwide box-office has become dominated by blockbuster superhero films and franchises In fact, some superhero films like the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home have become a staple of pop culture. However, the 2019 Amazon Prime streaming show, The Boys, takes a novel approach to the superhero genre by satirizing other films and adopting a much darker tone.


Amazon’s The Boys takes superheroes and grounds them in reality. While superheroes in Marvel movies exist for altruistic reasons by saving the day, the “supes” in The Boys exist to be adulated as consumerist icons and used for profit by corporations. They play the role of celebrities by starring in movies based on their superhero personas, selling merchandise, and promoting consumer products. The most popular superhero in the world of the show is Homelander, a satire of the uber-patriotism of characters such as Captain America and Superman.


The corporate exploitation of superhero films is mocked throughout the show. For example, the fictional company Vought, a multimedia company that controls the “supes,” is a lampoon of entertainment companies such as Disney, who frequently churn out superhero films and treat them like merchandise. Moreover, the treatment of superheroes as celebrities with their own merchandise and film franchises criticizes the toxicity of Hollywood’s obsession with publicity and celebrity imagery. This is best represented by the character Starlight, a newcomer to superhero stardom who is exploited for corporate gain. Throughout the show, Vought takes over her private life and spins her life through the media to create a profitable narrative. For instance, when Starlight revealed that she was sexually harassed, Vought used this in order to promote her as a “feminist icon”. This mirrors the way that media companies often take advantage of real issues to promote their own brand through faux-activism.


Depicting superheroes as flawed and even morally bankrupt people, The Boys strays from its contemporaries in the superhero genre. Rather than the “supes” themselves being the core of the story, the protagonists are a ragtag group of non-superpowered antiheroes seeking to expose and fight against the morally corrupt superheroes and Vought. The main antagonist of the show is the superhero Homelander who is depicted as a Trump-like figure, a representation of demagogues appealing to toxic nationalism. This shows how, rather than being legitimate heroes, superheroes can come to resemble political pundits due to their power over the media and influence over the masses. This is disturbingly depicted in a scene where Homelander intentionally allows a plane to crash in order to rally public support for incorporating superheroes into national defense, demonstrating the lengths that people in power go to gain and stay in power.


The Boys takes advantage of a TV-MA rating to display a darker tone and show that this isn’t an ordinary superhero flick. In one of the first scenes of the show, a “supe” with superspeed gruesomely runs through another person, shocking audiences expecting a more tame display of powers. Moreover, it conveys the danger of superheroes in the real world and the capability of power in the wrong hands. While traditional superheroes are seen as morally upstanding individuals, the “supes” in The Boys are portrayed as egotistical celebrities, who partake in the same indulgences as modern people in power. The character Homelander's brutal use of laser eyes to quickly dispose of people illustrates the abuse of the powers. He can be seen cutting through a senator’s commercial plane with ease and eliminating a terrorist cell in a matter of seconds. This helps ground the show in reality as it shows the massive consequences that superpowers could have in the real world, and what would happen if these powers were in the wrong hands.


By diverging from the traditional idea of superheroes as flawless individuals who are always morally correct, The Boys takes a different approach to the superhero genre than other films that illustrate the idealistic and heroic superhero. Moreover, the show’s groundedness in modern society and culture keeps the show fresh by providing meaningful social commentary rather than focusing on spectacle. Overall, Amazon’s The Boys stands out as an anomaly in a sea of run-of-the-mill superhero flicks by blurring the line between black and white and good and evil.

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