Who would’ve thought that a comic book with enough superhero orgy sequences to make Superman blush would bear any parallels to our current reality? But when Supernatural creator Eric Kripke sat down with comic writer Garth Ennis to talk about turning The Boys into a television series for Amazon, that’s what he wanted to unpack.
Recalling that dinner from “a couple years ago,” Kripke says Ennis was originally interested in exploring “what would happen if you combine the worst of celebrity with the worst of politics and how badly that would screw over the common man.” In 2019, when The Boys will now premiere on Amazon Prime Video as a super-R-rated superhero series on July 26, our real world has a former reality television star sitting in the Oval Office and social media has only exacerbated our celebrity-crazed culture.
“[Ennis] predicted the world we are now living in,” Kripke tells EW. “I don’t think the world’s improved.”
Written at the tail-end of the Bush Administration in 2005, The Boys, featuring graphic imagery from Darick Robertson, envisioned a world where superheroes are “the one percent of the one percent,” as the showrunner describes. They save people for the glory of their own image, they squabble over branding opportunities and the continuation of their respective movie franchises, and they have little regard for human life.
In come “The Boys.” Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), new recruit Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Frenchie (Tomer Capon), and the Female (Karen Fukuhara) are a street-level group of merciless blue-collar vigilantes who aim to keep these Gods in check — even if that means shoving a detonator up their butts. Yes, it gets that graphic, but it’s part of the freedom — the ability to “take my handcuffs off,” as Kripke puts it — that comes with producing a show like The Boys for a streaming platform and not network television.
“If you just want to watch a shocking superheroes-behaving-badly show, you can. If you want to get connected to the characters, you can,” Kripke says. “And then there’s also a lot of satire and commentary on the world we’re living in, on celebrity culture, on corporate culture, on where celebrity intersects with power and politics to the disadvantage of the general public. The superhero metaphor turned out to be endlessly durable the more we explored it.”
The problem was sometimes the original material proved to be too timely. Kripke, who’s dealt with the metaphors of genre television through Supernatural and Timeless, didn’t want this to be a straight parody of the world in 2019. It couldn’t be about mimicking “what this politician or that celebrity is doing,” or else, he says, “we’re dead.”
“There’s been more than one situation where we’ve come up with a scene or storyline in the writer’s room and then something happened in reality that was crazier than the story we were pitching,” he adds. “So, we’ve had to erase stories ’cause reality outdid us in how insane things are.”
Part of that meant recognizing when the original material didn’t hold up now, more than a decade later.
For instance, in the first volume of the comics, published in 2006, Starlight, a female hero, becomes the latest to join The Seven, which is this world’s equivalent of the Justice League or the Avengers. While getting a tour of the headquarters, she is sexually assaulted when Homelander (a Superman/Captain America figure), A Train (a speedster like The Flash/Quicksilver), and Black Noir (the Batman figure) pressure her into oral sex. Without getting into too many spoilers, the writers felt “the #MeToo [movement] had to be a part of the show,” but Kripke notes this was one of those moments they needed to tweak for a more current audience.
“You approach something like that with an incredible amount of thought and conversation,” he says. “You welcome and need an incredible amount of diverse points of view from the women on the staff, from Erin [Moriarty], the [Starlight] actress… I’ve never done anything that heavy before, so I felt an extreme responsibility to get it right and to, in certain ways, step out of the way of peoples’ feelings about the issue and just try to accurately get it right — and hopefully we did.”
Yes, there’s the fun of Billy using a baby with laser vision as his own personal hand cannon, but the showrunner believes more poignant conversations need to be “pushed out” into stories like these.
“Sunlight,” he adds, “is the best disinfectant.”
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