Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Boys Book 3: Good For The Soul (#15-22) NSFW

NSFW: Contains nothing graphic, but there is an image involving menstruation that may gross people out (pussies).

"That's what you get when a bunch of fucks in tights try to save the day" - The Legend.

Time for the third collection of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's skewering of the US superhero genre.  In an alternative world, superheroes are artificially created by a sinister US based multinational company called Vought-American.  Unlike the superheroes of Marvel or DC, most of these "supes" are perverse, corrupt and use their powers simply for their own selfish ends while Vought-American reaps in the cash from sponsorships and publishing deals.  However Vought have more sinister goals in mind for their superheroes and have the Vice President in their pocket, a cretin being groomed for a supe friendly term of office.  This volume contains an arc explain the whole sorry history of Vought's sixty year involvement in the US arms industry and why their weaponising of supes is something to be feared.  Policing the supes are the CIA backed, New York based, super powered group "The Boys" made up of Londoner Billy Butcher, Scotsman Hughie, "The Frenchman" (who is French.. maybe), the Japanese "The Female" and native New Yorker, "Mother's Milk". Here we see the return to the strip of the much abused Annie "Starlight" January, rookie member of "The Seven" (the Earth's equivalent of the JLA), beginning of her role as one of the regulars and third most important person in the series after Hughie and Billy.  There's also a rather more unwelcome return for Hughie as yet another facet of the super-serum Compound V is revealed.  So let's crack on.

GOOD FOR THE SOUL - The story begins with Annie, alone in a church, talking to a carving of Jesus.  She says she come to find out if "you're real or not".  She laments all the ill treatment she's suffering at the hands of the male members of The Seven saying it suggests "you're a little bit sadistic."  She says she done no crime-fighting, just lots of corporate appearances and sat in on lots of arguments about contracts.  She also mentions Stillwell, the man from Vought-American who sits in on their meetings, he never speaks but "there's not a single doubt in his mind that he's in charge."
Meet Vic The Veep.
She says she met "Vic The Veep" - the dimwit Vice President and despite her ingrained respect for the position, she thought he was an idiot.  She thinks back to overhearing A-Train and Jack From Jupiter planning a cruel prank on her, and the Homelander remarks:

The Homelander: "Actually she's not stupid.  That's the interesting thing.  She's a believer.  A subtle but important distinction."

We then go over to Hughie meeting The Legend in his comic bookstore basement.  The Legend tells him that his "old friend Blarney Cock is back in town" (the supe Hughie accidentally kiled in the first volume). He's back from the dead, Compound V can restart a body, but not the brain, leaving them effectively zombies.  Teenage Kix are having a press conference to announce his return and The Legend wants Hughie to kill him off permanently saying Hughie would be doing him a favour.  Hughie agrees on condition that The Legend tells him all about The Boys and what they've been up to over the years.

Back with Annie, she continues her tale of woe.  She went home to see her boyfriend Drummer Boy and walked in on him having sex with another member of his supergroup.  She starts to wind up her story by saying:

Annie: "My friends, my heroes, the people I love, all the things I believed about the world.  They're lies, they're shattered.  So is my God a lie too, is that the way it is?  You tell me."

She ends up by saying to the carving, "You're not there" and sadly leaves the church. She goes to Central Park and sits on a bench.  Hughie appears and starts to reintroduce himself, she lunges at him and envelops him in a big hug, saying:

Annie: "Hughie.  I'm sorry, but please, please, be nice to me.. just for a minute, just don't do anything awful, just please be nice."
Heartbreaking.  And of course Hughie agrees to be nice to her, because that's the kind of guy he is.  We then go over to The Female, she is watching a mobster leaving his house.  She has a photo of him and he is obviously an intended target.  Then we're back with Hughie and Annie in the park, she admits she comes there because it was a place where she was happy.  She tells him her woes, though crucially doesn't tell him she's a supe or that her co-workers are The Seven.  She says she feels stupid for being positive all the time now and blames all her troubles on herself.  She apologises to Hughie for unloading her troubles on him, but he invites her out for a drink later that evening.

Back with the rest of The Boys, Frenchie wonders where The Female is.  Then they switch on the camera bug they have installed secretly in The Seven's base.  The Seven are having a meeting sans Starlight.  They discuss Vic The Veep's coming speech which is going to reopen the question of superpowers in national defence, and it hasn't been cleared with "Dakota Bob" the President of the US.  Mother's Milk passes Billy the popcorn.  Hughie meanwhile is in the surveillance van listening in on Teenage Kix, they are arguing about what to do with Blarney Cock who manages to escape through a window.  Frenchie finds the mobster who employed The Female to perform a hit and using some violent persuasion finds out where she has been sent.
The Female engaged in extra-curricular murder.
Later that eveing, Hughie and Annie are having a pleasant drink together.  Annie admits that she is looking for reasons to stay in New York.

Hughie: "I hope you do stay.  I just think it'd be a shame to come to New York an' not work out for them, you know?  It's just pure magic here.  I hate the thought of anyone havin' to leave."

Garth Ennis is a resident of New York.  As the evening moves on, Annie tells Hughie she loves his accent and hearing him talk.  Then she gets giddy and admits she hasn't ever drunk alchohol before.  Hughie puts her in a taxi and she invites him home with her, but he refuses gently saying she is in no fit state.  As the taxi drives off he tells himself he is "not an arsehole."

The chapter winds up with Frenchie finding The Female still watching her target.  He tells her he knows why she is doing freelance killing, because she cannot resist the call of violence within her.  But she should resist because not to is bad for her heart.  He then gives her some chocolate limes and takes her away to watch the sun come up over Battery Park.
The bond between Frenchie and The Female is very sweet.
The next day we get a scene with Mother's Milk and Billy outside Mother's Milk's mum's house.  Billy say's he'll come and collect MM the next day and MM goes inside.  Hughie is back listening to Teenage Kix arguing despairingly about what to do to find the now missing Blarney Cock.  They mention that this type of resurrection is rare and that "The Seven and The G-Men have had, like, one each."  We then get a panel of Blarney lurking under the surveillance van.

Then we're back on The Seven's base, Queen Maeve says she's supposed to give Starlight shit about missing the meeting yesterday, "Let's not and say we did." And she returns to laconically getting hammered on martini's.  Starlight then overhears Stillwell and The Homelander discussing the fact that Vic The Veep's superpowered defence speech has been cancelled due to Dakota Bob's people finding out.  Stillwell heavily implies that The Boy's were responsible and the base must be bugged.

Later Annie and Hughie sit together in Central Park.  She apologises for her drunken behaviour then tells Hughie that she really likes him.  They go back to Hughie's grotty hotel room and Hughie introduces her to the hamster he saved from Blarney Cock's arse, now christened Jamie.  Annie and Hughie start to make love, and Hughie treats her to a bit of yodelling in the canyon much to her delight as she has never experience that before.

The next day we return to Billy and Mother's Milk.  Whatever happened at MM's mum's place has left MM feeling both nauseous and buzzed at the same time.  They go to collect Hughie.  Billy knocks on Hughie's door and is briefly rendered speechless at the sight of Hughie's face.  He then stifles a laugh and tells Hughie he'll be waiting downstairs.  Hughie goes to the bathroom, looks in the mirror and... well...
No taboo left unbroken for Mr. Ennis!
Hughie: "Aw no..."

Annie: "Um..  Hughie?  I think I might have had a kind of timing issue..."

In the taxi, Mother's Milk and Billy fall about laughing while Hughie sighs at being a figure of fun again.  Back at the hotel the zombified Blarney Cock looms over Jamie the hamster.  Hughie races back to the hotel to pick up his mobile phone and walks in on Blarney with his trousers down, hovvering in front of Jamie's cage.  Blarney points at Hughie and groans:

Blarney: "Oo kuhlllldddd meeee... wh..whhhy?"

Hughie: "I'm sorry."

Tearfully Hughie starts babbling that he panicked and lashed out and that it's been haunting him ever since.  Then Blarney starts urinating.  Hughie ends up grabbing a wastebin to catch it in.  "Stop pissin' you stupid bastard!"  Then Blarney turns his attention to Jamie and Hughie gets angry.

Back in the Seven's base, Starlight reflects on her embarressment and that this means she'll never see the "one good person" in her life again.  A-Train starts abusing her for missing the meeting, and pushed to the limit she snaps at him:

Starlight: "Drop dead needle dick."

The others start laughing and initially as she walks away she is pleased then she catches herself and says "I don't want to be like them."
Battling for Jamie's honour!
Hughie and Blarney start fighting over Jamie and in the tussle, Hughie breaks Blarney's neck, killing him for good.  Hughie then returns to Boys HQ and asks Billy how he would dispose of a body without C.S.I being able to trace the killer.  Billy tells him he'd put the body in an oil drum and set it on fire.  Then The Deep appears at the window and says they know Billy leaked the Vice Presidents speech plans, and they want to know if "the truce still holds."  Billy says if The Homelander really wanted to know, he'd have come himself.  After The Deep leaves Frenchie says the bugs in The Seven's base were recording the whole time The Boys were inactive so they have a big archive to catch up on.

Later that night, Hughie deals with Blarney's body as instructed.  He tries to say a few words, feels silly then tells Billy to come out from where he's watching him.  He laments things always turning "daft" on him no matter what he tries to do.  Billy comments that now he's perma-killed Blarney he'll be off to see The Legend to "find out our deep dark secrets".

Hughie: "You knew about that?"

Billy: "I know everythin' Hughie.  Ain't you twigged that yet?"
The irony being in this case he doesn't know everything.  Yet...

I TELL YOU NO LIE, GI - After that somewhat comedic arc, things turn deadly serious for a look at the awful and tragic history of Vought-American's activities in the US defence industry and how 9/11 went down in this version of New York. The Legend's tale begins with a story about World War Two.  The US airforce had the Japanese on the run and the end of the war was in sight.  Then a couple of the carriers were re-equipped with a new plane the "V.A.C F7U Grizzly".  It was a disaster.  It had been rushed into production and had a tendency for the engine to cut out and the guns to jam and the fuel tank was under the pilot seat meaning a fiery death for anyone inside a damaged one.

The Legend: "The C stood for Consolidated.  They're long gone.  You wanna take a guess what the V.A stands for?"

Hughie: "Vought-American..."

The Legend: "Got it in one."

As the Legend tells his tale to Hughie we cut repeatedly back to Billy and The Homelander on the ruined bridge.  As Billy says nothing during this confrontation I won't keep returning to it, but it is on-going through the entire arc.

Back with The Legend, Hughie wonders why Vought would make such a "shite" plane.  The Legend says it was pure desperation to fill a defence contract on time, not like they had to fly the things.

The Legend: "I hear you're a conspiracy nut.  Well this is the conspiracy kid... It's something ordinary folk do for a livin' every day of the week.  It's business."

V.A C were able to get the Grizzly into the Japanese theatre due to political connections.  Vought have the business side right, but "somehow they never get the product right."  We then take a visit to The Seven's base where we find out what happened to The Lamplighter.  he's another risen-from-the-dead zombie and A-Train and Starlight have been given the job of mucking him out.
Yeah that's some real good product there.
The Legend goes on to tell Hughie about another V.A.C fuck up, the M-20 Assault rifle during Vietnam.  A rifle so useless that when it got a thousand US soldiers killed during the battle of IA Drang Valley the only use it ended up having was as a spike to mount the dead soldier's heads on.  This nearly caused V.A.C's downfall, Bobby Kennedy went after them so V.A.C went bust and vanished, then:

The Legend: "Three years later there's a meteor strike in Wyoming, an' they come back as Vought-American."

Hughie: "Mete.. The Homelander."

The Legend: "The Homelander.  The boys at Vought had found their niche."

The story given to the press is of course bull.  He's not a fast maturing alien from another planet, he's spent the last eighteen years in a silo strapped to a H-Bomb until they are sure they can control him.  There had been supes before then, but he was the perfected version made by manipulating Compound-V, which was injected in a foetus, which was implanted in a "retarded broad" who was killed giving birth to him.
The Homelander unveiled
He's such a success that they do it again and create the original Seven.  Other supes are accidents, The Seven were bred to be the best.  Hughie wonders why the supes don't take over the world.  The Legend says they are comfortable with the status quo, which is why there are many more superheroes than villains.  But Vought have their own plans for weaponising supes and that's the reason why there isn't a Brooklyn Bridge anymore.

The Seven became very popular and Vought started raking in profit from the transmedia explotation of them.  Vought's competitors decide to go after the creator of Compound V, a German scientist called Vogelbaum who V.A.C pulled out of Germany in the 1930's. His reaction to the kidnap attempt was to slit his wrists.  Vought respond to the competition with more teams of cheaper supes.  There are four more teams fully affiliated with Vought, The G-Men, Payback, Teenage Kix and The Young Americans.  With all the Compound V that's leeched into the atmosphere though there are supes by the thousand and "ninety per cent of them ain't worth squat."
Vogelbaum, father of all supes.
The Legend says that this is where he comes in.  He worked for Vought American, running Victory Comics.  Feeding people the romance of supes rather than the sleazy reality.  One of the things he did was coming up with cover stories for The Homelander's taking down of rogue supes. With all the money roling in from the merchandising, Vought turn their attention back to the ultimate prize, defence contracts.

The Legend: "They take that money an' they invest it wisely.  Buy influence.  Buy people that might be big one day. Year by year.  Inch by inch, they get close to where they wanna be..."

The year 2000 comes around and twenty years of influence pay off and they have their man - Victor K. Nueman better known as "Vic The Veep" joining "Dakota" Bob Schaeffer on the Republican ticket.  And when they win, Vought have a Vice President they can manipulate into doing anything.  Eight months after they take office terrorists fly a plane into the Brooklyn Bridge.  Except that wasn't the terrorists intended target, they were aiming at the World Trade Centre.  Dakota Bob had the other two planes shot down, but when it came to the third the airforce were told to pull back, "an' that's when the fuckin' trouble begins."
Vought triumphant.
We then get a flashback to that fateful day.  The airforce pilot in charge of bringing down the last plane is begging his superiors:

Pilot: "NORAD.  I just blew a plane load of Americans out of the skay.  If we let one through it was for nothing!  Please!"

But he is ordered back to base. We are shown Hughie and The Legend listening to the broadcast, "The rest I got from the horses mouth" says The Legend.

We are then shown The Seven with A-Train's predecessor Mister Marathon and the non-zombiefied Lamplighter. The Lamplighter panics right away and flies off, and Black Noir who can't fly gets dropped.  Jack from Jupiter is next to freak out and fly away.  The Deep smashes the cockpit window from the outside letting the air rush in and then he gets knocked aside.  The Homelander opens a side door and a young boy gets sucked out.  He goes and pulverises the terrorists, Queen Maeve then yells at him that Black Noir was the only one of them with flight training and how will they land the plane?
The bloody reality of superpowers.
The Homelander: "But I thought you had a plan.."

Queen Maeve: "I thought you did."

"Fuck this" says The Homelander and flies off leaving Queen Maeve alone on the plane.  Mister Marathon manages to grab a hold of him as he leaves because he can't fly.  The passengers start grabbing and pleading with Queen Maeve to save them and she ends up having to smash right through them to get off the plane.  Mister Marathon convinces The Homelander to try something else to save the plane, so The Homelander decides to fly through the end of the plane in the hope it'll level out.  This results in Mister Marathon's death and the plane crashing into the Brooklyn Bridge.
In the aftermath Dakota Bob went on TV and said he had all three shot down, the involvement of the Seven is not mentioned.  The Legend comments that no way he had the airforce called off for Vought supes, he hates them.

The Legend: "What changed after the first plane went down.  What happened in The Whitehouse that morning?"

The whole exercise was a failed attempt to prove that supes had a place in US defence. Hughie asks how The Legend knew what happened on the plane and The Legend deflects his question.  He was long gone from Victory Comics then but could still get the inside scoop.  The Seven stayed out of the limelight for a long time and when they returned, A-Train had replaced Mister Marathon and The Lamplighter was taking a break on account of being a zombie.  He was killed by Mallory, the man who started The Boys.

On The Seven's base, A-Train and Starlight have finished cleaning up The Lamplighter.  A-Train locks the bay door and starts trying to rape her, "I can do anything.  I'm a fucking superhero!".  But Starlight emits a huge flash of light that temporarily blinds him.  The rest of The Seven return from their confrontation with The Boys (that ended with Billy's dog Terror pissing on The Homelanders foot), and as A-Train starts whining, The Homelander grabs the nearby plane and hurls it across the bay.  "It hasn't been a very good day" explains Jack From Jupiter.
You won't like him when he's angry.
Back with The Legend, he explains to Hughie that Mallory and Billy aren't on speaking terms anymore and that The Seven are Billy's ultimate target.  The first time The Boys went after The Seven it ended in disaster as The Lamplighter killed Mallory's grand-daughters.  Butcher has files on The Homelander that would ruin him if they went public, so he can't do anything about The Boys.  The Lamplighter was offered up as a sacrifice and an uneasy truce started.

The Legend ends his tale by saying he's had two sons, and the first died at Ia Drang Valley.  When he died for profit, The Legend swore to fuck Vought anyway he could, gathering shit someone could use one day.  The other son, Hughie killed and now Hughie can show himself out.  A bewildered Hughie leaves, then realises he was told Vought's story not The Boys's.
D'awwww, again.
Back at Boys's HQ, Hughie is handed a file on their next targets, The G-Men.  Then he meets Annie in Central Park and both are glad not to have ruined their growing relationship with the little accident the other day, they kiss.  Meanwhile Billy is watching the surveillance tape archive of The Seven's base and reaches the point where Starlight was "initiated" into The Seven.

Billy: "Fuck me. Jesus.  Who are you then you dirty little mare?"

Excuse my verbosity but this was a very important volume.  First of all, getting Annie and Hughie together, two people who don't quite fit into the life they are being groomed for was an inspired idea.  It's adds some much needed humanity and sweetness to the comic that otherwise might be in danger of disappearing into a mire of grim nihilism.  The ongoing joke of things going "daft" for Hughie is most welcome as well.  He might not like it but again he helps add a lighter tone to proceedings him and Blarney Cock fighting over a hamster of all things, was hilarious.  The second arc has a beguiling alt-history of the second half of the twentieth century.  It stand to reason that Ennis, a student of World War 2, would see war profiteers as the ultimate bad guys.  The question of how 9/11 might go down in a superpowered world is of course shown quite cynically and sets up a new big question as to how Vought got The Seven involved in the first place, although you'll have to wait until volume five to find that out...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Boys Book 2: Get Some (#7-14)

"Comics mate.  They rot your brain" - Billy Butcher

To quickly recap, The Boys is set in an alternate world where superheroes exist and are mostly venal, corrupt and selfish in their desires, while they are overseen by the company Vought-American who handle their publicity and marketing, the common term for them is the slightly contemptous "Supe" and believe me, most of these "heroes" deserve your contempt.  Policing them is a CIA backed group called "The Boys" led by roughly aimiable Londoner Billy Butcher, African American "Mother's Milk", a supposed Frenchman called "Frenchie" and a non-speaking young Japanese woman called "The Female".  In the previous book, a meek Scotsman called Hughie was inducted in their ranks after one of the supes caused the death of his girlfriend.  After an injection of Compound V, he's become strong enough and tough to fight with supes, unfortunately the first time he does so he accidentally kills his attacker.  This collection is made up of two arcs, the first is Garth Ennis having a pop at Batman, the second sees the supe menace is a global one as The Boys travel to Russia to investigate some renegade supe activity.

Before we start, just to clarify, although Black Noir fulfills the Batman position in The Seven, we find very little out about him bar that he's marketed as the "edgy" one.  This version is much more on the nose.  He has no intrinsic powers although he has a mechanical suit giving him powers like Iron Man and is a member of the Avengers parody group "Payback". But he has a ward called "Laddio" (Robin) and a grown one called "Swingwing" (Nightwing), plus an frenemy who has a close resemblance to Catwoman.  Anyway, the story kicks off with him seeing a therapist for a tricky problem.
Introducing Tek-Knight
GET SOME - This arc begins with Tek-Knight in therapy because he can't stop fucking things.  He's a member of a group called Payback and his position is in jeopardy due to his amorous actions.  When they were flying home from a successful mission he became fascinated with fellow member Mind-Droid's arse and the inevitable happened even though they were in mid-air.  He's been suspended but his urges haven't stopped.

Tek-Knight: "Since then it's been a side of beef, my neices chinchilla, a hole I found in the wall of my cave.  Doctor, what am I going to do?"

However his therapy comes to an abrupt end when his therapist leaves the room for a moment and Tek-Knight tries to have sex with his cup of coffee.

We then join The Boys as Hughie takes delivery of his uniform.  He wonders why they wear them and Billy says "so we look like a packa scary, hard bastards".  He then takes Hughie to meet The Legend (an affectionate tribute to Stan Lee) a little old man who lives in the basement of a comic shop and knows everything about supes, and is just as devoted to policing them as Billy is.  He's got a job for them, his sister's grandson was thrown off a rooftop six months ago and rumour has it he was the gay lover of a supe called "Swingwing" - Tek Knight's former ward.
The Legend.
Speaking of Tek-Knight, in an effort to remove temptation he sends his current ward Laddio away on a quest to visit all the other superhero groups.  Laddio leaves and Tek-Knight is left kneeling on the floor whimpering:

Tek-Knight: "In the name of God Almighty, isn't there anyone who can help me?"

In a cafe, Hughie read up on Swingwing's comicbook adventures.  He is played up as the gay-friendly hero, Hughie thinks the comic is stupid.  Then Billy shows him a photo of the boy whose death they are investigating, an eighteen year old called Stephen Rubenstein. Billy confesses he has no idea where Swingwing is, so that area of investigation is closed at the moment.  The decide to interview some of Stephen's friends.

We return to Tek-Knight who's butler has just quit on him because Tek-Knight had sex with his ear.  He promises to be discreet, but feels he cannot stay.  Hughie and Billy arrive a Stephen's local gay bar.  Hughie is a bit nervous about going in and Billy mocks him saying he might attract "some dirty old chicken hawk in search of romance."
Paul and Alex.
They go inside and talk to the bartender, and we find out here that Billy is teetotal.  The barman is called Paul Drake, and he says he thought Stephen was confused and vulnerable.  "And extremely fuckable let's not deny it" snaps Paul's boyfriend Max.  He then stalks out saying Stephen is "back from the grave to torment us all over again".  Paul tells them that Swingwing would come and do community outreach work with them and Paul would try and talk with him.  Paul doesn't know if Swingwing is gay or not, but he doesn't think much of him personality-wise.

Tek-Knight is communicating with someone from The Seven in the hope he can join, but his little problem has been leaked to them by a "little friend of yours" and not Laddio.  Back with The Boys, Hughie and Mother's Milk share a drink and Hughie admits he can't stop thinking about Blarney Cock, the supe he accidentally killed in the previous collection.  M.M tells Hughie he doesn't regret any of the deaths he's caused as part of The Boys and neither should Hughie.  Hughie wonders some more about Billy and M.M gives him some friendly advice regarding him.

Mother's Milk: "Everything he does or says serves whatever's he got planned.  He doesn't waste nothin'.  Not time, not words, not effort, not even a Goddamn smile."

Thus warned Hughie and Billy go to visit Tek-Knight.  Billy says they never had any contact with Tek-Knight during The Boys first incarnation, despite his gritty reputation in reality he was just... boring.
Paying Tek-Knight a visit.
Hughie and Billy barge into Tek-Knight's mansion.  Tek-Knight is not in his costume and strenuously denies being Tek-Knight until Billy finds the book in his library that opens up his secret lair.  He tells Tek-Knight that a member of Payback they tangled with in the past over beating his girlfriend told them Tek-Knight's secret identity.  Hughie has other problems, he desperately needs the toilet.  Tek-Knight points him in the direction of the restroom.

Billy questions Tek-Knight about Swingwing.  Tek-Knight says Swingwing is gay and was probably sleeping with Paul as he likes younger men.  Hughie finds the restroom is locked and does a poo on the floor instead.  Tek-Knight then throws them out and the rest of The Boys except for the Female have a good laugh about the poo incident.
Oh Hughie..
Then Paul and Max show up.  Hughie goes outside to talk to them, and Max confesses he saw where Swingwing got changed and on the fateful night sent Stephen to go and talk to him.  Paul then stomps off leaving Max protesting that he didn't want Stephen to get hurt.  Hughie returns to the office and Billy shows him the front of the New York Post which has a front page headline about Tek-Knight being gay for assaulting his butler, who did in fact decide to be indiscreet.

They wonder if Tek-Knight was jealous of Swingwing's boyfriends and decide they need to talk to him out of his suit and in a position where he can't turn his base defences on them.  They infiltrate his lair and Billy distracts Tek-Kight long enough for The Female to wreck his suit and beat him down.
Negociation, Female style.
Defeated, Tek-Knight says that neither he nor Swingwing are gay.  The reason he told them so and why things went bad between him and Swingwing was because of what happened during a threesome he had with Swingwing and the female anti-hero The Talon.

Tek-Knight: "Part of me can't believe what's happening.  All I can think is.. don't look at his face.  Don't look at his face, don't look at his face."

Swingwing: "Suck it baby.  Suck his big bamboo"

Tek-Knight: "And it's all downhill from there."

Billy sarcastically tells him he's been very enlightening and they leave a broken Tek-Knight behind. Now they at least have Swingwing's address and Hughie and Billy go and wait for him.  Swingwing arrives home to find them in his flat.  He denies knowing Stephen, but an angry Hughie says to him:

Hughie: "Six months ago that boy was found lyin' dead on the fuckin' street.  D'you know the look he had on his face?  Misery - not fear - misery."
Swingwing, finally.
Swingwing tries to escape but Hughie chases him down and beats him into submission.  Finally Swingwing admits that Stephen confronted him on the room where he changed and told him he was in love with him.  This triggered a homophobic panic response in Swingwing and in the scuffle, Stephen was knocked off the roof.  Turns out Swingwing hates homosexuals, Vought-American force him to be the gay friendly supe but he thinks they are "filthy disease ridden faggot scum."

Billy says Swingwing will pay for this by becoming an informer for him, but as he says so he surruptiously removes a screw from Swingwing's jetpack.  Later in a cafe, Hughie and Billy talk about the case.  Hughie says no one really cared about Stephen, even The Legend seemed not be bothered much by who killed his sister's grandson.  Billy reveals that The Legend doesn't have a sister and maybe he saw a kid with no one to speak for him and decided to do something about it.
Swingwings missing screw.
Later still, in the nearby park, Hughie tells Paul what happened.  We also find out that Swingwing is dead, killed by a jetpack malfunction.  Alex is lurking sadly nearby and Hughie tells Paul he had no way of knowing what Swingwing was really like.  Hughie then sees them making up from the office window.

Hughie: "What is it about love stories you know?"

Billy: "Two people finding each other."

The arc ends with Tek-Knight saving a woman from a wheelbarrow dropping from a building site above.  This turns into a full blown fantasy where he saves the world by fucking an asteroid.  The final page shows Hughie reading in a paper that Tek-Knight is dead, killed by the falling wheelbarrow and the coroner found a fist-sized tumor in his brain, which explains his abherrant behaviour.

GLORIOUS FIVE YEAR PLAN - The next arc begins with The Boys flying to Russia.  We also meet the primary antagonist of the arc, a woman called Little Nina who has a fondness for huge sextoys and is leader of the feared Russian mob.  Monkey (their CIA liason) picks up The Boys, he has a fetish for disabled women, so happens to be in the vicinity due to the womens paralympic exhibition games taking place nearby.
Vas, the Love Sausage
They go on to a local bar and a great bear of a man greets Billy with a hug.  He also greets the others but is careful not to touch The Female as he is missing two fingers from making that mistake before.  His name is Vasilii Vorishikin, and is in fact a Russian supe called "Love Sausage", but he is an old friend of Billy's despite that.

Finally Billy tells them why they are in Moscow.  Supes have been appearing and then their heads explode.  They weren't shot so how it happened remains a total mystery.  Billy thinks it might be related to a version of Compund V that did the same, but it was too unstable and difficult to predict when it would go off.  Vas says he can get them into the morgue to check the bodies as he still has some pull with local law enforcement.  Vas then pours them all some vodka which none of them bar Hughie drinks, because it's foul and made with brake fluid.

Little Nina meanwhile is meeting a representative of Vought-American who is never directly named but by a process of elimination seems to be called Stillwell.  In the morgue The Boys confirm there was no shooting involved, while Vas tells Hughie that he misses the old communist regime.  He then sends a flunky out for a pizza which is delivered with the flunky's torn off face decorating it.
I prefer anchovies on mine but whatever..
Stillwell and Little Nina continue their discussion.  She wants to know why the supes heads have been exploding.  Stillwell says that the compound was refined enough to give 98 per cent control.  Nina asks what the US government will do, Stillwell says governments change.  Nina says no one will vote for the cretinous Vice President but Stillwell says the next US election need not be a concern of hers.

Elsewhere Little Nina's men are watching Hughie and Billy having a fake argument over the face-pizza.  This distracts them enough that Frenchie is able to sneak up on them and attack them, he kills one and the other is dragged into the bar for questioning.  Inside Billy breaks the man's arm and he confesses he works for Little Nina.  He was sent to kill them and all he knows is that Nina is gathering supes and working with an American man.

Vas and Hughie bond.
Billy tells him to phone Nina and tell her he has done the job, but the man refuses saying Nina will kill him.  As Billy starts to torture the man further Hughie can't deal with it and goes into the backroom to share some more horrible vodka with Vas.  On the TV Vas is watching is a man called Josef Chemenko. A leader who wants a return to communist ways.  Hughie wonders if Vas supports him.

Vas: "I love communism. I long for the return of communism.  But before I tie my soul to such a man.  I must be sure of him."

This makes Hughie look very thoughtful.  Later on having got the hotel location out of the man sent to kill them, Billy and Hughie follow Little Nina, while Mother's Milk bribes the hotel barman to point out the American she was meeting.  Billy and Hughie follow Nina back to a huge warehouse which turns out to be filled with a a hundred and fifty supes.  They quickly leave and Billy wonders "is this lunatic fuckin' slapper tryin' for a coup?"
Nina and her supe army.
Back in the car Bily muses that someone has convinced Nina she can pull off a coup.  He also wonders where he has seen the American who was meeting with her before.  Later Billy visits Little Nina's aeroplane and finds a man in there putting C4 explosive in the cockpit.  Billy tells him to stop and then questions him about why he is doing this and what can he tell him about Stillwell's involvement. 

The action jumps forwards to Billy back at Vas's bar (who is cooking a big pan of Borscht), and he tells the rest of The Boys what he learned.  The American works for Vought-American, Nina has told all the supes she has gathered that she is going to pull a coup.  But actually when the supes are running riot in the Kremlin she'll use the trigger she's been given to set off the explosive Compound V, save the day and become a major political player.  But she's been double-crossed as well, the trigger she has is useless, Vought-American don't want her in charge.  But before he can elaborate further he passes out, as do the rest of The Boys bar Hughie and Vas.

The borscht was poisoned.  Hughie panics and blames Vas for it, but Vas kills the gunmen who rush in to finish the job, proving he is innocent.  Vas then reasons that the horrible vodka he and Hughie have been drinking must have saved them somehow.  The others will survive, but Vas decides it's time for the Love Sausage to make a comeback and team up with Hughie to take their adversaries down.
He's called Love Sausage for a reason ladies.
The rest of the villains are arguing in a place nearby, when Vas comes crashing through the skylight. He takes out the rest of the shooters an chase after the final one through a strip club, but "titties are like kryptonite" to the Love Sausage and Hughie chases the man down and intimidates him into telling him Nina is back at the hotel.  He reasons that Vought-American have cut their losses and pulled out and Nina will probably follow.

She is sitting angrily on her aeroplane and as it takes off she pulls out an enormous vibrator.  Cut to picture of a huge explosion taking place on board.  This is due to the bomb Billy put inside the sex toy.  A recovering Billy says they have Vought-American bang to rights with all the surveillance gear and explosives they supplied the Russians.  Apparently the real detonator was given to a man called Josef Chemenko in the hope he'd get into power and restart the Cold War which Vought-American would use supes to police.  Vas is left feeling depressed at this news.

Vas: "Fucking games, little Hughie.  Does no one care about the people anymore?"

Billy meets with Monkey and to his disbelief is told that Rayner doesn't want to pursue the case against Vought-American any further at this point.  An angry Billy goes to the warehouse and uses the real trigger to set off the Compound V and one hundred and fifty supes die in a messy headsplosion.
Achiement Unlocked: Headsplosion.
As they leave on the plane, Billy keeps humming a tune he's had stuck in his head since blowing up the supes.  He asks what it is, and Frenchie tells him it's the Ode To Joy.  Something that once you know how the series pans out becomes a piece of ominous foreshadowing.  The volume closes with Stillwell on a plane and speaking to The Homelander over the phone.  They plan on killing Josef Chemenko in a few months time to tie off a loose end, and his conversation ends with him telling the Homelander to "grow a pair".

And thus ends the second volume.  The first arc treats the Batman parody with some grudging generosity and unlike the rest of the supes who act according to their selfish desires he goes out of his way to resist what is happening to him and even manages to die heroically.  The treatment of gay men is actually very sympathetic, despite some of Billy's more un-PC language.  The homophobe is punished, the gay couple get back together.  It could have been ghastly and insensitive, but actually it's rather touching and sweet.  The second arc is where we see primary antagonists Vought-American make their first serious moves in introducing supes into political life, a struggle that will remain consistent throughout the rest of the series. Vas is a stereotype but manages to rise above that with his interactions with Hughie and we will be seeing him again, proving that not all supes are automatically the enemy.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Boys Book 1: The Name Of The Game (#1-6) NSFW

NSFW:  Contains very rude words, graphic gore and a bare arse.

"I'm gonna fuckin' have you. You cunt" - Billy Butcher

Well that's Ennis, starting as he means to go on.  Revelling in the freedom he's been given to finally cut loose.  Even the mature readers Vertigo imprint didn't allow him to say "cunt" in Preacher, so of course it would be in the first line of dialogue here.  And so we are dragged into a world where superheroes aren't held back by the morals they have in the DCU and Marvelverse, where supeheroes are merely the creations of an evil multinational company who then exploits them across the media to rake in the dough.  In this world the government of the USA is at war within its ranks over superhuman involvement in political life and the CIA has allowed a small group of superpowered individuals to take on the job of policing them.  Currently the group is non-operative due to events we'll find out about later, but Billy Butcher, - the man on the first page with the fruity language - wants to put the band back together and he's after new recruits as well.  Like Hitman most of the volumes collect two or more arcs, so I will label them accordingly.  Starting us off..

THE NAME OF THE GAME - After the foul mouthed introduction of Billy Butcher and his bulldog Terror, we meet the closest thing the series has to a hero, Simon Pegg lookalike Hughie.  He is walking through a fairground in Glasgow with his girlfriend who tells him she loves him.  They share a kiss, then start spinning each other round.  Suddenly a man travelling at superspeed barrels into her, punching another man right into her, rips her arms off and squashes her into a nearby wall. Leaving a shocked Hughie still clutching her severed arms.
Introducing Hughie.
We then cut to CIA director Ms. Rayner who has a "meeting" with Billy, actually one of their periodic bouts of hatesex.   We're then back with Hughie, unable to let go of his girlfriend's arms.  The culprit who caused this is a US superhero or "supe" as they're more derogatorily known as, called A-Train who can run at superspeed.  As Hughie starts to wail in grief, A-Train departs showing no remorse for what he has done.

Back with Rayner and Billy, Billy wants to reform his gang of superhero policers called "The Boys".

Billy: "Superpower's the most dangerous power on earth. There's more an' more of 'em all the time an' sooner or later they're gonna wise up... one day you might twig that what you're realy invulnerable to is your humanity. An' then God help us all."
Billy Butcher and CIA Director Rayner.
Rayner agrees, Billy says he needs a replacement for Mallory "Right of course.  You got his grandchildren killed" snipes Rayner.

We are then back with Hughie in his bedsit being talked at by some slimy corporate types.  They press him into signing a document absolving them of all responsibility for the accident (we find this out later, but it's useful to know now that the Supes and their activities fall under the purview  of a corrupt coporation called Vought American).

Hughie: "I don't want fuckin' compensation.  I want her back.  That's all."

Back with Billy, he accosts an employee of Rayner's.  He is called Kessler, but mostly referred to as "Monkey" for reasons that won't become clear for many volumes.  He checks a list of people who have had direct negative involvement with supes and alights on Hughie.  The first issue ends with a grief stricken Hughie sat on a park bench and Billy sitting next to him.
Billy gets his prey in sight.
Billy strikes up a conversation with Hughie and cheers him up by sending his dog Terror to fuck a dog that just crapped on the grass.  Then as they talk it's intercut with Billy reforming the rest of The Boys.  The Frenchman is in a cafe, talking poetically to himself.  Some idiots call him a "Surrender monkey" and he beats the shit out of them, then Billy arrives and Frenchie leaves gladly with him.
The somewhat loony Frenchie.
Back with Hughie, Billy expertly manipulates him by saying he knows all about A-Train causing his girlfriends death and would Hughie like to join the team he's putting together.  We then see The Female in action, now working for the mob, this small, Japanese woman is the most violent of all The Boys and Billy watches from across the road as she tears her way through a gangster's safehouse.
The most lethal "Boy".
Billy explains his motivations to Hughie back in Scotland.

Billy: "I wanna stamp on the bastards.  Stop 'em fuckin' things up for everyone."

Hughie is unsure as to why Billy has picked him of all people to join him.  Billy says that after his girlfriend's death the fact Hughie didn't want paying off intrigued him.  We then meet the final member of The Boys, Mother's Milk.  He doesn't need much persuading to rejoin the group.  He also has a bratty teen daughter to contend with, who tells him she should spend more time with her mom.  This causes Billy to go outside and tell her in no uncertain terms that her dad is a good man and her mom a "no good, drunken slag."
Mother's Milk.
Billy: "Now get back in there and show your old dad some bloody respect!"

The issue ends with Billy giving Hughie a wad of cash to come over to the US and see how things go with The Boys. He departs saying, "Nice to meet you Hughie.  See you."

CHERRY -  This four parter dives right into the murky world of company sponsored superheroes and to give some quick background, the supes at the top of the tree are "The Seven".  They are lead by the Trinity - The Homelander (Superman), Black Noir (Batman) and Queen Maeve (Wonder Woman), with Jack From Jupiter (Martain Manhunter), The Deep (Aquaman) and A-Train (The Flash) under them.  The seventh member - The Lamplighter (Green Lantern)  is currently indisposed and a replacement for him - Starlight (Starfire) has been accepted as his replacement.  Basically they're the Grant Morrison era JLA with Starfire replacing Green Lantern as a regular.  Read on to find out what DC found so unacceptable about these broad parodies of the iconic originals.
Starlight and The Homelander.
Annie "Starlight" January is being shown around The Seven's orbiting base by The Homelander.  He is polite, handsome and welcoming. Annie tells him about her time in the Young Americans and her boyfriend there who she met a "Capes For Christ" event.  As Annie tells The Homelander she's reached the peak of superhero achievement she turns to find he's dropped his trousers and is commanding her to suck his cock.
Let's talk about this arse.  You might think a gratuitous arse.  But I say it's a symbolic arse.  This arse says that if you can't take it, you might want to check out from this blog until June.  We'll be doing some 2000AD collections then, no arses there.
Hughie has arrived in New York and is renting a room in a fleabag hotel which he likes due to all the "amazing characters" there.  Billy who has come to pick him up tells him "first flood of... semen under the door, don't come cryin' to me."  Billy then hands Hughie a passport and tells Hughie he's been a citizen of the US for a week now.  As the taxi drives along we get a shot of a collapsed bridge over the river, which will be explained at a later date. 

Back with Annie and she is understandably freaking out.  Black Noir and A-Train arrive and start dropping their trousers as well.  Annie at first refuses and starts to walk away from them, until The Homelander says:

Homelander: "In that case, good luck back in the corn belt.  With whatziname and ah, whatever they're called."

Thankfully the action cuts back to Billy and Hughie as Annie makes her decision to do what's neccessary to stay with The Seven.  Billy introduces Hughie to the rest of The Boys.  Mother's Milk and Frenchie greet him verbally, The Female says nothing (she is not mute, she just doesn't speak) and Billy warns Hughie not to touch her either.  We then return to Annie, vomiting in a toilet.  She comes out to find Queen Maeve who she is starstruck by. She starts to tell Maeve how much of an inspiration she was to her only to be told to "Fuck Off."
In case the arse shot wasn't warning enough. heh heh heh.
Back with The Boys, and Billy has put up photos of a group of supes called Teenage Kix  They are going to announce that The Boys are back in action by digging up the dirt on them.

Billy: "Look at 'em boys.  Teenage Kix.  Fuck me rigid, are they in for a shock."

The Seven have their first meeting with Starlight present.  The Homelander asks her to say a few words to introduce herself and she mumbles about being proud to be there as A-Train mimes a blowjob at her.  Then the rest of them start bickering about licensing and contracts and merchandise rights much to her confusion.

Meanwhile Hughie is watching Teenage Kix who are in a whorehouse.  Billy comments that most supes have "some kink or other."  Billy leaves Hughie doing surveillance.  On The Seven's base, The Homelander is beating down A-Train for messing about during an official meeting.  Those meetings are attended by a representative of Vought-American who are "the money".  The Homelander leaves A-Train grovelling on the floor.

Homelander: "Don't get up until I am long gone."
A-Train feels The Homelander's wrath.
Billy and Rayner have another of their gruesome sexual encounters.  She hands him a box with a small vial of liquid in it which apparently took a forest of paperwork to get a hold of. Meanwhile the rest of The Boys keep up watching Teenage Kix, they are mostly engaged in sexual liasions, in public, with each other, stealing medicine from a childrens hospital and self harm.  Hughie seems happy doing the spy work so his guard is down when Billy injects him with the mystery liquid.
And just like that, Hughie is a superhero.
It's Compound V, the stuff that makes supes, in its purest form.  This way Hughie will be strong enough and tough enough to go toe-to-toe with all but the most powerful superheroes. However Hughie is outraged that Billy would inject him with something that changes him on the DNA level without asking and stalks off, saying he's going home to Glasgow.  Later that night in his hotel room a flood of semen trickles under his door.

The next issue begins with Annie sat in Central Park and Hughie asking if he can sit next to her.  He is quiet and thoughful and she asks him if he is english.  He replies he is scottish and she apologizes, but he says only real "head-the-balls" people care about that sort of thing.  She asks if he is on vacation and he says that he's here about the job which he thinks he'll enjoy but he's not sure about some of the people.  She admits to feeling the same way about her job.  Hughie says if he stays, it'll be because of places like Central Park.  They part, smiling, though Hughie doesn't see her flying away.
Annie and Hughie meet for the first time.
Then we're back with the board of Teenage Kix members who are having an almighty row overheard by the bugs planted in their base.  As the Kix fight, The Boys piss themselves laughing.  They had been mailed evidence of all their misdeeds with an ultimatum: "Someone gets thrown to the wolves.  I decide tommorrow or you decide today."  Hughie arrives at the office and despite himself, it looks like he's made his choice and will be staying.  Billy takes him out for burgers and apologises to him:

Billy: "I'm sorry Hughie.  I was a right arsehole. I thought I was doin' you a favour.  But all I did was freak you out an' piss you off.  I'm sorry."

Hughie: "Just don't do anything like that again."

Billy: "Never."

They chat some more with Billy telling Hughie he's been in New York for twenty years and loves it.  Then we cut to The Seven watching one of Teenage Kix very reluctantly coming out as gay on TV.  He was the sacrifice.  The Homelander quickly realises that this is a declaration of war from Billy.  Later that night Hughie and Billy meet up with the others, they are then accosted by a very angry Teenage Kix.
This will surely end well for Teenage Kix...
Billy: "Ah ha ha ha ha.  Let's give 'em a fuckin' spankin'"

The fight between Teenage Kix and The Boys is extremely one-sided as well as graphically violent.  Hughie is attacked by the member "Blarney Cock".  He begins to panic and lashes out in self defence forgetting he is now superstrong.  He punches his fist right through Blarney, instantly killing him.  As the fight winds up a shaken Hughie contemplates Blarney's body and suddenly a hamster that Blarney had been keeping up his bum crawls out.  Hughie immediately decides to take care of it.  Billy sighs that his death with result in "one of those fuckin' funerals."
... or not.
This involves a lot of blatant lies about how he died "standing up for the cause of freedom"  The cover story being that they were fighting with "Time Terrorists".  Later Billy and Hughie talk in the park, Blarney's death has made Hughie rethink becoming a member of The Boys.  He wants to know why Billy hates them so much.

Billy: "One of 'em raped me wife."

He then elaborates that she became pregnant with a super foetus and one night it burst out from inside her, killing her.  Billy beat it to death with the lampstand and is still scarred from its heat vision.  He knows which one it is, and one day he will have him for it.

The main reason he reformed The Boys though is that the company that controls most of the US supes - Vought-American - have the Vice President in their pocket, which means they are "one bad day away from a supe-friendly president in the Oval Office."  He winds up his sales pitch to Hughie by saying he's "always wanted a little brother."  And Hughie finally makes his decision in favour of The Boys.  Back with the rest of them, Mother's Milk wonders if some supes have got their hearts in the right place and aren't so bad.

Billy: "Heh. Well, if there are.  Fuck 'em."
Starlight in the skimpier costume she's been forced to wear.  To forestall later questions, this footage is not seen by Hughie...
And thus ends the first collection.  In a parallel universe that sucks, these six issues were all that were released in the series as DC took fright and cancelled it.  Thankfully another publisher picked it up and it continued unmolested to the very bitter end.  I would say however that apart from Book Five which is one long orgy, this is probably the most "offensive" of all the collections.  It does a fine job however of introducing an interesting cast, showing us the corruption endemic in the ranks of the Supes as well as setting up plenty of questions that will get answers right up to the end of the series.  Hughie is immediately likeable as the main protagonist and quite unlike Ennis's usual hard man heroes, a role being filled by Billy Butcher already showing himself to be a chessmaster par excellence. It almost goes without saying that Darick Robertson's artwork is a big part of what makes the story so attractive from the word go. It's a pretty horrible world our characters inhabit but soon love and friendship will begin to balance that negativity out, I hope you stick around to see that...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Introduction to The Boys

Well, I have managed to keep this blog going for a year.  I started with a lengthy series, so to kick off this blogs second year I'm going to spend a couple of months looking at Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's series "The Boys".  This is the series that made me decide to carry on collecting comic books after I had finished my Cerebus collection. I'm warning you all now, this is Ennis really letting loose.  It's a series full of sex, boobs, extreme violence and loads and loads of swearing.  I won't be showing any of the sex (I'm a prude really, honest), but some boobs and bums will make it through so remember to check for the NSFW tag in the blog title. This series has often been referred to as a deconstruction of superheroes that shows how much Ennis hates the American superhero archetype.  I don't think it is a deconstruction of superheroes though.  If it is, where Alan Moore used a scalpel in Watchmen, Ennis uses a blunderbuss then drives over the remains in a bus full of squawking clowns.  No, it's definitely a parody of superheroes that gets very near the knuckle in places, but what it actually is deconstructing is his own character archetype the "Macho Garth Ennis Anti-Hero".


The premise of the series picks up on something he created during his comic Hitman.  In one storyline Tommy Monaghan the titular hitman is asked to work as an assassin who will target and take down superheroes for the CIA.  There it was shown to be a bad thing, because of course the DCU heroes are decent folk.  But in The Boy's world this is not the case.  The heroes or "supes" as they are contemptously referred to, are shown to be venal, corrupt, immoral and hypocritical.  They need to be kept under control and The Boys are the CIA's response.  A team of superpowered enforcers - four men and one woman - who are led by a foul mouthed Englishman called Billy Butcher.  But Billy isn't the POV character in this series as he would be in any other Garth Ennis series, in fact Ennis steps out of his comfort zone and gives us the meek Scot Wee Hughie as the main character, and the series ends up being something of a tug of war for his soul between two people who never actually meet.

The Boy's ran for seventy-two issues, plus three miniseries of six issues apiece, making ninety in total.  It ran from 2007 to 2012, and started life at the DC imprint Wildstorm.  It was abruptly cancelled after six issues, possibly because the parody was so venomous and it being so obvious who he was targeting.  Luckily publisher Dynamite picked it up and it ran and ended as Ennis wanted to without further editorial interference and was initially collected in twelve volumes (the ones I am using here).  Although artist Darick Robertson was the co-creator, he stopped drawing it around book eight as he became an insanely in-demand artist for higher profile books, although he returned to draw the final miniseries and the final issue.  Capable artist Russ Braun took over as the main artist and Hitman artist John McCrea also illustrated three arcs.  Ennis is on record as saying it ended up being a good thing that Wildstorm/DC cancelled the title, "We'd have died on the vine [at DC]. The book would have been chipped and chipped away at until writing it was pure frustration." He also admitted to "a sigh of relief" as Wildstorm had been dissolved as an imprint not long after the move.

So that's my intro to the world of The Boys.  Of the three major creator owned series Ennis has done I feel it's the best.  Hitman became repetative in places and Preacher meandered rather in it's final third, but The Boys builds and builds to a tremendous series of climaxes where stuff introduced in the first volume doesn't pay off until the last. It's a crazy, sometimes nihilistic world, but one that also has decency, friendship, bromance and love underpinning it. It's a conspiracy thriller with at least three conspiracies running through the series, although one is so carefully hidden you'll only spot the hints it's building upon a reread. It's not for the faint-hearted, but it's a great series full of fantastic twists and turns that kept me guessing right up to the end so I hope you enjoy my look at it. As The Legend would say: "Splendido!"