"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.|
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."
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.|
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.|
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!|
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!|
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?"
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: "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|
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: "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."
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.|
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.
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.|
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.
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...