Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Boys Book 12: The Bloody Doors Off (#66-72)

"'An none of it made a blind bit o' difference.  You stayed yourself no matter what I done" - Billy Butcher

It's all over.  Or is it?  Vought-American's attempt to use their power and influence to gain a grip over US defence affairs and militarise the superhuomans they've been responsible for creating since the 1930's ended in disaster.  Loose cannon leader of the supes The Homelander fooled his fellow supes into thinking they should take action to support Vought and mobilised them at key government buildings, but he himself went beserk in The Whitehouse and killed everyone including the President.  When Billy Butcher, leader of The Boys, a team of five empowered humans backed by the CIA to police supes, confronted The Homelander over the rape and subsequent death of his wife by him, it was revealed that Black Noir was a clone of The Homelander and he was responsible for all the atrocities The Homelander didn't remember doing.  This lead to The Homelander and Black Noir fighting and when a barely alive Black Noir triumphed and staggered out of The Whitehouse, Billy led the armed forces in kilin him for good the same way they'd taken out all the other supes.  With everything seemingly wrapped up, there was only Billy's ominous comment that his dead wife Becky would hate what he's going to next most of all...

THE BLOODY DOORS OFF - The final arc begins with Vas, the friendly Russian supe from books 2 and 6, lying badly wounded on the ground.  He stands with great difficulty saying to the voice off panel that he must stop Billy.  Billy points at a man hanging from the ceiling and says Vas tried to hide him from him, then Billy is finally fully revealed.  He aims a bazooka at Vas and fires.
Alas, poor Vas.
Back with Hughie in New York, we get several pages of him walking to work listening to a talk radio show recapping all the revelations about supes and Vought.  He arrives at Boys HQ, Billy is not there, but the rest are.  They start to talk about how this might be time to go their seperate ways.  Mother's Milk says he has family stuff to deal with and Frenchie says The Females bloodlust has seemingly finally abated and they should go far, far away to keep her away from temptation.

Mother's Milk:  "We all done people.  Time we went the fuck home."

Billy then comes in and says to them they can have three months off while he holds the fort there. He also says when they come back, Hughie will be second-in-command like he asked.  This immediately annoys Frenchie and MM.  Billy grins to himself as they begin to bicker about it.  Frenchie and The Female sweep grumpily out leave a protesting Hughie in their wake.
Annie needs a break.
We then cut to Annie in a taxi cab.  She is leaving New York for a while.  She wants to get over the terrible things she saw.  Hughie says she can talk to him about it, but she says they only end up going round in circles.

Hughie: "But what found me?"

Annie: "Maybe that's just a line."

And she is driven off.  Despondent Hughie returns to his hotel and treads in the cum puddle outside his door.  Inside he sighs and says to Jamie the hamster that he still has him and sits on the floor looking forlorn.

We then catch up with Hughie talking with The Legend.  Hughie tells him that he, Frenchie and The Female have had their citizenship revoked and have ninety days to get out of the country.  The Legend says it's obviously Rayner's doing, cleaning house before her Senate bid.  Hughie says Vas sent him a cryptic text message, and The Legend tells him Vas is dead, killed by a rocket launcher.

MM has found his daughter Janine, she is subdued and scared.  She reminds him that though she looks like an young woman she is in fact only twelve due to the Compound V in MM affecting her growth.  She says she'd been doing drugs with her mum for a while to get back at him for not being around to long periods and the porn was another punishment for him.  MM grits his teeth and says he wants a word with her mum.  She tells him to cut the crap:

Janine: "It's not very easy with you pretending you don't know how we got here or that I'm under fucking suspended sentence of death!"

MM is genuinely confused.  Janine tells him that Billy came to the porn studio and killed everyone, making sure Janine saw him crush her mom's head like a tin can.  And his only words to her were: "Leave that man alone".
Janine fills her dad in.
Back with Hughie and The Legend, The Legend says The Boys were lucky to get through everything and only lose a dog.  They puzzle over Vas's text and Hughie wonders why it was him Vas sent his final communication to.  The Legend then asks if Hughie is ready to leave the US.  Hughie says he has a girl he's not ready to give up on, and if he did leave New York a part of him would always be in mourning.  As Hughie goes to leave, The Legend says the number in the text could refer to a type of Russian tank.

Later that night, The Legend wakes up and finds Billy looking down at him.  Billy wants to know what he's been telling Hughie and notes that one day The Legend might talk about Vogelbaum "'an' that I cannot have."  The Legend tries to escape but succumbs to a terror induced heart attack instead and dies.
The Legend is the next to die.
Hughie is sat on his bed with a laptop and figures out the text is actually an email address.  He tries it out and it opens an email Vas had sent to himself and it gives him a link to click on saying his worst fears has come true.  Hughie follows the link and his eyes widen in shock.  MM phones, but Hughie says to him that whatever news MM has, Hughie is pretty sure he has him beat.

The Boys minus Billy meet up in the downstairs room of their HQ. Hughie first points out that Billy bringing up the second-in-command thing was a deliberate attempt to split them up and sow discontent between them.  He then tells them Vas and The Legend are dead and it's very likely Billy did both of them.  After the events in Russia told in Book 2, the one hundred and fifty supes Billy killed by setting off the unstable Compound V they'd been exposed to got Vas suspicious.

He put out word he wanted information and finally found a guy who said he was working for an Englishman who bought up Nina's remaining stock and got more refined.  There are now one hundred and eighteen metric tonnes of it in existence.  Vas put things together and when he found out he'd been bugged by Billy he tried to get his source and himself to safety, but Billy found him and killed him.  The Compound V has been delivered to the USA to.
Figuring Billy's plan out.
As to why he's doing it, Mallory has said he gave Billy a war.  Ongoing and one he could never win, despite his oft stated desire to wipe out every supe in existence.  The deaths of The Homelander/Black Noir satisfied his personal revenge, but now what's left?

Mother's Milk: "Every other supe on the fuckin' planet."

Frenchie says the explosive stuff needed to be injested or injected.  But Hughie thinks Billy's found a way to turn it into a dirty bomb.  MM says Butcher "ain't no biochemist", but Hughie says he might have one working for him.  When Mallory sent him to kill Vogelbaum, what if Billy didn't and got him working for him instead.  Frenchie asks what are they going to do, and a lost looking Hughie says "talk to him like..."
The Female has a breakthrough.
The Female looks upset at all these revelations and makes like she doesn't want to fight Billy.  Hughie says to her it's not just supes exposed to Compound V, there are maybe millions out there who have it in their systems without being supes.  Frenchie says maybe she can sit this out, because she has made so much progress recently.  Hughie and MM agree and make to leave, suddenly The Female says:

The Female: "I hate mean people".

And she puts on her coat and joins them.  Those words are the first she has ever spoken in the series and have a real impact, you really believe she's walking down the road of becoming a normal human being not a traumatised, violence addicted weapon.

MM goes to the Operations room and searches Billy's PC, which has been wiped.  Suddenly Billy appears and asks him why he isn't in LA sorting things out with Janine.  Tensely they talks about MM sending Hughie to Mallory, then his threats to MM's daughter.  Billy admits he didn't thnk he'd walk away alive from his encounter with The Homelander and Black Noir, but now he has, he supposes he'll have to get on with his plan.

MM punches him hard, and they start to brawl.  Billy says he thought about killing MM's mum to cut off his supply of milk and weaken him, but couldn't bring himself to do it.  As they fight he says MM is the best mate he could ever have wished for.  Then he reaches into his coat and brings out a grenade which he explodes in MM face, knocking him back onto the floor.  Billy then suffocates him telling him "but I ain't got no mates."
At the same time, Vought are being investigated by a senate committee.  Jess Bradley has to run the gamut of reporters and protesters outside the building.  Inside she says to Stillwell that she's become the face of Vought now.  Stillwell says that she should have come via a side door but no one told her about that.  He then reassures her and they go inside to face the music.  Later they sleep with each other.

Hughie is driving through a snowy landscape when Frenchie phones him with the news about Mother's Milk.  Hughie says maybe they ought to get Rayner involved now, but Frenchie says she'll just declare them criminals to cover things up and they'll be hunted and killed.  Their clearances have been reinstated by Monkey (whom Hughie blackmailed into playing ball earlier in the arc).

Frenchie: "All is in order now.  Except that it never will be again."

Frenchie asks where Hughie is now, and Hughie tells him of the long trail of evidence he followed that culminated in finding a house that Mallory bought round about the time Vogelbaum was kidnapped, it's in New Hampshire and he thinks Vogelbaum will be there.  He then asks if it came to it, would they be able to take Billy down?  Frenchie says with The Female, probably.  But Hughie on his own?

Frenchie: "He would remove your arms and legs and reinsert them into the wrong sockets".

Hughie enters the house and finds the corpse of the freshly killed Vogelbaum.  Then Billy phones him.  After Billy has made some vague threats, Hughie asks him why.  "Gotta finish the job Hughie" he replies.  He says the never ripped out Vogelbaum's throat like Mallory told Hughie, it was a lump of raspberry jam he used.  He made a deal with Vogelbaum to research a way of killing supes and he could stay alive.
Vogelbaum, the man who caused it all.
He's cleaned the place out, so Hughie finds nothing  He then reveals the big plan to Hughie.  He's got IED's rigged to explode and scatter the altered Compound V across the globe.  It would acheive total atmospheric penetration within six to seven months.  Anyone with Compound V already in them will die, even non-supes who've been exposed.

Hughie says he's doing a despicable thing and why the hell did he get him involved in this if he was planning on killing him as well, he says it's like something the Nazi's would do.  Billy says this is actually it's more like the Jews killing the Nazi's.  He then freaks Hughie out by asking him how he knows Hughie is there...

We cut to Frenchie on the phone to Hughie who has arrived back in New York and is picking up some food for the three of them.  Frenchie looks at The Female and wonders if he helped her at all by bringing her into this.  Then he hears a noise and looks under a nearby cloth thrown over a box.  He sees a huge bomb with a few seconds left on the timer.  He smiles and turns to The Female and says:

Frenchie: "Je T'amie.  From the first."
I.. I have something in my eye..
And BOOM!  The bomb explodes taking them out and most of the top of the flatiron building their HQ was in.  Hughie, stunned from the blast and knocked back onto the hood of a car starts having various things Billy said to him over the last two years swim through his mind and comes to a horrible realisation:

Hughie: "Oh fuckin' God Almighty.  I'm supposed to stop you."

Hughie is still in shock as paramedics examine him.  He recovers his wits and when he shows his CIA credentials to the police he is allowed to go.  He visits MM's mum who is a huge mound of flesh with snake like breasts, and reluctantly takes a feed, he later says he did this in the hope he be made stronger when he goes up against Billy.  Then he returns to his hotel room and finds the landlord was the one who kept wanking under his door.  When he asks him why, the landlord says he was paid to do it by an Englishman who wanted Hughie to move to a better place.

Inside Hughie says to Jamie that he has no chance now against Billy, and he should hand things over to the CIA.  He rings Monkey, but before he can say much Monkey asks him why the hell Billy has had The Empire State building evacuated? Hughie realises he has no time left to get others involved and travels to the top floor of the building and confronts Billy up there.
Only Hughie can save the day now.
Hughie asks Billy if the city hasn't suffered enough?  Billy says there are no explosive packages in the city, he's just here to set off the signal.  Billy says he's got the same feeling he always gets when he's really going for it.

Billy: "Like I'm somewhere else.  Watchin' it happen."

Hughie says his plan is something a supervillain would come up with.  Billy congratulates him on fighting dirty  Billy then goads Hughie saying he can't look him in the eye, can't say his name... And Hughie charges Billy, misses and goes crashing through the window.  Without thinking Billy grabs Hughie and has a hold of him as Hughie dangles from his hand.  Hughie frantically apologises and Billy laughs saying:

Billy: "After everythin's happened. You're sayin' sorry to me".

Then the glass he is using to steady himself breaks.  In the gap between issues they both fall to a lower platform.  Billy lies slumped with a broken neck, but still alive and Hughie is caught on a spiked railing with one of the spikes right through one of his legs.
Trust Hughie to win by being daft.
Hughie manages to snap the railing and pull the spike out.  Billy tells him to use his belt as a tourniquet so he doesn't bleed out.  Hughie starts to cry, saying "how could you?  How could you do it?"  Referring to the deaths of MM, Frenchie and The Female.  Billy says he just wanted them out of the way so they'd die not knowing.

Billy: "It ain't like I don't know it's wrong.  But it feels like a dream.  An' it's what lets me get the job done without worryin' about it later...Probably means I'm some sort o' psychopath."

And Hughie was meant to stand up to him and stop him doing terrible things like his little brother did when they were young.  He admits to setting up all the situations where Hughie could learn to toughen up, but it never worked.  Hughie says he still can't believe Billy turned out like this.  Billy comments that without the supe seeking missles they'd be in a lot of bother right now.  "You need people like me" he smiles.
A streak Billy never managed to destroy.
The action cuts to Jess Bradley, watching the TV in horror.  Stillwell has thrown her under a bus and made her the company scapegoat.  All the control he gave her over the supe program is revealed, of course the fact that Stillwell has been setting her up to take the fall from the first time they met is not lost on her as she tears her hair out in rage and frustration.

Billy says all the bomb locations are stored in his phone, so Hughie can give it to Rayner.  Hughie says that Bily did all this for the memory of one woman.  Billy asks if there was anything he wouldn't do for Annie?  He asks Hughie if he loves her, Hughie says he does though he might have fucked things up.

Billy: "Grab hold of her Hughie.  Wrap yer arms around her.  Breathe her in. Feel her strength inside your own.  And never, ever let her go."

The police helicopters appear and Billy tells Hughie he doesn't have much time left, Hughie has to kill him.  Hughie refuses, Billy says he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life as a quadraplegic.  Hughie says he deserves it.  Billy tells him that he killed Hughie's parents.  When Hughie says he doesn't believe him, Billy relentlessly and sneeringly describes Hughies parents and every detail of their house, riling Hughie up until he screams "CUNT!!!" and stabs Billy with the broken railing spike. "Nice one mate" says Billy and dies.
Death of a monster.
Frantically Hughie phones his parents and his mum answers and says they had a nice visit from Hughie's English friend and he got on very well with them and all Hughie can do as she natters on is sit and stare and that brings this arc to an end.  Just one last issue to go.

YOU FOUND ME - Six months later, a relaxed Hughie is basking on the roof of the building with Jamie on his knee.  He takes Jamie inside and goes to where the Brooklyn Bridge is.  Work on it has finished and it will be reopened that day.  He shows his credentials and is allowed onto the bridge.  He looks at the memorial plaque and scratches "M.M. F + F" in the wet concrete around it with tears in his eyes.
Hughie blackmails Vought.
He then goes to meet Stillwell.  Vought has reformed as American Consolidated.  Hughie hands Stillwell a small sample of the explosive Compound V variant.  He tells Stillwell if Vought try selling the idea of supes in the military again, he'll set off all the dirty Compound V bombs. Stillwell says New York is a merchantile town and they just did business.

Hughie: "Jesus Christ you bloodless fuckin'... who are you?"

Stillwell: "I'm an expression of the corporation.  I'm the voice that says, you're right, sue us.  That never gets upset.. We always win."

Hughie asks what they'll do with the supes now military usage is out of the question.  "Why something else" replies Stillwell.

Meanwhile Rayner is having a rally in support of her Senate bid.  But as she makes her speech, the recording Billy made of their last sordid sexual encounter starts playing over the tannoy.  She shouts that she's a whore over and over, and it gets topped off by a plane flying past with a banner saying she's a whore.  It was Monkey who was responsible as she didn't confirm him as permanent CIA director.  Hughie is amused and thanks Monkey for the passport as well.

Stillwell is shown a team of superheroes.  But he tells his employees to do something that isn't "the same old shit dressed up."  When he is alone, he looks out of a window across New York, then slumps forward and says to himself "bad product."
Reunited at last.
Finally Annie returns.  She and Hughie have a long hug, and after some affectionate banter he says to her:

Hughie: "I never had to turn into a monster I saw all sorts o' nightmares an' made all sorts o' daft mistakes, but I got to stay the fella I am.  An' the fella I am loves Annie January."

She says that's good because Annie January loves Hughie.  They decide to make the Brooklyn Bridge their new special place.  They hold hands and start to spin round.

Narrator: "It stirred an old familiar terror, if only for a moment.  But she saw and she smiled and she said..."

Annie: "It's Okay.  It's Okay Hughie.  You found me."
And that brings The Boys to an end.  And it's a volume that really puts you through the emotional wringer.  On first reading Billy's plot seems to come out of nowhere.  But reread the series and hints and clues of what he's up to are dropped here and there from book 2 onwards.  Even though he stared into the abyss too long and became worse than what he was fighting, he still retained enough humanity to have Hughie around to stop him.  The deaths of Mother's Milk, Frenchie and The Female are harsh.  Frenchie calmly telling The Female he has always loved her always makes me snuffle, and The Female's death is doubly tragic as she seemed to have managed to overcome the violence in her soul.  I think maybe Hughie also survived because he was the most "innocent" of The Boys.  He only kills three people during the two years he's part of the group.  One was by mistake, and the other two were due to the manipulative goading of Billy.  It's also satisfying to see Stillwell suddenly realise he's never going to be able do anything viable with the leftover supes, and how useless they really are.  And the return of Annie at the end is the icing on the cake.  Without her the series would have been a much darker and miserable story and maybe Hughie wouldn't have kept his humanity without her.

So In Summary Then....

Interestingly it's two non-badasses who get to walk away at the end.  Annie is just as much a non-badass as Hughie.  She does harden up emotionally as the series moves along, but it's to survive almost intolerable bullying and when the time comes she quits what was potentially a very good life with no regrets or qualms at all thanks to the confidence she's gained from finally having a "real" person in her life who loves her with no strings attached.  I said in the intro that the series is basically a battle for Hughie's soul between two people - her and Billy - who never actually meet and she wins by allowing Hughie to stay Hughie.  Billy is the one constantly nagging, lying, undermining and manipulating Hughie in an attempt to make him a killer like him under the spurious guise of trying to help him toughen up and the hidden motive of making Hughie someone capable of stopping him.

Annie allows Hughie to be who he really is, a sweet-natured guy who just happens to be fiercely intelligent and perceptive when allowed to do things his own way.  And it's that Hughie who gets to walk off into the sunset with Annie.  And indeed Annie gets to walk off into the sunset with Hughie, for a character intially conceived as a one-note joke, Ennis made her a fully rounded human being and not just an appendage for Hughie.  They are an equal couple at the end, and while the ending is bittersweet in all other respects, their joyful happiness on the final page is what you take away from the end of the series.  A romance that was tested more sorely than most and endured.  Lovely stuff.
Overall of the four on-going series' of Ennis I have read, The Boy's is by far my favourite, it has the right mixture of humour and sweetness to leaven the cynicism and nihilism some aspects of the tale has, keeping it from becoming as unrelentingly grim and depressing Punisher MAX series.  When Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, he posited that the appearance of superheroes would change the course of history.  The Boy's says that actually things wouldn't change very much at all.  As long as they were raised to tow the company/political line and well looked after they'd simply be revenue creating beings with negligable impact outside of pop-culture ephemera.  It's only through Vought-American's arrogance, greed and hubris that this backfires in the end.  Even Stillwell at the end realises that for any purpose they are yet another bad Vought product.

And oddly, despite everything, this series also reignited my interest in superheroes.  Having been somewhat sniffy about them when I returned to comics, I soon realised what Ennis probably knows himself.  There is a real totemic power to the idea of the superhero that can't be kept down.  It can be deconstructed, reconstructed, reinvented, satarised and parodied with increasing viciousness but it can't ever really be destroyed.  So I can enjoy The Boys for it's dark take on them in the same way I can enjoy All Star Superman for it's celebration of them.  And I'd never have read All Star Superman or any of the other superhero books now in my bookcase if it wasn't for The Boys.
 So thanks Garth.  And thanks Darick Robertson for your many wonderful pages and covers.  And thank you Russ Braun for the uneviable task of stepping into Robertson's shoes and pulling it off magnificently.  And thanks John McCrea for your arcs as well, and for making "Highland Laddie" especially work as as well as it did. This series was a real treat and without it I possibly wouldn't have returned to comics as fully as I now have and made Garth Ennis shoot up to second place in my list of favourite comicbook writers (Alan Moore being tops of course so he's in the company of the best).  And so ends my look at The Boys, I hope some of you out there enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Boys Book 11: Over The Hills With The Swords Of A Thousand Men (#60-65)

"You fucking fucking fuck you fucked my life!!" - The Homelander

It's all coming to a head now. This penultimate arc is six issues long. Vought-American, the corrupt multinational company that created and manages the artifically created superhumans, is seeing it's plan for superheroes as part of national defence reach fruition thanks to the Vice President being in their pocket and much support in the corridors of power.  Meanwhile The Homelander, leader of the premier superteam The Seven has his own plan to seize power in the name of helping Vought but really just for his own amusement and has tricked many other supes into going along with him.  Finally The Boys, the empowered team of five who are backed by the CIA to deal with superhero related problems, are about to uncover the ultimate Vought-American secret. At the same time, Billy Butcher, their leader is on course to finally face off against The Homelander, the supe who raped his wife and caused her later death thanks to a superpowered foetus bursting out of her one night.  How will Billy survive such a confrontation when he is so totally outmatched?  Read on.

It begins with the President of the United States "Dakota Bob" Schaeffer groaning about having to spend some time meeting kids with unusual pets with the moronic "Vic The Veep" Vice President.  His assisstant is telling him that they have been switching the men in his security team around regularly to make sure Vought's men are kept out.  Bob says it doesn't do much for his confidence that he could be surrounded by men with a vested interest in NOT taking a bullet for him or even pulling the trigger themselves.
The soon-to-be-late President.
He and Vic go and speak to the children.  One of them has a wolverine in a cage called Tommy.  Vic The Veep opens the cage and the wolverine flies out and attacks the President's face.  It keeps biting and clawing and when his security team can finally shoot it safely, he is utterly dead due to missing most of his face.

Meanwhile at Boys HQ, Mother's Milk lets out a stream of obscenities and pitches his PC and desk out of the window before storming off out.  Wondering what set him off, Hughie, Frenchie and Billy log onto the last website he visited.  It is a porn site and there is a picture of two women holding onto one man.

Hughie: "What..?"

Billy: "Well the useless fuckin' crackhead cunt slag hangin' off the dickhead - that's his wife.  An' the other one..."

Hughie: "Aw no, that's Janine!  That's his wee girl!"

Billy: "The dirty fuckin' slapper got her doin' mother-daughter porn."

Billy says this is just what he doesn't need right now.  He needs MM "switched on".  He then leaves saying he'll be back tommorrow.
Mother's Milk is displeased.
Stillwell is on an aeroplane, talking on the phone.  He says he feels somewhat cheated that a complex paramilitary operation has been rendered unessessary by a "halfwit and a carnivorous animal."  He says it's time to bring in Team Titanic.

On The Seven's base, The Deep and A-Train are discussing their disposability after the death of Jack From Jupiter.  The Homelander comes in and tells them to get lost as he needs the room.  When they have gone he uses his X-Ray vision to see Queen Maeve putting the bugs back in and he grins to himself.  Then the people he summoned arrive, they are are parody of a Rob Liefeld style 90's superteam called "Paralactic".
About time the Image era got a kicking
We then cut to Hughie and Annie in bed together.  Hughie is apologising to her.  Everytime he tries to even kiss her, he gets an image of her performing oral sex on A-Train and the others.  He says he's been dreaming about it as well.  She sighs and says he seems to want to "wallow in it" she tells him to "sort it out.  Please."

At MM's house he gets a phonecall from Janine.  She apologises for what happened, she just wanted to get back at him that was all.  She's got away from her mom, and is safe, but she doesn't want him to find her just yet, and she promises "I'm never going near mom again."

Stillwell is back at Vought headquarters and introduces Jess to Team Titanic, a superteam made up of leftovers from other superteams.  Stillwell tells them their orders are to protect him and to also protect Jess, saying she is "important to the future of this company".  She smiles to herself upon hearing this.
Team Titanic.
On The Seven's base, A-Train and The Deep are leaving.  The Homelander talking with "those fucking maniacs" was the last straw.  Watching them on his phone via the bugs, Billy says "good girl, yer majesty" to himself.  Later MM returns and apologises for his behaviour.  Bily says it's OK and they get down to business.  Vought haven't made a move against them yet even though they are in charge now via Vic The Veep.  Billy says it's back to checking the surveillance with a fine tooth comb.

Stillwell and Jess are having a meal together in a restaurant.  Jess wants to know how much disbanding The Seven will affect revenue streams.  Stillwell says The G-Men (see book 4) and Payback (see book 6) are still earning them a lot of money.  By the time the public realise they won't be coming back the defence contracts will have kicked in.  Jess wonders how they'll deal with The Homelander.  Stillwell says a sanction against him is in place and he'll tell her what it is later.
It's a trap!
Back with The Boys and MM makes a discovery.  The mysery code that's been bugging him was actually O-O-O not zero-zero-zero.  He says to call The Legend because if he can get into the Vought system with that code:

Mother's Milk: "I just might give you Black fuckin' Noir on a plate."

Hughie then tells Billy he wants nothing more to do with the violence.  He'll investigate and plant bugs and so on but he's "no fuckin' hurtin' folk ever again."  Billy rolls his eyes at this saying they've been down this road before, but Hughie says he means it, the violence stays with him in a way it doesn't for the others.  Before they can talk further, Paralactic burst in through the door.

In the gap between issues, The Boys (except for Hughie who cowers under a desk) utterly destroy Paralactic.  One of them is still alive and tells them Vought sent them before his self destruct is tripped and he blows up.  Meanwhile, CIA Director Rayner is summoned to the Oval Office.  Vic The Veep just sits there looking gormless, while a Vought employee tells Rayner that all CIA activity bar counter-terroism is suspended for now.
Vic the Ve.. President.
Back with The Boys and Hughie decides to confess something.  He tells them at Herogasm (book 5), Black Noir found him and stuck his thumb up his arse.  He also 'fesses up to taking Queen Maeve's file from Doc Peculiars and tells them about The Homelander tricking Maeve into having sex with Black Noir.  And that might be why she first agreed to put the bugs in for them.  When Billy asks him what he wanted the file for, he goes bright red:

Billy: ".. you do realise that if this is what saves the day it'll be 'cos you was after pictures for a wank."

And The Female lets out a joyful laugh, the first time she's been heard to make any noise, much to the rest of The Boy's surprise.
Rayner calls Billy and tells him about the blanket suspension. Billy wonders if The Seven are being held back for "somethin' fuckin' horrible" and asks if she handed the file over to the airforce, the one that contained information in how to adjust missiles so they could home in on Compound V enhanced brains (see book 9).  She says she handed it over to NORAD.  She asks if he is going to hit back at Vought and he says he has sent in the "experts."

Frenchie and The Female infiltrate Vought HQ via the roof.  Inside Team Titanic, Stillwell and Jess Bradley are all hanging about.  One of Team Titanic mentions The Homelander having a plan and assumes Vought know about it.

Stillwell: ".. pretend just for a second, that I don't know what you're talking about."
That's how you make an entrance in style.
Before the conversation can go any further, Frenchie and The Female crash through the skylight and start fighting Team Titanic.  Back with Hughie and Billy, Billy takes him up on the roof saying he knows Hughie doesn't want to be part of the rough stuff but:

Billy: "If this don't work, I bleedin' well give up."

On the Seven's base, The Homelander finalises his plan over the phone and then says to himself:

The Homelander: "Tommorrow, the sun rises on a different world."

Then all of a sudden he rushes to the toilet so fast he smashes through the cubicle door, and vomits.  He then starts whimpering to himself, "oh Jesus, what have I done?"

As an army of supes descend upon the Whitehouse, Hughie is face-to-face with A-Train.  Billy starts playing a recording of when A-Train returned to the base after killing Hughie's girlfriend by mistake way back in book one. This sends Hughie into a rage and he starts shouting at A-Train about how much she meant to him, while A-Train just hysterically pleads for his life.

Billy says there is no point in speeches, "best thing to do is just get it fuckin' on with."  Hughie is still reluctant, so Billy plays him the recording of the male members of The Seven picking out Annie as someone they could sexually exploit:

Billy:  "for the last fuckin' time.  They think we're shit."

And this pushes Hughie over the edge of reason and he kicks A-Train's head clean off his shoulders.
Billy really is a magnificent bastard.
At the same time Frenchie and The Female are fighting Team Titanic.  A powerblast severs one of Frenchie's arms off, and a stricken Female rips one of Team Titanic's member's ribcage out in retaliation.  Stillwell calmly tells Team Titanic to stand down.  He believes Vought and The Boys have been the victim of a hoax. He believes they were set up to keep each other busy while another's plans reached fruition.

On The Seven's base, Annie is packing to leave.  A melancholy Queen Maeve says it's alright for Annie, she has someone.  Annie wonders if she still does, and supposes she'll just have to take that risk.  As they walk into the bay area, The Homelander confronts them.  He tells them he has a plan in place.  Maeve says this has nothing to do with his plan.

The Homelander: "No, this is personal.  You know what I'm going to do to you."

Queen Maeve grabs Annie and hurls her into the sky outside the base.  She charges The Homelander and brings her sword down on his head.  It shatters.  Her decapitated head goes flying past Annie at speed and she flies away in terror.
Queen Maeve sacrifices herself.
At Boys' HQ, they are watching the news coverage of the supes gathering at various government buildings.  Frenchie calls Billy and puts Stillwell on the phone to him.  Stillwell says that The Homelander has managed to persuade the majority of supes to seize the control of the government in the name of Vought.  He says Vought had no such plan of violence and could Billy's team take a back seat while they try and sort this out.

Billy says nope, and hangs up on Stillwell, then he tells MM to give the media every single bit of dirt they have collected on the supes over the years, including the photos of The Homelander killing the family, to the mass media.  When Hughie asks what he's doing:

Billy: "Goin' to Washington.  You had your turn Hughie.  Now I'm havin' mine."

Billy and Hughie are on a plane.  Hughie is watching the news with all the coverage their release of their files has provoked as well as the fact Washington is crawling with supes.  Billy says to Hughie:

Billy: "All I've been doin' is trynna toughen you up mate.  I just can't stand the thought of you gettin' hurt.  'Cos this fuckin' world'll eat you alive if you let it."
The Homelander pays Stillwell a visit.
We get a quick look at the airforce loading up with specially adapted missiles, then it's over to Stillwell's office where the Homelander is confronting him.  The Homelander observes that Billy has let the cat out of the bag.  Stillwell says he can't imagine how many years of careful planning he's wrecked.  The Homelander says he was never going to be invited to the party once the defence contracts were in place.  He checks Stillwell's heartbeat:

The Homelander: "Still eighty over sixty.  You're about to be torn limb from limb and you're completely calm.  I think I've finally met a superhuman."

Stillwell insults the Homelander calling his actions "a spoiled child's personal Auschwitz".  Then he goes to throw himself out of the window.  The Homelander gets angry and tells him not to fuck around.  Stillwell just repeats "Kill me now" at him. Finally The Homelander leaves shouting at Stillwell to keep watching.

Stillwell: "I will believe me.  Or I would if I thought you had something worth seeing."

At The Whitehouse, the gathered supes are wondering why Vic hasn't released a statement due to the support they are giving him and Vought.  They believe the massing army is Dakota Bob loyalists.  A reporter comes up to Oh Father and asks him about the evidence of his paedophilia as released by The Boys to the media and Oh Father breaks the reporter's jaw.

Billy and Hughie arrive at the line of tanks and infantry pointing at The WHitehouse.  Bily has been given seniority there and the leader of the armed forces consults with him over the plan to take down the supes.  The Homelander was spotted dropping into the building twenty minutes previously.  Billy tosses Hughie some teabags and tells him to go make a drink.

When Billy finishes his cuppa, he gets out the crowbar he carries with him and tells Hughie he's off to confront The Homelander.  He tells one of the soldiers to shoot Hughie in the kneecaps if he tries to follow and sets off across the lawn towards The Whitehouse.
One man and his crowbar.
Mother's Milk finally gets through to Hughie by phone and asks him about Black Noir.  When Hughie says what about him?  MM says "It mighta been him all along".  He says if Butcher is going into the Whitehouse he may not be prepared for what he finds there:

Mother's Milk: "He ain't gonna find no fuckin' superhero waitin'.  He gonna be up against some other shit altogether."

Inside the Oval Office is blood smeared carnage with only The Homelander left alive.  Billy comes in and The Homelander tosses him Vic the Veep's head, observing "he did have brains after all".  Billy says there is a dickhole in the head. "Well you know how it is" smiles The Homelander.

Billy: "Impressive stuff"

The Homelander: "I'm not trying to fucking impress anyone!!"
President Homelander?
He says the world is his, he says he has a right to "take what's mine".  Billy says people are not his toys, especially one person in particular.

Outside MM is still on the phone to Hughie putting it all together.  He says Vought wanted to take no chances with The Homelander going out of control.  They can't use the threat of a bomb instead they create a being who is "better, stronger" to keep an eye on him.  That being is Black Noir.

Mother's Milk: "The Homelander's happy 'cause he's in charge.  Vought're happy because they got their livin' fuckin' weapon right next to his target.  Black Noir is happy 'cause if he ever gets the word - and this is the goddamn reason he exists - he can get the fuck to it."

Back in the Oval Office The Homelander says he remembers nothing of hurting Billy's wife, nor doing what he did in the photos.  Bily goes to belt The Homelander with his crowbar but Black Noir suddenly appears.

MM tells Hughie that The Homelander behaves himself and Black Noir slips into the background.  Shit nearly kicks off when the photos do the round, but The Homelander is a big earner and Vought are reluctant to pull the trigger.  More questions, like how did Black Noir survive 9/11 if he supposedly couldn't fly?  How did he walk unharmed from the wreckage of a burning plane?  And what would happen if you spent all your time with your target but were unable to fulfil your mission? 

Maybe you'd try and make it happen.  The final puzzle piece was in the transcripts of the file on Queen Maeve, in which The Homelander tricks her into fucking Black Noir because they are the same size and shape.  And in the Oval Office, Black Noir reveals himself to be The Homelanders identical twin.
I must admit, I never saw this coming.
Black Noir:  "I put on your silly suit and did things.  So many things they'll never know.  Lovely things I liked so much."

He explains he killed the family and sent the photos to Billy and Vought.  The Homelander is gobsmacked and says he would never have done the things he's done if he hadn't thought himself somehow capable of what he did in the photos.

The Homelander: "Oh Jesus Christ Almighty.  Do you know what this means?"

Billy: "It means you turned yourself into a fuckin' psychopath by mistake."

The Homelander and Black Noir start brawling with The Homelander screaming at Black Noir about how he ruined his life.  Billy makes his getaway back to the army line and the military start their assault on the supes.   The adapted homing missiles prove very adept at blowing the supes out of the sky. 
Billy's final revenge.
And finally all that's left is the almost skeletal body of Black Noir staggering out of the Whitehouse dragging part of the dead Homelander with him.  The military open fire on him and force him to his knees.  Billy walks over to him and using his crowbar, opens up Black Noirs skull, scoops out his brain and squishes it.  Killing Black Noir for good.

Billy: "Oh Becky.  I'm sorry love.  That ain't what you would've wanted at all.  That was a hundred percent me.  You would've have hated what I've done with me life.  An' what I'm gonna do'd hate most of all."

Well, that was an epic ending to the Homelander/Vought plot and we're not done yet.  Seven more issues to go.  It's great seeing how plot elements seeded through the previous books paid off in this one.  The oddness surrounding Black Noir was finally explained, the reason why The Homelander couldn't recall some of the dreadful things he had done, and I almost felt sorry for him thinking he was schizophrenic when in fact it was Black Noir trying to provoke events into allow him to fulfil his mission and destroy The Homelander.  Queen Maeve's death was very sad.  Although not a main character it was interesting to see how she developed from a one-dimensional sex mad lush into a severe PTSD sufferer who reached out tentatively to Annie and ended up sacrificing her life to save her.  Billy finally got his revenge after years of hating the wrong person, and he restates that he's not done it in Becky's name because she'd have hated it, but it was all selfishly for his own sake.  With most of the major supes dead, Vought disgraced, and no President or Vice President left in power, what is left to make up the final arc in the series?  Well there's been another conspiracy brewing since Book 2 ended and events will reach their explosive climax in the last book of the series. Don't miss it!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Boys Book 10: Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker (#1-6)

"I'll be honest with you, I'm scared shitless here.  I... I don't wanna end up bein' that bloke again" - Billy Butcher

In a world where a corrupt multinational company called Vought-American have been manufacturing superheroes since before World War 2 to one day realise their goal of superheroes as the main arm of US national defence, a small group of five enhanced individuals called "The Boys" are backed by the CIA in order to police the worst excessess of "Supe" behaviour.  Their leader is an Englishman called Billy Butcher, a man who due to personal tragedy hates all supes with a fiery, burning passion and none more so than the most powerful supe on earth - The Homelander.  Billy over the previous nine books has proven himself to be a fascinating monster.  On the outside an affable, laddish bloke with a filthy vocabulary and an un-PC sense of humour, he has shown that there is no extreme he won't go to, to get things to happen the way he wants them to.  He lies, manipulates, plots and plans and keeps his cards extremely close to his chest.  Since the series first started, we as readers still know as little about him as the rest of The Boys, but finally in this final miniseries, we are to get the full story of the making of Billy Butcher.  I will state up front this is a magnificent set of issues, heartfelt and moving it's a real triumph of both writing and art, that I'm not sure I can fully do justice too. But I'll try.

It begins with Billy return to his childhood home in the Eastend of London.  His father has died and an obsequius mortician has had him laid out in an open coffin.  Billy asks to be left alone with him, and the mortician leaves.  Billy sits by his father's coffin and observes that he still has all the cunts round here terrified of him, then he begins to tell his story to his father's body.
Billy's mum, Billy and his little brother Lenny.
His father was a baker by trade, and was "king" of the local area, which he ruled through violence and fear as well as shagging many of the local wives.  Billy could never understand why as his mum was a "bleedin' saint".  But his dad would regularly beat her senseless.  We see Billy and Lenny in bed one night listening to an assault on their mum and Lenny says:

Lenny: "Why can't our dad be like everyone elses?  Why do we have to get him?"

Billy then recalls how people would say it must be nice coming from the Eastend, and how there is a sense of community there, but he remembers his mum vomiting in the street after one beating and no one came to help her because they were scared of his dad, and all he could think was "the Luftwaffe missed a bit."

Billy would act up in school and one day got expelled for punching a PE teacher in the nuts when he tried to break up a fight Billy was having.  His dad gave him his first beer after that and told him that while Lenny was a bit of a girl, Billy was more like him.  Those were the "magic words" that put Billy back on the straight and narrow for a bit.

Not long after Billy's dad had a stroke that left one arm useless, and not long after that he hit their mum so hard he caved in one of her eye sockets.  So one night Billy grabbed a knife and decided he was going to kill his father.  Lenny tried to stop him and Billy lashed out and knocked him into a wall.  Blood pouring down his face and tearful, Lenny pleads with Billy not to do it, and what it would do to their mum to have Billy be a killer.

Lenny: "Billy, you'll break her heart!"
Even teenage Billy could be terrifying.
Billy reluctantly stands down and they talk for a bit.  Billy says he's not going to work for his father in the family business, Lenny says they need to keep making ends meet.  Billy shows him a leaflet for the Royal Marines and says he's going to join up.  Back in the present Billy tells his father's corpse that Lenny saved his life, but:

Billy: "It would have felt so good, slidin' that knife between your fuckin' ribs."

His reminiscing jumps forward to his time as a Royal Marine during the Falklands war.  His war only lasted three weeks, but he "packed in quite a lot."  His team were dropped via helicopter on a mountainside, but there was only one "Argie" patrol on it and the S.A.S got them first.  His platoon were then given the job of taking Mount Harriet in a push to retake the capital of Port Stanley.  Billy's team discuss this, saying they want to make it through safely, Billy says he justs wants to "kill some cunt".

In the push later that night, his team are trapped in a bunker under heavy Argentinian fire.  Billy says the only way out of this would be to charge the gun emplacement.  After some debate they do so.  Billy reaches the Argentians and kills them all with his bayonet.  Unfortunately the rest of the team are killed and Billy has also taken a bullet to the chest.  He lies down and starts to drift away.

Billy: "Didn't hurt really.  Just got harder and harder to breathe.  I sorta knew I was gonna be closin' me eyes in a bit an' wouldn't be openin' them again.  An' that was alright with me."
I find this sequence almost unbearably melancholic
However he was found by medics in time and shipped back home as the war ended two days later.  Once he got out of hospital and rehab he found his mates had all transferred on, or been promoted or just left.  The new soldiers would treat him like a hero because he'd done what they hadn't, he'd killed.  Billy started assaulting and picking fights with his fellow marines until he got court martialled out of the army.  He didn't give a fuck and kept on getting "lagered up" and fighting in pubs.  One day he was beaten senseless by six men but:

Billy: "That was all right, really, 'cos the day after that I met Becky."

Billy and Becky are sitting next to each other on the tube.  Billy has two black eyes, and Becky smiles at him and says he looks like a panda.  She shows him his face in her pocket mirror and he smiles back and says "you got any bamboo?"  She invites him out for a drink and he accepts.  She was like no one he had ever met before "she made you wanna be you at your best."  They chat for a bit in the pub, she tells him she's a social worker.  Billy goes to get a second drink and to shut up the "mouthy twat" by the jukebox.  She asks him not to,  when he asks why, she says because "it's nicer if you don't".
Meet Becky.
A week later they go out to dinner together.  He asks her why she doesn't like him having more than one drink.

Becky: "You look angry.  You look like you can't wait to make yourself angrier."

He realises it's been making him behave like his dad and he gets a glass of water instead.  He then tells her she's amazing, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and they end up making love that night.  And for Billy it really is the first time he's made love, everything before that was just "servicin' a need."  He stopped drinking entirely after that and started working on building sites.  He was utterly in love with her and the memory of her is "a knife" he can't stop pushing inside himself.
A far cry from his affair with Rayner.
He takes her out to dinner with his mum and Lenny who is now at university.  Lenny observes when Billy is with her he looks like he's at peace for the first time. Then Billy, Lenny and Becky get to work on his mum trying to persuade her to escape her abusive situation.  It takes some doing as she keeps making excuses for him and saying she remembers him how he was when they first met.  Becky says those memories are dead:

Becky: "He killed them with his fists.  You're hanging onto a shadow an' if you don't believe me, try throwin' your arms around it.  There ain't nothin' there."

And his mum finally agrees to leave.  They all go and collect her and his father rains abuse down on them.  He calls Becky a "homewrecker!  A fuckin' evil cunt!"  Billy goes to hit him but Becky pleads with him to stop.  His dad sneers that Billy was too cowardly to take him on when he was still able bodied, trying to provoke Billy further, but Becky says "he ain't worth it" and they all leave.  That night Billy proposes to Becky and she joyfully accepts.  On their wedding day Billy says to her:

Billy: "Am I dreamin'?"

Becky: "No, it only feels like it, 'cos we found each other Billy.  Out of all the millions of people out there, we found each other.  Ain't it the most brilliant thing in the world?"
Oh, all of my feels...
But tragedy struck soon after.  Lenny was hit by a bus and killed.  After the wake, Billy sadly remembers how Lenny told him never to lose Becky.  Later that night they have a conversation about having children.  She says he's a "brilliant husband" and would be a great dad.  Billy is hesitant, he worries that if he had kids his father's nature might come out in him or he'd pass it along somehow.  He says they are in no rush so why not leave it for now.  In the present, Billy says he regrets one thing about that:

Billy: "It made Becky sad.  An' anything that took the smile of her face, even for a second, I'm gonna regret that 'til the day I die."

Billy and Becky carry on in wedded bliss.  We get a snapshot of how much Billy has changed when he goes out for a meal with some work colleagues of hers.  One of them, a bloke called Guy is a pontificating lefty bore, but Billy is polite, doesn't swear or raise his voice and has a perfectly civilised debate with him.

Billy: "There was a time when ol' Guy woulda been head first through the window inside the first ten seconds.  Now I almost felt sorry for the cunt."

We then move onto Billy and Becky on holiday in Florida which she had arranged for Billy's birthday.  They catch a glimpse of The Seven while they are there.  Becky says they're creepy and "Nazi circus freaks."  Bily jokes about them and laughing she says to him:

Billy: "I love you 'cos you got more heart than any man I ever met."
Most likely the last time Billy was truly happy.
That night she stays in while he goes for a walk after dinner.  When he gets back she is miserable and subdued.  This continues after they get back to the UK.  She doesn't want to be touched and jumps at the slightest sound.   He didn't understand what was wrong with her and she lied and said she was getting tests from the doctor to find out what was the matter with her.  One day he visits his brother's grave and says he thinks he's losing her.

Then comes the terrible night, three months after their Florida trip when Becky died.  The superpowered foetus burst out of her and attacked Billy with it's laser eyes and he had to beat it to death with the lamp.  That story he told Hughie in book one was true at least.  And when it's dead, all he can do is say to Becky's corpse is "talk to me." over and over.  But she would never talk again.
One of the most nightmarish scenes I've ever read.
Billy: "Becky was mine.  But the world lost her. She was a loss to the world.  That's what I would have said at her funeral, except I never got to go."

We then see Billy in a police interrogation room being talked at by a Vought representative.  He gives Billy two choices, either his wife died of internal hemorraging after a miscarriage or he murdered her after she told him she was bearing her lovers child.  They are trying to blackmail him into absolving Vought of responsibility.  Billy asks the man what he would do if he couldn't see his wife again and then lunges at him and puts his eyes out with his thumbs.

Several days later, Mallory visits him in his cell and tells him the miscarriage story was the one the police went with at his request.  He tells Billy a little bit about the superhuman problem and what his superiors are trying to do about it, then he hands Billy Becky's diary and leaves him alone to read it.  In it Becky tells the whole story of how she was raped in Florida by The Homelander.  How she couldn't tell Billy about it because he'd get himself killed going after him.  She ends her story with the heartbreaking words:

Becky: "Oh Billy.  I never understood just what he sees in me.  I know he thinks I saved him from a life of God knows what and I'm the greatest person alive, he's never done telling me.  But I never thought I was really all that special.  I'm just the girl that loves him that's all."
Billy is understandably upset.
When a rage-filled Billy says it was only three months since it happened, Mallory says that super-foetuses have been observed growing normally for a short while then suddenly accelerating rapidly so she never knew she was pregnant.  He then says Billy can get his revenge by joining his new team and hands him a passport and money and says he's "been an American citizen since this morning".

We then jump forward to Billy and Mallory pulling up outside a Lakehouse with a supe team inside it.  Billy goes inside and kills every one of them with an automatic rifle.  Returning to Mallory, he laconically observes:

Billy: "I think I just got me sense o' humour back."

The final issue begins with Billy and Mallory meting out some punishment to a supe who got some policement injured at "the scene of your latest debacle".  When the man asks who the hell they are, Mallory replies:  "We're what happens.  Spread the word."  Later in the office, Mallory is dealing with bureacracy over the phone while Billy reads a file labelled "Beyond Vogelbaum: Improving Compound V"  in it is a photo of a headless ape (see Book 2).  Mallory grumbles about their new boss (most likely Rayner), then Mallory takes Billy to see The Legend.
There they discuss a new government bill to prevent superhuman conflict.  The Legend says most of the fights are mocked up anyway.  Mallory says the fact the bill didn't get enough votes to pass means that his and Billy's methods are more likely to be fallen back on.   Mallory wants to take down a big name supe to get more operational support and The Legend suggests The Webweaver.  He puts them in touch with Russian supe Vasilii Vorishikin (see books 2 and 6) whose superteam had once almost had a crossover with him.  They take The Webweaver down and within the year The Boys have been put together.

Billy goes to visit his mum for the first time since Becky died.  He has a puppy with him - Terror - a gift from a friend after The Legend said he should get something in his life to care for. He lies about what happened after Becky died, said he spent some time in a mental hospital, then went up north to do some security work and now works as a bodyguard in the US.  His mum has a new man in her life and is very happy much to his delight.  He then goes and visits Becky's grave for the first time.  He had a speech prepared but:

Billy: "What the fuck's cold marble next to the way her skin felt?  What's words in stone next to the green of her eyes?"

He says he knows Becky would hate what he's doing and what he's going to do.  That it's all on him because he "can't stand the thought of the cunt that done it bein' alive."  He says he's glad he doesn't believe in an afterlife because he'd never see her again.  He rounds off his "conversation" with his father by saying that if there's one thing he's proud of, that he couldn't have done without Becky, it was getting his mum away from him.  She met a good man who did everything he could "to put a smile on her face every day."
Billy reunites with his mum *sniff*
Billy: "An' me, I lied to her through my fuckin' teeth, so she wouldn't have had to worry about what scared her the most which is the thought that I've got your fuckin' evil in me."

And he ends his talk by pissing in the coffin, all over his dead father's face.  And that brings this last miniseries to a close.

I have to admit, this one was a little difficult to write up.  The two issues with him meeting, wooing, marrying and then losing Becky actually made me tear up a few times.  And Becky's diary kills me everytime.  What's so very fascinating about this miniseries is that while it explains Billy's pathological hatred of supes, it doesn't exonerate him.  In fact it further condemns him.  He is deep down a good man, his excuse about his father putting his evil inside him is just that, an excuse.  He always had it within himself to be a decent human being under the right circumstances and he could have honoured Becky by staying that good man he always could have been.  But he let himself take the easy way out and gave back in to the violence and hatred that was part of his upbringing.
Billy always gets the last word.
Becky was a wonderful person and in just two issues Ennis makes you love her as much as Billy does, and she would have absolutely hated what he became, in fact Billy acknowledges as much. Mallory in the previous volume described her death as one of two tragedies, and I believe the other tragedy was the way her death turned Billy into a monster, something Mallory, with the benefit of hindsight feels partly responsible for.  And it's hard not to want to point the finger at Mallory here. Billy himself thinks he would have reverted to his pre-Becky self anyway, even though it was the thing about himself he was most scared of. With the revelations in this volume, crucially only shared with the reader and not anyone else, Billy Butcher becomes one of the most fascinating and well-rounded characters I've ever read in a comicbook series, Ennis nails all the emotional beats perfectly, and with his background finally revealed and the ultimate target of his vengeance finally confirmed with only two books left to go we're on course for something pretty damn spectacular. Stay tuned!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Boys Book 9: The Big Ride (#48-59) PART TWO (NSFW)

NSFW:  A small incidence of multiple breasts.

"Behold, my triumphant fuckin' return" - Hughie

In a world much like our there is a corrupt multinational corporation called Vought-American who in the 1930's acquired the scientist who invented a serum called Compound V that would give normal humans superpowers.  By refining it into an incredibly pricey substance they were able to create the ultimate superhero "The Homelander" the most powerful on the planet.  Vought created more, giving the world "The Seven" all part of their long game plan to get superheroes employed in national defence.  A plan which also involves replacing the President of the USA with his dimwit VP, who will then push the plan through.  Over the years COmpound V leaked into the enviroment and more "supes" were born.  One was a woman called Annie January - hero name "Starlight" - who recently became a member of The Seven to replace a dead former member.  She was in a relationship with a man called Hughie Campbell who didn't know she was a supe.  And she didn't know he worked with four other people, Billy Butcher, Mother's Milk, The Frenchman and The Female.  Known collectively as "The Boys", their job is to police the supes and smack them down if they get out of line, as they have superstrength and resiliance too.  When Billy Butcher discovered their relationship he played Hughie the tape of Annie performing a reluctant sex act on three of The Seven to stay in the group and this led to him breaking up with her and fleeing back to his hometown in Scotland.  Annie went after him and they made up. During his time there he also met an a man who turned out to be the mysterious "Mallory" leader of The Boys Mk.1.  This collection contains three four issue arcs, which Billy starts moving the pieces on the board into their endgame positions as well as providing background on the creation of The Boys. 

This post is part two of the collection.  It contains the final two parts of "Barbary Coast" and all four issues of "The Big Ride".

BARBARY COAST [cont] - After the War Mallory felt he had no place anywhere.  He told his friends about what he saw and his friend say he wants people to work for him that are "Young and hungry".  Mallory says he was "angry", but his friend tells him that'll do and thats how Mallory started to join the newly formed CIA.  Mallory says however they dressed up their reasons for starting the CIA:

Mallory: "...dress it up how you like.  As a debt collected towards better time.  As protection for the future against repeat afflictions.  The meaning we had chosen was revenge."
The Avenging Squad return...
The CIA was formed, with Russia as the main target.  But one day he opened his newspaper and saw the superteam who would become Payback.  Before he could do anything about it, the Korean war broke out.

Mallory: "Anyone mentioning supes in national defence when they saw these guys would have been laughed out the door... But I watched them worming their way into popular culture.  Wrapping the flag around them tight.  And all I can think is this is going some where."

He was in Vietnam and witness the aftermath of the massacre of Ia Drang thanks to V.A.C's shitty gun.  Bobby Kennedy came after them and they dropped out of sight only to resurface three years later as Vought-American and with The Homelander (see book three for more info).  The Legend deliberately appeared at a memorial service (his son was killed at Ia Drang), Mallory says:

Mallory: "... the first one.  Not the bastard whelp he spawned with Queen Maeve" 

(Blarney Cock, who Hughie accidentally killed in book one).  The Legend turned out to be a goldmine of information on Vought.  So Mallory decided to do something about it.  He kidnapped Vogelbaum, leaving a corpse with a similar build and slashed wrists to make it look like he'd committed suicide.  He put Vogelbaum to work, making a stable for of Compound V for them.  This was in secret, only his direct superior knew.
Mallory can't bring himself to kill Vogelbaum
A few years later and Vogelbaum had perfected a version of Compound V that boosted strength and resilience.  Mallory became the first guinea pig for it's use.  Mallory then decided to create a similarly empowered team.  Hughie says he told him earlier that teams weren't the way to go. Hindsight is 20/20 sys Mallory:

Mallory: "I started looking for candidates, and it wasn't long before I came across Butcher."

Mallory says he can Hughie very little about Butcher he doesn't already know.  Hughie sys he told him about his wife almost immediately.  Mallory says it was just a way to get Hughie to stay.  He was born in London in 1965.  Joined the marines and fought in the Falklands war.  Got wounded, and came back.  Ended up being court martialled and kicked out after a series of violent assaults.  Which stopped after he met his wife.  One brother, who died in an accident.  Mother died recently, father still alive.  Hughie asks if it was a younger brother, it was, which means Billy was lying to him from the start.

Mallory:  "I wanted people who lived, breathed, ate and dreamed this thing".

President Dakota Bob covertly supported them.  It was probably him who contacted Billy about restarting The Boys.  With Butcher he has wanted an N.C.O, but Butcher was pure officer material.  He even came up with the name of their team.  They added Mother's Milk, Frenchie and The Female and subtley their mission changed from itelligence gathering to more violent suppression.
And just like that, they were so named.
It "crystallised" for Mallory after they went to a Vought pageant and Vought hit the panic switch and let loose sarin gas and killed all the children.  But all Billy could say was it "saves them some trouble." In ten years time they'd be dealing with them as supes.  Mallory told him "not every single supe is automatically a threat."  Billy says they all need to die in a genocide which he'd do if he could.

Billy: "As the old saying goes.  With great power comes the total fuckin' certainty that you're gonna turn into a cunt."

Mallory says he spent the next year trying to avoid the ramifications of what he had created. Then 9/11 happened.  They confronted The Seven, the Lamplighter killed his grandaughters and they agreed a truce with Vought.  The call from Rayner to disband The Boys was a blessing.  He says his crime was to give Billy a war. One where he can mete out brutality to those who hurt him and never have it end.  When he told Billy about wrapping up the loose end of Vogelbaum, Billy went into his house to kill him and came out and spat a lump of flesh on the ground.

Mallory: "There is no one on earth who hates like that man does."
Billy off to rip out Vogelbaum's throat. Nice.
Mallory washed his hands of The Boys and retired to the coast.  Hughie says Mallory is a monster for what he unleashed on the world.

Hughie: "You just sit out here on your coast.  Carry on lookin' the past in the eye and' feelin' clean."

He leaves and rejoins Annie.  He tells her exactly what he does for a living and that he wants her to go somewhere safe because trouble is coming. He can't stand the though of her getting hurt:

Hughie: "Because I love you.  No matter what goes on between us.  I still love you."
Finally the truth from Hughie's side.
Back with Mallory he hears someone and goes into his house.  He pours himself a drink and when a voice off panel (obviously Billy) asks him what he told Hughie, he says "everything".  Mallory says his daughter never spoke to him again.  His life such as it is doesn't even qualify as a joke, it's a "lump of dogshit".

Mallory: "So why don't you do me a favour and get it over with?"

And that concludes part two of "Barbary Coast".

THE BIG RIDE -  The arc begins with Hughie, back in New York and psyching himself up to go into The Boys' HQ.  Then Billy comes out and says hello, you coming with me?  In the taxi, he shows Hughie a photo of a dead transexual, who was beaten to death.  They are off to Doc. Peculiar who runs a brothel catering exclusively to supes, because it was one of his workers and Jack From Jupiter has a fetish for them.  He likes to say his magic word, which renders him invincible then gets gang-banged by a group of pre-op transwomen.
Hughie with the wind out of his sails.
Hughie says he wants things to change, that he be included more, be part of the decision making process.  "I wanna be second in command.  Be like an N.C.O" he says.  Billy asks what about MM, or Frenchie?  They've been at it longer than Hughie.  Hughie says he just whats to be told before "the fuckin' shit hits the fan."  Billy says if he earns it on this investigation he'll decide then.  Once inside Doc Peculiar Billy off-handedly asks Hughie what N.C.O stands for.  Hughie doesn't actually know, but gets distracted by the dyed green monkeys before he can say anything.

On The Seven's base, Jack From Jupiter is protesting his innocence.  Vought alerted them about this via email.  Jack says none of them have any right to sit in judgement over them.  The Deep starts to say how this is bad timing with the Homelander's plan due to be set in motion soon, but The Homelander shuts him down, warning they're probably still bugged.

The Homelander: "Whether you killed this creature or not is moot... just keep a low profile and pray the police investigation goes nowhere.  In the meantime, try to keep away from any cocks that aren't your own."
O rly?
In Doc Peculiar's file room, they start looking through the files he's collected on the various supe sexual kinks he's acquired over the years.  Hughie says all that power, all that potential and they use it just to get high and get laid.

Hughie leafs through Queen Maeve's file, while Billy checks Jack's.  He was there the night it occured, but not with the victim.  And the times don't match up.  Hughie says it sounds dodgy.  Billy agrees.  He says Jack isn't built for offence: "me evil cunt sense is tingling".  They leave the records room and Hughie surreptitiously tucks Queen Maeve's file in his waistband.

They go to leave the establishment and Hughie notices a carving of Monkey's (Kessler) head being assaulted by two monkeys.  Which happened when Rayner first took over and sent him along as an official observer. "Hughie, it was the fuckin' funniest thing I've ever seen in my life mate" says Billy.
Monkey attacked by Monkeys.
We jump forward to nighttime.  Annie and Hughie are in Hughie's hotel room (he got his old room back). She's in the bed and he's sleeping on the floor.  "Well this is great" she says sarcastically.  She has refused to run away, but Hughie says he will not use her to spy on The Seven.   And he wants to protect her from the rest of The Boys.  She wonders why she stays working with them, he says "I trust them wi' me life."

She asks why they don't run away together, he feels he's in too deep now.  He complains about Billy undermining him all the time, seh asks why he doesn't confront him about it and what's really going on: "Because I'm afraid to ask" he admits.

Annie: "I don't want to piss you off, I'm not trying to catch you in a contradiction...You said you thought you should keep an eye on things, but you're also afraid to investigate the situation. Does that mean for you to just wait and let stuff happen?"

Hughie: "Well that certainly sounds like me, aye.  Keep everythin' neat and tidy until it falls apart."

They discuss how Billy set Hughie up to watch the tape of Annie in a compromising postion.  He wonders how she feels about having been under surveillance the whole time.  She doesn't care, she hates the rest of The Seven bar Queen Maeve then she holds out her hand to him and invites him into bed with her, "just to sleep."  Later that night Queen Maeve takes the bugs out of The Seven's base and tosses them out of the bay door.
Hughie and Annie are the cutest couple ever.
Next day Hughie reunites with the rest of The Boys.  He gets his hamster Jamie back from The Female who'd been looking after it for him and he's quite a bit fatter than he was.  Billy says he and Hughie are handling the Jack situation, while Mother's Milk is still chasing up the mystery code in the Vought computer system and also that the Homelander is "fuckin' crazy". 

With the bugs out, Frenchie and The Female are at a bit of a loose end. Frenchie asks if they shouldn't be going after Jack hard.  But Billy doesn't like how convinient this reason to have a go at The Seven is.

Billy: "I wish I could get it out of my head that we're all bein' taken for a ride."

MM takes Hughie to lucnh to fill him in on what happened while he was away.  Hughie says he spoke to Mallory.  MM says he set it up the way he did because of the situation between Billy and Mallory.  MM asks him why he came back now he knows what he knows.  Hughie says he wonders that too, and how he keeps asking questions and backing off before he gets proper answers.

Hughie: "Are we good or are we bad.  I mean what are we?"

MM says at some point Hughie has to shit or get off the pot and go "completely fuckin' crazy" to deal with it.  Hughie spots Frenchie and The Female and points out they were crazy from the start.

Mother's Milk: "Shit, who knows what the hell's goin' on in those two little heads."
Billy and Hughie are pretending to be UK policemen on exchange again.
Later, back at Doc. Peculiar's, Billy is interviewing the three transwomen who had sex with Jack.  Billy said Jack turned up and only wanted three, so the murdered one left.  When he asks why Anastasia was the one to go, Madeline says she thought Jack had been sweet on Ana, but lately had turned cold on her.  One of the others is sceptical:

Tabitha: " So when did you develope this impression...?  When the two of you were giving him double anal.  Did he seem like he liked her a little bit better?"

They have an argument, while Hughie notes they keep getting evidence they need to nail Jack easily.  Billy then gets Doc. Peculiar to check Madeline for needle marks and when they find some, Billy says it's time to fill her up with a syringe full of junk and get the truth.

Later in Hughie's hotel room he is reading Queen Maeve's file and finds a transcript of when the Homelander set Queen Maeve up to have sex with Black Noir.  She was blindfolded and The Homelander and Black Noir are the same build so she didn't find out until afterwards much to her outrage and disgust.

Billy is chatting with The Legend.  He tells him that Madeline had made the story up, she'd been paid ten grand to do so.  He wonders who beats a transexual to death to frame Jack?  Who wants The Boys on a collision course with The Seven?

Billy: "That's the part that makes no sense.  Nobody wins that one."

Billy then asks The Legend why Queen Maeve got rid of the bugs.  She got scared, says The Legend.  Billy says she better put them back in or he'll ring Vought and tell them what she's been up to.  The Legend is protective of Maeve, but Bily says she puts the bugs back in or he meets her in person, "un-fuckin'-negotiable". In Hughie's hotel room, a naked Annie is weighing herself and Jamie the hamster.  He weighs a pound now.  She starts to seduce him, but before it gets too far his phone rings, summoning to Boys HQ.
On The Seven's base they are all watching Tv news footage of the recording of Jack's sex session with the transwomen.   Jack rants that Butcher is at fault for doing this, he says he's an innocent man.  The Homelander says regardless of this what he actually is is "done." After an altercation between Jack and The Deep, Jack pleads with The Homelander about not letting Butcher get away with attacking The Seven like this.

Jack: "I mean how much shit are you ready to eat for these fucks?"

At Boys' HQ, they are getting ready for a confrontation with The Seven, even though they weren't the ones who leaked the footage.  Hughie is somewhat fearful, but they all go up on the roof to meet them, apart from Billy's dog Terror who he tells to wait for him in their operation's room.  They wait on top of the buildings roof and The Seven fly down to meet them.

In the gap between issue's, Billy tells The Homelander he didn't leak the footage  "He's telling the truth" says The Homelander.  Jack starts freaking out, but The Homelander can detect the changes in breathing and heartbeat that come with lying and that hasn't happened with Billy.  Jack says he's going to kill them anyway, but The Homelander shuts him down.  A rage filled Jack flies off, yelling "you dicks!"  The Deep asks it they should not team up to find out who tried to provoke a confrontation between them.  "Don't be a cunt all your life" responds Billy and The Seven leave.  The Boy's decide to go for steaks to celebrate not dying.
A confrontation only postponed...
We rejoin them, post meal in the restaurant.  Billy gets a text from Doc Peculiar saying Jack showed up and is doing a "ton of blow."  Billy then steps on one of Hughie's favourite words and Hughie gets mad  Angrily he says Billy is always undermining him and throwing him off balance.

Hughie: "All of you stop fuckin' laughin' at me!"

He then takes Billy to task for calling the transwomen "trannies" and "ladyboys", he says he hates that lack of respect, the same as when they investigated the murder of a gay man (see book two), who was killed by Swingwing.  Billy then reveals he killed Swingwing by sabotaging his jetpack.  Hughie says this is exactly the problem, never being told exactly what's going on.  Billy says he'll try and stop undermining Hughie and they return to HQ.
Oh poor Terror :(
And they find Billy's dog Terror lying dead in the operations room.  A blank faced Billy turns to leave saying quietly:

Billy: "S'cuse me boys.  I've gotta see a man about a dog."

We then cut to Jess Bradley on the phone to Stillwell saying she may have oversteppe her authority trying to force a confrontation between The Boys and The Seven.  Stillwell says no harm done and that Jack in "eminently replaceable".  He praises her initiative and ambition.

Stillwell: "It was a good plan, well executed.  Just poorly timed."

His only qualm was her leaking the footage of Jack to the wider media.  But he still calls her "vital" and ends the call.

At Doc. Peculiar's, Billy surprises Jack and grabs his neck so he can't say his magic word.  Then he stabs Jack with a huge knife and starts to slowly disembowel him.  All the time repeating over and over: "Why'd you kill me dog, Jack?"  Then he says the oddest thing:

Billy: "It ain't me son.  I'm somewhere else watchin' it happen."

Then he returns to repeating "why'd you kill me, dog?"  And the volume comes to a close.
Scratch one of The Seven.
The second half of the book is just as good as the first.  Mallory's potted history of the creation of The Boys and his recruitment of Billy and his subsequent creation of the monster Billy has become is fascinating stuff.  And his implied death at the hands of Billy at the end of "Barbary Coast" is a harbinger of things to come.  "The Big Ride" sees both The Boys and The Seven suffer their first losses, as shows just how astute both Billy and Hughie are at not falling for Vought's manipulations.  Did Jack kill Terror?  He may have been angry, but he's also a coward and after what happened with The Lamplighter I doubt he'd have risked it.  I personally think The Homelander saw a way to quickly get rid of Jack (who could spoil his masterplan) by setting Billy on him and took it, he's always been the one to flag up the importance of Terror to Billy in the past and he knew it would be the quickest way to enrage him.  His plan is close to fruition now, but before the series reaches it's explosive climax, it's time for the final miniseries in which we finally get the full story of Billy's life from childhood to the present day.