The Boys is a brilliant takedown of Marvel, DC, and our need for supermen
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The Boys is a brilliant takedown of Marvel, DC, and our need for supermen

The mere mention of the word "superhero" is enough to trigger a Pavlovian response in some viewers, immediately shunting a show into the "must watch" column on the one hand or its polar opposite on the other. Whichever camp you are in, I'd urge you to set aside your preconceptions and give The Boys a go. It is both of and against the genre, and it is brilliant.

The Seven, the ostensible superheroes of The Boys (l-r): The Deep (Chace Crawford), Maeve (Dominique McElligott), Stormfront (Aya Cash), Homelander (Antony Starr), Starlight (Erin Moriarty), Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), and A-Train (Jessie T Usher). 

The Seven, the ostensible superheroes of The Boys (l-r): The Deep (Chace Crawford), Maeve (Dominique McElligott), Stormfront (Aya Cash), Homelander (Antony Starr), Starlight (Erin Moriarty), Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), and A-Train (Jessie T Usher). Credit:Amazon Prime Video

I missed season one last year, and when I saw the names Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on the trailer for season two (as producers), I figured I knew what was in store: lots of gore, coarse language and sexual innuendo. Not that there's anything wrong with that — I'm quite a fan of their sophisticated-juvenile humour and have mostly enjoyed This Is the End, Superbad, Sausage Party and the rest. I just didn't think I needed 16 hours of it, with bonus capes. Turns out I was wrong.

The Boys may be the smartest thing on our screens right now when it comes to capturing a sense of the corporate and political malfeasance, media manipulation, and deliberate obliteration of truth that makes the US such a basket case, and one that threatens the stability of the world. Plus it's funny (in a dark and twisted way), with great special effects. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to plow a speedboat into the belly of a beached whale, or to be strangled by a 20-foot penis, look no further.

Guided by the astute hand of showrunner Eric Kripke, The Boys is a whip-smart takedown of the superhero genre it so lovingly replicates.

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The Seven are a team of superheroes headed by the square-jawed, blue-eyed, blond-haired Homelander (New Zealander Antony Starr). Their nemeses are the Boys, a loose collective of vigilantes headed by Billy Butcher (fellow Kiwi Karl Urban, doing the worst Cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins), who are determined to expose the "Supes" as the corrupt, death-dealing corporate fascists they really are.

The Boys (from left): Butcher (Karl Urban), Hughie (Jack Quaid), Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso).

The Boys (from left): Butcher (Karl Urban), Hughie (Jack Quaid), Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso).Credit:Amazon Prime Video

The guiding premise of the show is simple but inspired: the superheroes are both real beings and entertainment products. The Seven are owned by the megalithic Vought corporation, their faces plastered on everything from electronics to potato crisps, their real-world adventures captured on the news, reality programs and talk shows, and their scripted adventures parlayed in the storylines of their big-budget action movies.

But Vought isn't just the Marvel or DC of this extended universe. It's also the Lockheed Martin, seeking to position itself as the key provider of security to the free world (read, America). And what better way to make its case than to highlight the existence of super terrorists (rebranded "supervillains" after marketing research finds the terrorist tag puts people off) whose capabilities render conventional military responses useless. Anything to bolster Vought's share price.

The Boys' efforts succeed in exposing what the corporation is up to, but only to a degree: though some news outlets cover the issue and demand accountability, others dismiss it as fake news. All the while Vought spins the facts to its advantage and sails on.

It's not too hard to see the real-world targets of all this. But ultimately, what The Boys has in its sights is ordinary citizens, the people who demand heroes capable of solving all their problems in a single bound.

Beware the strong man, it urges, who "works" for the people by stoking division, suspicion and fear. That's where you'll find the real supervillain of the piece.

The Boys, Amazon Prime Video

Email the author at kquinn@theage.com.au, or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin

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