Heroes Never Rust #54 by Sean Ironman
Now that the tone and racy content has been set, issue two of The Boys sets up the characters. In the premiere issue, readers were shown two of the main characters (Billy Butcher and Wee Hughie), but now the rest of the team comes out to play. There are twenty-two pages of content, three characters to introduce, two main characters whose stories must be furthered, and there’s still world-building that needs to be done. There’s not much room to spend on each character of the team. Plus, introductions shouldn’t feel like exposition. It’s a lot of work for Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, but they solve any problems with a strong structure.
The issue opens with Rayner (the CIA contact for The Boys) looking through files of past cases of The Boys. She gave Butcher the go ahead to start up again and seems to have doubts. Other than Butcher making superheroes pay for being dicks, readers haven’t been given much about what Butcher and his team actually does. In two pages, Ennis and Robertson set up just how devastating Butcher’s team can be, while still keeping a mystery element in play. Readers aren’t shown much, but they are given hints with excerpts from the files.
- “Brutal beating unlike anything on record at this hospital”
- “Prisoner demanded, then begged not be released”
- “Extremely ragged decapitation, followed by”
It’s enough to set up the team and show that Rayner is not fully on board with Butcher. Most importantly, the plot doesn’t stop to tell the reader what happened in the past. It uses past events to complicate Rayner’s relationship with Butcher and gives the reader a peek at the team, which Ennis and Robertson then go into.
The rest of the issue jumps back and forth between a conversation between Butcher and Hughie as Butcher attempts to make Hughie a part of the team, and Butcher collecting the other three team members (The Frenchman, The Female, and Mother’s Milk). We all know Hughie will eventually join the team so I won’t waste time here discussing Butcher talking with Hughie. Now, I like Butcher and Hughie, but a conversation could be awfully boring to read. So Ennis and Robertson break up the issue so that it’s not shown in chronological order. At points in the conversation, the story jumps to Butcher approaching another member of the team.
The first is The Frenchman. He’s drinking espresso at a coffee shop and talking to himself. Some assholes in suits make fun of him. “Fuckin’ French faggot.” “Goddamn surrender monkey.” He stares at the suits cool and calm. Then, quickly, he puts goggles on and beats the shit out of them. Butcher walks in, and The Frenchman calms down, runs up to Butcher, and hugs him, happy to see his friend again. Then, they walk off, leaving the suits bloody and either dead or unconscious. The action scene does a good job breaking up the conversation between Butcher and Hughie, but it does so to show The Frenchman’s character. It’s not just random action scene. The reader sees that The Frenchman is dangerous but not wild. While he shows a range of emotions in the short scene, he’s not emotional. He’s in control and can go from sitting with a nice espresso into killing somebody within a second.
The second is The Female She’s on a doorstep, small and thin, with a jacket that’s three times too large. She knocks quietly, and the bad guys inside argue and then try to get rid of her. She grabs the man at the door and shuts the door behind her. Butcher watches the house from across the street. Readers only get the screams of those inside. Then, a face, not the skull, just the face, ripped from a man hits a window and slides off. That’s all readers get from The Female. She never speaks. But, readers can see that she might be more dangerous than The Frenchman. She uses her looks to her advantage, but in a different way than many comic book female characters. She doesn’t have huge breasts, long legs, and wavy hair. She looks sad. People drop their guard, and then she tears them apart.
A couple of summers ago, I took a poetry class and the professor said that poetry is about creating a pattern and then breaking that pattern. This is done by creating a structure to stanzas and lines, and, at the end, changing it up. It creates a tension in the structure. That’s what Ennis and Robertson do here. We get two introductions with violent action scenes. These scenes show the capabilities of The Frenchman and The Female. But, with the third member, Mother’s Milk, the pattern changes. Mother’s Milk, a large black man, is shown in his dining room drinking coffee from a mug that has “Bad ass” on the side. His first line of dialogue is “Butcher, man…I dunno.” He’s calm and seems tired of it all. He only gets a little worked up when Butcher puts his mug down on the counter without using a coaster. The first two introductions are three pages each, while Mother’s Milk’s intro is four pages. He seems more important than the other two because of the change in pattern.
Mother’s Milk’s daughter comes in dressed in a small tank top that shows off her breasts, and when he tries to talk to her about it, she yells at him and leaves. This guy can’t even control his own household. He’s a far cry from the other two, but I get the feeling he’s got something brewing inside. Butcher gets the action here. He goes outside and yells at the daughter and crushes the gun from two guys she’s hanging with. This introduction gives more color to the issue—it complicates the structure, making Mother’s Milk stand out and making the issue more than just the other teammates killing a bunch of people. Changing that pattern helps save the issue from a bunch of boring exposition and setup.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read inThe Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.