Heroes Never Rust #55 by Sean Ironman
A Nemesis and a Newbie
There is no one right way to tell a story, but there are ways that work and ways that don’t work. Two ways that work in comics (and in other storytelling mediums) are on display in issue three of The Boys. Billy Butcher has assembled his team. Wee Hughie has come to New York to see what Butcher’s been talking about. Now the fun can start. The inherent problem (or a possible problem) with the series could have been Butcher and his team just going from superhero to superhero and making them pay. Locations could change. Powers could change. But after a little while, the series could be tedious. An overarching villain must be introduced. Someone, or some organization, must be out there for Butcher’s team to work up to.
In The Boys, the “good” guys are Butcher’s team—a group of violent, homicidal psychopaths (at least a few of them). But, even with their penchant for violence, they believe in what they do. Superheroes, many of them, are dicks and think they can get away with more than they should. The Boys put superheroes in their place. They fight, and kill, for a good reason. These are the good guys. In comics, the main villain is the opposite of the main hero. The villain and the hero are two sides of the same coin. Mr. Fantastic expands his body—Dr. Doom has confined his behind a mask. Batman is a madman who’s reserved and stoic—Joker is a madman who’s wild and out there. Captain America is a man made perfect from science—Red Skull is a man turned grotesque from science. Here, Billy Butcher, dressed in black and ready to fight and fuck, is the team leader. His arch nemesis needs to be a leader of a team and has opposite features.
Enter The Homelander, leader of The Seven (a riff on the Justice League).
The Homelander is basically Superman. While he’s not a Kryptonian, he has the powers of Superman and serves the same role. Instead of having black hair and dressing in black, like Butcher, Homelander wears red, white, and blue. He has a cape and blonde hair. If he wasn’t such an asshole, he’d be just like Superman.
The issue begins with Homelander showing a new member of the Seven, Annie January aka Starlight, around headquarters. For three pages, Homelander is sweet, kind, and sensitive. He asks Annie about her old superhero team and compliments her abilities. He has her sit down at their conference table and says, “There’s just one final test for you to pass, and I know you’re going to excel at that, too.”
Then, he drops his pants and says, “Suck it!”
I told you he was an asshole.
Superheroes like Homelander are why I enjoy this series. Homelander isn’t out to conquer the world. I wouldn’t say he’s an evil person, at least from what’s been revealed so far in the series (although I hold back on information given to the reader later on). I like that the superheroes are just people who have been given popularity and power. I could see a big movie or music executive doing what Homelander does here. If you want the job, you gotta help him out.
Anyway, back to him being Butcher’s nemesis. Comic readers know he’s Butcher’s enemy number one because he’s the antithesis of Butcher. That’s the rule. Also, on a smaller note, the Seven is not the enemy here. The Boys are going to take on a different superhero team first, which helps make the Seven, and Homelander, be the big bad.
Another storytelling technique in this issue is that of the newbie. Sometimes exposition is necessary. I know it gets a bad rap, but readers do need to know what’s going on. One way to work in exposition and explain situations to readers is to introduce a new character. In this issue, we get Annie as the newbie for the Seven and Hughie as the newbie for the Boys. Homelander is able to explain things to Annie that he wouldn’t normally explain to the other members, and Butcher can explain things to Hughie that he wouldn’t normally explain to the rest of the Boys.
But, that’s not the only thing Ennis and Robertson get from introducing new members to the team. A mystery element is added. Because Hughie and Annie don’t know everything about their respective teams, characters can speak about events and people and the readers can be left a little bit in the dark. As long as readers understand what’s going on currently, they can be teased about other events. Readers can at once be firmly placed in a situation and be left in the dark. By doing both, readers don’t feel confused and, hopefully, they want to continue reading to find out about the events and people they are being teased about. The Lamplighter is mentioned by Homelander, but readers don’t know anything about that character, other than that the Lamplighter was a member of the Seven. Butcher mentions a person named Monkey, or at least that’s what he calls this person, but readers haven’t been introduced to that character yet.
Later in the series, things change up a bit, but it’s important to get readers settled quickly in a story. Once a reader understands the world and how the story operates, the story can be screwed with. Sides could change. Characters could turn out to be somewhat different than readers thought. But, first, readers have to be given something to hold onto. Here, we’re given fresh-faced newbies and dickish superheroes who seem somewhat familiar.
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.