Garth Ennis’ “The Boys”: a comic about bad-ass men, slutty women, and *very* slutty women.


I realize that the world of comic books is – by and large – a boys club.

I accept that.

And I definitely get the appeal: big guns, big tits, big muscles, big violence, big battles, and when it’s done right, all those elements tied in with a big idea. I don’t want to change it, or even complain about the status quo.

But since my tastes skew towards concepts that are a little different from the standard superhero fare, I tend to look outside Marvel and DC for my funny books.

A number of people recommended that I read Garth Ennis’ “The Boys” – a book that turns the superhero universe upside down by asking “Who watches the Watchmen?” A group of government contractors are hired to intimidate, and if necessary, assassinate, out-of-control superpowered jerks who abuse their gifts (many of whom bear a resemblance to iconic DC characters like Superman and The Flash).

Fun idea, great writer, very nice artwork.

I’m sold.

After reading volume #1 of The Boys a few weeks ago, I was thoroughly entertained. It was violent, funny, interesting, and even had a couple heartfelt moments. But it left me wondering: what the hell does Ennis think about women?

Strap in – here comes the complaining

Is this the portion of the blog post where a girl bitches about other girls being treated unfairly in comics?

Yes and no.

No, I’m not offended by the treatment of women in The Boys, or any comic. It’s Ennis’ vision, and he’s a talented artist plying his craft – he’s entitled to write women any way he sees fit and that’s perfectly fine. I was thoroughly entertained, and will likely pick up volume 2 at some point in the near future.

Yes, I question him to a small degree, only because if this were the only Ennis book I had ever read, it would seem that his sole interaction with women has come from observing them in German porno movies.

Bring on the whores!

Female Character Breakdown: (a couple spoiler-ish things get spilled here out of necessity, so please don’t go any further if you plan on reading The Boys)

1. The Butcher’s main contact is the director of the CIA, Susan L. Rayner. She’s a deranged sex addict who likes to be bent over her desk and treated like filthy whore while she does her paperwork. I know this sounds like a joke if you’ve never read The Boys, but I assure you I’m neither joking nor exaggerating.

2. The Female is the sole female member of The Boys, which makes sense because, well…you know. She’s an unbelievably violent mute. No dialogue, just homicide. Moving on…

3. Hookers. And plenty of them. A group of sluts have sex with superheroes for money, and get vaginally pummeled in the process. Classy.

4. Janine, a mouthy, out-of-control teenager that dresses like a skank and hooks up with random guys, including gun-toting thugs.

5. Finally, we have Annie January, a.k.a Starlight – a perky blonde girl who is down-to-earth, sweet and wholesome. But as soon as she’s faced with the opportunity to join the ranks of the most powerful superhero team in the world, she abandons her southern family values and performs oral sex on several members of the team.

Sluts. Skanks. Whores. Hookers. And just to mix things up, a girl who keeps her goddamned mouth shut.

It has to get better than this for the chicks…doesn’t it?

OK, I admit it, The Boys represents an extreme in the world of comics where men are bad-ass, and women are…well, you just read the character breakdown.

But it highlights an issue that’s prevalent: all too often in movies, TV, and my beloved comics, women area given very little to do, and very little to say.

And when a writer tries to make a “strong female character”, typically it’s handled like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: a sassy and sarcastic vixen with DD breast implants and a skin-tight outfit.

She kicks, punches, and shoots her way through a number of baddies, and hey, even stomps the shit out of a few boys in the process. Girl power! She’s an equal, so that’s how you know she’s a strong female character!

Wrong.

Buffy Summers. Ripley. Lois Lane. Starbuck. Sydney Bristow. Scarlet. Trinity.

They’re female characters from comics, television and film with something to say. They have multiple layers. They’re rugged and tough when the situation requires, but are still vulnerable, and at times even maternal. They have more to offer than enormous jugs and titanic ass-whoopings.

Why is this so rare?

Part of it is demographics. Guys writing for guys. I get that.

Part of it is that people write what they’re comfortable with. Men feel more natural writing from a male perspective, and women write from a female.

But part of it eludes me. Even if the women are not central to a story, can’t they just be…people? The damsel in distress, the nagging ball-and-chain, the scantily-clad ho…we don’t ALL just fall naturally into one of these one-dimensional stereotypes (at least most of us don’t…I can’t speak for my college roommate).

So is this a male fantasy type of thing? Women either need rescuing, are an annoyance, or are simply available for sexual gratification?

I can definitely draw a comparison on the other side, as women are notorious for writing stronger female leads, while their leading men are either brainless (and often shirtless) hunks, or overly-sensitive nancy-boys (if you think I’m making a Twilight reference here you’re no the right track).

So I have no logical conclusion to this review/rant, but I open the floor to you, my fellow comic book junkies.

Are there enough strong female characters?

Are women as guilty as men for stereotyping roles in comics and sci-fi/fantasy?

And what did you think of “The Boys”?

Post away…and thanks for reading!

Love you guys,

Blake xox

PS: If you’re not already friends with me on Facebook, what the hell are you waiting for? Let’s hook up!

PPS: Are you following me on Twitter? If you’re NOT, there is a very good chance Santa will withhold your Christmas gifts this year. I’m serious.

PPPS: More blog posts coming soon – I promise!!!

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15 Responses to Garth Ennis’ “The Boys”: a comic about bad-ass men, slutty women, and *very* slutty women.

  1. I’ve stayed away from this book ever since reading the previews. At the same time, though, I have to give Ennis credit for writing a female character I thought was portrayed rather strongly – Tulip O’Hare in Preacher. I’d be curious to get your thoughts on her. Enjoyed the column!

  2. juice says:

    i was going to tweet you asking your opinions on womens portrayal in comic books. i get they are supposed to look sexy, but some of their costumes dont even seem like they would be comfortable to have sex in, let alone fight crime in.

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  4. Chet says:

    Fair points all regarding THE BOYS, but just off the top of my head PREACHER, HITMAN, and most blatantly BLOODY MARY are all excellent Garth Ennis penned stories with strong female lead roles. You should check them out, if you haven’t already.

  5. zenexo says:

    great blog and great points. I definitely agree on your viewpoints. From the sound of “The Boys” it seems kinda awful. The female characters sound ridiculous and it seems to me the writer is a bit sexist. But I’m only basing this on the character breakdown and I’m not familiar with the writers other work.

    I’m working on a web comic or possibly a real comic that has a female supporting character and I’m trying my best to make her tough/awesome but not in a conventional bayonetta/lara croft way. It’s hard to explain.

    But I think most men write women like that because the younger boys eat up stuff like sex and slutty women and also it’s for the writers/artist own sexual fantasies.

    anyway great blog post and I friend requested you on facebook.

  6. I am about to finish a blog (for next week) about how the image of comic characters (whether they be women or men) is portrayed negatively and discuss a little bit of what you touched on here.

    Seems like we both have similar minds when it comes to comics.
    Keep up the awesome work!

  7. Dom says:

    The Boys is one of these odd things, and one of the best books out there right now. Basically, Ennis paints everyone – the only exceptions 48 issues in being Wee Hughie and Annie January – as degenerated as possible. Yes, even The Boys are not all that nice or friendly towards each other. But basically, it’s not about friendly characters or nice people. It’s a more or less established fact that Ennnis has some sort of issue with superheroes, Superman in particular – even though he did write the best Superman story ever in Hitman #34. So in The Boys, everyone gets portrayed negatively. Ennis’ Boys are basically all the twisted stories with superheroes in them he ever wanted to tell. In the beginning, he goes for shock value over actual events, but that stops after the Swingwing-arc. The Boys is supposed to show us the very worst of any character. Even the pure and good guys are not good in a conventional sense. But it’s by design rather than writing for a demographic. It’s supposed to be crass, it’s supposed to be satirizing most of everything you read in other comics, it’s supposed to be evil, offensive and just downright wrong.

    Many of the female characters you criticize up there play very little roles in the future of the book. I could tell you who, but I don’t really like spoiling things.

    Now, the Female. There’s a very good reason why she is the way she is. Her origin issue is one of the best issues in the series. And she apparently does speak, but not on-panel or in the presence of Wee Hughie. Or she has some form of communicating as she’s able to order pizza.

    Annie is the death of innocence. Saying anything more would result in spoilers.

  8. PCRK says:

    I’ve been curious about The Boys for a long time but i am wary of Garth Ennis, don’t get me wrong, Preacher is fantastic and everything but he does seem to have a tendancy to go two steps too far (which, admittedly can be fun from time to time).
    What you described about his female characters is interesting though, what DOES he think of women? Tulip O’Hare was a very strong character but she fell into the “hard fighting, hard drinking, hard fucking” type role, Sarah Featherstone fell into the simpering, doormat role etc. It is interesting and worrying in equal measure.
    Great read though.
    Pete

  9. Phill Evans says:

    Fascinating post!
    I wonder if the preponderance of slutty/2D women characters in ALL mainstream media isnt a symptom not specifically of bad writing (we know that many storylines are good and well written) but rather of the reluctance to challenge? To an adolescent male (of whatever age…) a slutty woman character is non-threatening. She is pandering to his fantasies of a biddable female sex/life partner and, basically, doesnt have drives or needs of her own which conflict with the demographic readership. Even the token lesbians which crop up fill the same niche (avoided a pun by the skin of my teeth there…) and rarely express a 3D characters needs. In summary, an outre sexuality in a female character seems to fulfill the same need in a writer that a body suit and mask cosume does in an artist… they are easy to draw unthinkingly.

    On an unrelated note, don’t you think that “who watches the watchmen” has rather been done to death?

    Phill

  10. Andrew Mocete says:

    I’m a fan of the The Boys which is definitely a product of the source material. Without Marvel or DC there would be no The Boys, so feel like Ennis has to go in the extreme direction he’s going for the story to make sense.

    I think you should keep reading. There are better arcs coming up and major payoff to the Starlight scene you described.

    I’ll also suggest 2 other Ennis books with strong female characters; Crossed and The Pro. With Crossed you’re getting a character with so many levels I was sad the series was only 9 issues. The Pro (short for prostitute) on the other hand totally flips the strong female thing on it’s head and still manages to say something about important about comics.

    Great post.

  11. horondan says:

    This post made my brain gears start whirling. I could possibly name a dozen heroic guys from comics who are described as ugly, sinister or homely and have no trouble at all being heroes…homeliness is just part of their charm (The thing, the hulk, Nightcrawler, Etrigan, Manbat…there are probably dozens of them)
    I cant remember a single comic heroine who is portrayed as ugly or overweight… not a single one. Even the sinister, scary looking ones tend to be extremely sexy (Electra ) …I know there must be at least one out there and if i think hard enough ill remember her name..
    Gotta keep thinking.

  12. This is such a beautifully well thought out article. I can’t believe I’ve read The Boys in the past and didn’t really think about the women involved.

    I generally don’t pick up on a lot of things outside of the context of the story, possibly trying to immerse myself in the writer’s vision as much as possible. But the points you make here will likely be stirring up the same questions in many of the books I read from this point forward, for awhile anyway.

    I read The Boys for a bit in the beginning, and kind-of got ‘stuck in the mud’ when they had most of an entire issue consisting of the comic creator in story telling the history of the entire universe. I haven’t picked it up again since then.

    At first, I really enjoyed the amount of humor and extreme, well, everything in the book, but as I looked deeper for the real story behind the series, it quickly became more or less boring. I guess I’m not all that interested in super-hero police, even if the super-heroes are being assholes.

    Maybe the book has changed since I put it down, and an interesting cover will likely have me picking it up and seeing where things are in the future, but for now, The Boys has lost its appeal.

  13. Pingback: Body Image in Comics | The Uncanny Blog

  14. I posted my blog completely related to this post, Blake, and also linked this blog in it.

    Party-harty!

  15. You should give Steve Pugh’s Hotwire books a go. A strong and amusing female character. Who exorcises freaky ghosts.

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