by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, fantasy (2007)
Dynamite Entertainment, $14.99, ISBN 978-9133-30546-6
Garth Ennis is most well-known for his sensationalist and violent Preacher series while Darick Robertson is better known for his artwork in the Transmetropolitan series. I am just quoting this from their publicity material, mind you, because I generally don't follow comics and therefore am not familiar with either series. The Name Of The Game is the compilation of the first six issues of the series The Boys.
In this version of America, superheroes have formed all kinds of leagues that are managed by one umbrella corporation called the Vought American. Vought American is in charge of merchandises and sponsorships, from what I can see. The adventures of these superheroes in saving the world are documented in comics which earn them the adoration of people everywhere. As a result, these superheroes are celebrities, which allow them to turn into fame-hungry self-absorbed assholes just like you can imagine.
Unfortunately, pretty much every superhero is like a Hollywood star. The truth is far uglier than the fantasy portrayed in the comic books - the superheroes are amateurs who more often than not cause more collateral damage than anything else in their inept attempts to save the world. They are also a bunch of people committed to all kinds of freaky sex, drugs, and what not when they are not obsessed about the media and the money that comes from their merchandising. But because these superheroes have powers that make them who they are, ordinary folks, such as the President of the United States, have a hard time opposing them directly.
This is where the Boys come in. Meet the Boys, folks. They are a top-secret, off-the-record, and CIA-backed motley crew whose job is to hold in check the superheroes ("supes") of the world. Led by Billy Butcher, the Boys also comprise the second-in-command Mother's Milk (really) and the muscles known as the Frenchman and the Female. Butcher is very rude and has a nasty attitude while Mother's Milk is obsessed with keeping things orderly and clean. The Frenchman sprouts pretty poetry and sprinkles his conversations with French phrases while the Female doesn't speak at all in this collection. One thing that these four have in common is that they do not let morals stand in the way of what Butcher and Mother's Milk perceive as the greater good. In other words, they operate by the mantra that the only good superhero is one that can be used to bring down the others or one who is completely dead, preferably killed by them. The Frenchman and the Female are actually insane psychopaths who relish the violence of their homicidal actions and the only reason they are with the Boys is because Butcher and Mother's Milk find them useful. Oh, and the fact that they are better off helping the Boys than be elsewhere killing who knows what.
The Name Of The Game introduces the newest member of the Boys. Hugh Campbell isn't a voluntary member. In fact, he at first doesn't even know that the Boys exist. Hughie is a shy and balding man of indeterminate years who believes in aliens and conspiracy theories. His world was finally shaping up to be a beautiful place one day when he held the hands of the woman he loves after she had just admitted that she loved him... until the superhero known as the Train charged right through them in a hurry and ended up sending the poor woman flying right into a nearby wall. She died, of course, with her lower arms still being held by Hughie as the shocked fellow could only stare at the rest of the poor woman's shattered body. Butcher enlists him in this story because Wee Hughie, as the Boys will call him, has a good reason to hate the superheroes. It is through Hughie's eyes that the reader will get a good look into the workings of the Boys. Hughie's still human and sometimes naïve perspective also makes a good contrast against the cold-blooded philosophies of the rest of the Boys, which makes him a good placeholder for the reader.
In this collection, Hughie will have to decide whether he wants to stay with the Boys even as the Boys drag him along for Hughie's first ever mission with the Boys: to sabotage and humiliate a junior superhero league called the Kix in order to send a message to the big league, called the Seven, that the Boys are in for the long haul and will kick their collective behinds.
Make no mistake, The Name Of The Game is a very politically incorrect story full of gratuitous nudity, violence, and profanity-laden conversations. Butcher calls the superheroes "cunts". Words like "faggot" and "pussy" are used liberally. Butcher's adorably cute bulldog Terror is trained to rape anything on Butcher's orders. But I don't expect this collection to be anything but that, as it makes plenty of rude but humorous satirical jabs at fame culture via the portrayal of superheroes as jerks and assholes obsessed with sex and money. That's not to say that all superheroes are terrible though. Hughie inadvertently strikes up what seems like the start of a potential romance with a superhero, Starlight, without each knowing the other person's real identity and allegiance. Annie January, as Starlight, is an idealistic young woman who joins the Seven only to realize that she has to orally service the three top male members if she wants to stay on as one of the Seven. Like Hughie, she is starting to realize that the world is not as simple and beautiful as she naïvely assumed it to be at first.
What makes this one a most gripping and fabulous read is the way the story slowly introduces me to the Boys. The moral ambiguity of Butcher and Mother's Milk is most fascinating, as is Hughie's slow and eventual "corruption" into following the same path as these two men. The various satirical elements in this story may not be new but they are very effectively integrated into the story. Does Mr Ennis often resort to shock value? Of course, but he does it very well in the sense that the violence and profanities feel integral to the story rather than gratuitous insertions. I find myself intrigued by the Boys, especially by Butcher. Come to think of it, Butcher is also quite sexy in Mr Robertson's rendition of that fellow, heh. Also, the superheroes here are blatant parodies of more well-known superheroes, which probably explains why DC Comics canceled this series after the sixth issue and forced the creators to move the series to a smaller independent publisher.
I don't think I am able to put down adequately in words how much I enjoyed reading The Name Of The Game. It has me placing an order for the next collection immediately after I put down this one. All I can say is that if you like antiheroes kicking ass with lots of style and you don't mind the crude and vulgar sense of humor of Mr Ennis, this one is most likely right up your alley. It certainly has me thrilled to no end. I haven't feel this excited about a series in a while, so really, I'm all about the Boys. The Name Of The Game scores big.
Oh, and I can't help feeling that I owe Butcher an apology for the whole pink-tinged background of this page, but the funny thing is, I think he won't take much offense by this as much as he's bemused by it. Not that it will stop him from calling me a cunt, I'm sure, heh.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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