I’m curious as to when exactly Garth Ennis finalized the script for The Boys: Dear Becky #1. It’s not important to the plot or characters in this comic, but the mention of Coronavirus pulls you directly out of the story and back into reality. In the issue it’s a brief gag associated with an intolerant bartender, but there are still people congregating in a bar for that joke to be made and that time has passed now. This was something written in January or February, at the latest, before many of us realized how much life would change. In fact, none of us really know how much life will change, but we do know that the time for gathering at the pub for a few beers (possibly draped under a bigoted bartender’s scrotum) has passed.
It’s unfortunate that expectations from a calmer world spoil this brief line, but it also establishes what made The Boys resonate across a long comics series, multiple spinoffs, and a television series, before this newest installment in comics. Ennis and artist Derick Robertson’s co-creation, like plenty of their previous creations, reveled in the darkest and most terrible aspects of the human spirit. It was a series built on some of our most terrible mistakes to date—the post-9/11 police state—and so it makes sense that this acknowledges the great terror of our future.
The Boys featured protagonists who were every bit as monstrous as the actual C.I.A. with which they were associated, and yet it found surprising strands of the human embedded within endless compromises and thinly veiled atrocities—all of these actions were committed by people and that’s what made the final moments of the series work. It’s what makes Dear Becky click and rise above moments of distraction or ill considered storytelling choices, as well.
The first issue is framed by the story of Wee Hughie receiving a surprise package from his old boss Billy Butcher: the diary of Butcher’s deceased wife with additional notes from Butcher inside. Fans of the original series will recall the terrible fate that met Becky and how those events warped Butcher’s own sense of morality. Based on what little of the diary is revealed in these pages, it appears that Ennis and artist Russ Braun are looking to investigate that transformation.
While The Boys is a series dressed in the colorful aesthetics of superhero comics, its violence and themes have always been thinly veiled analogs for the very real atrocities carried out by military forces. Billy Butcher, in addition to being a C.I.A. operative, was a British veteran after all, and the inhumanity of his actions was never denied, even if they were sometimes made humorous or exciting. Much of that dressing is left to the side in these pages, allowing for Hughie to reconnect with his former mentor’s words and confront the horror of what Butcher did to himself as well as so many others. There is an earnestness in these cursive-lettered text blocks that is engaged with what human beings must do to themselves in order to conduct violence. It is the most engaging portion of this comic and, if it does prove to be the throughline of the series, a well chosen focus.
There is still a dose of superhero violence and one that builds upon the thematic emphasis of this issue, rather than distracting from it. The Boys took a very long path to its conclusion, making time to lampoon almost every popular superhero franchise with an array of R-rated shenanigans. Some stones were left unturned and Dear Becky #1 takes advantage of one particular intellectual property’s leap to the big screen in order to deliver one of the most terrible twists in the franchise’s history. It’s a gruesome moment that will please readers simply looking for the visceral jolt of the original series, in addition to bringing out the dehumanizing nature of violence with stark clarity.
The diary-centered portions of Dear Becky all possess a clear vision for the exact story being told, capturing the voice of a rare character like Butcher wonderfully and digging into the heart of his conflict with precision. These are set against Hughie’s present existence set ten years after the conclusion of The Boys though, and it’s here where the miniseries debut runs into trouble.
Present sequences are focused on Hughie and his friend Bobbi, first introduced in the miniseries Highland Laddie. Ennis’ script is much more willing to embrace Bobbi’s existence as a trans woman in these pages, having Hughie acknowledge and embrace his friend’s self and leaving any ill-considered humor in the mouths of obviously contemptible bigots. However, the first few pages of the issue transform both Hughie and Bobbi into mouthpieces for the writer, forgetting their personalities and histories in favor of a monologue about how PC culture has gone too far and roughly reassembled in the form of dialogue. It’s a disappointing rant because it shows little consideration and adds nothing to the story being told. Whether or not a reader sympathizes with the ideas being expressed, their lack of connection to the characters expressing them and inability to provide more depth than an elderly relative’s Facebook comment make this introduction a drag on the considerably better pages of comics to follow.
Setting aside the old man shouts at cloud style introduction of The Boys: Dear Becky #1, most of the issue represents what was best in The Boys. It’s a comic book capable of delivering both hilarious ultraviolence and a sincere reflection on the cost of committing violence—a contradiction in tone and style that enhances both parts in surprising ways. If the rest of this miniseries is able to maintain its focus and fulfill the promise offered by these early installments of Billy Butcher’s diary, then it may be capable of delivering an entertaining and provocative treatise on the subjects that drove the original series across so many years. Fans of that series will certainly be pleased and skeptics may find something to appreciate in these pages. We could certainly use that sort of quality distraction now that Coronavirus has proven itself to be far worse than a joke.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
On April 1, 2020
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun
Colors by Tony Avina0comments
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Darick Robertson