“The Boys” Writer Garth Ennis Thinks Superheroes Ruined Comics

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times for a new TV show based on his comic series The Boys, Garth Ennis wants everyone to know he has no love of the superhero genre. It also notes what The Boys itself is built upon:


In other words, “The Boys” — whose sprawling ensemble cast includes Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capon, Karen Fukuhara, Jessie T. Usher and Elisabeth Shue — deconstructs the superhero tales that now dominate the entertainment landscape. And it’s not alone: The genre has been turned on its ear as projects with darker, more serious themes have arrived to counter the brighter tales of heroes like Supergirl and Captain America. Marvel’s Netflix duo “The Punisher” and “Jessica Jones,” AMC’s “Preacher,” HBO’s upcoming “Watchmen” and films like “Brightburn” reimagine and redefine superheroes as angsty, alcoholic, egomaniacal or any other number of very human traits considered undesirable in polite society.

Yup, because darkness is all we need, and wholesome, inspiring examples simply aren’t acceptable in fiction anymore. This is what’s led to Superman’s ruin over the years too, as the idea of a guy living through bright, optimistic adventures supposedly doesn’t carry any great ideas for a whole generation that’s a]practically been taught to shun the past, b]show no appreciation for it, c]distinguish between what works or doesn’t in a specific angle, or d]to recognize that just because past generations had different tastes doesn’t automatically invalidate them. Ennis, alas, appears to belong to such a bunch and its disastrous upbringing.


Ennis, who wrote the comic book in a “grim time of bad men and their doings,” doesn’t mince words when it comes to the now-ubiquitous superhero genre and the question of whether we’ve reached a point of too many capes onscreen.

“There’s apparently no end in sight to the saturation of film and TV by superheroes,” Ennis wrote in an email. “They seem to be the perfect fantasy of hope and empowerment for a world that increasingly lacks either. Personally, not having grown up with superheroes, I find them completely moronic.

“Bush and Cheney had just been returned to power, the Iraq bloodbath was boiling away, and Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans,” he continued, referring to the comic’s 2006-2008 run. “So I was writing about corporate corruption of government, abuse of power and abandonment of ordinary people. In terms of fiction, the kinds of protagonists we had at the time were Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey — bad men guiding us around a bad world.”

And that’s how “The Boys” was born.

And that’s where he/they admit how some of his writings stem from his leftist politics, and he probably puts the blame for Katrina entirely on the shoulders of conservatives to boot. His opposition to the Iraq war in itself is offensive, suggesting he has no issues with tyrants like Saddam remaining in power.


Showrunner Eric Kripke, who serves as executive producer alongside Point Grey Pictures’ Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver — the team behind AMC’s ultra-violent “Preacher,” also based on an Ennis comic — saw how Ennis shaped the world and wanted to make sure the show was as close to that as possible.

“I’m just doing my best to reflect the tone that Garth Ennis created. He’s a master at mixing hardcore violence with absurd humor with political commentary, and I’m just trying to match that,” said Kripke. “We’re depicting how we feel real humans would behave if they had the power: They would abuse it.”

Kripke is mindful of the backlash that appears to be growing among some moviegoers — despite “Avengers: Endgame” recently becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time. There have been allegations of superhero fatigue, of it being a genre of the moment (à la westerns) and a diversity ploy. The conversations have generated multiple Reddit threads by fans discussing the criticism and future of superheroes onscreen. Even stars such as Jodie Foster and Simon Pegg believe the genre is harmful to the industry. Grumbling aside, though, Kripke still feels that his show is exactly where it should be.

“In any massive cultural movement, the next wave of people will start examining it and deconstructing it. It’s kind of human nature,” Kripke said. “The thing it reminds me of is the western. For a couple of decades the western was a huge genre. Eventually it’ll fade, because every genre has to. But it’s going to be a while.”

See, that’s just the problem. Some generations just can’t appreciate what the past ones offered, and that’s what “social justice” was coined to reference, even when it’s not political per se. But do they recognize Democrats can abuse power as much as they surely believe Republicans can? If not, then they lack a point. It’s almost funny the same papers who’d surely speak favorably about superhero movies would also run this garbage belittling them, though they do allude to how Marvel’s just set out on a path for the sake of diversity valued over story merit.


“The Boys” actress Erin Moriarty, who plays Starlight, a super-powered hero with (so far) a good heart, was never particularly a fan of the superhero genre, but she recognizes the tonal shift and relishes being able to tell more grounded stories.

“The backdrop always involved superheroes in a world alternate to our own reality,” she said. “I think that the art we pump out tends to reflect the state of the world. At least in terms of ‘The Boys,’ we’re trying to handle some topical issues right now, so that lends itself to an inevitable darkness.”

What if they’re not? Or, what if they’re playing it all for cheap sensationalism? I’m not taking this idiocy at face value.


One of those issues is women being represented in the genre. Films and TV series like the now-canceled “Jessica Jones” — which Moriarty was also a part of — “Captain Marvel” and the recently announced “Black Widow” put women front and center in the genre. Moriarty knows that her current show, despite its title, does the same, deconstructing the “boys club” superhero mythology. How many Batman, Spider-Man and Superman reboots had to happen before there was a “Wonder Woman” film, despite the character being just as revered and established?

The issue isn’t whether they’re being represented, but how well they are in terms of story quality. In earlier times, they weren’t, as the unsuccessful Supergirl movie from 1984 made clear. Even Barb Wire was not a success, and that was produced on a low budget of $17 million.


In going back to the origins of darker characters in comic books, the Punisher may have the most recognizable symbol: a white skull on a black background. Ennis wrote the Punisher comics for a stint, and it’s considered one of that book’s best runs. Current writer Matthew Rosenberg is a fan of Ennis’ run, and knew what the Punisher was when he took on the job.

“There is no debating whether Frank Castle is a good guy or a hero. He isn’t. And Ennis does a great job of making you root for him and then scolding you for doing it,” Rosenberg wrote in an email. But he also resists violence for violence’s sake.

Sure, I’ll bet he does. I think there was a scene in that run where Frank blasted Wolverine’s face, as a cheap laugh. And IIRC, in one of the early 2000s issues, the Punisher raided the White House, all so he could confront Dubya, depicted there as something of a drunk, over policies he didn’t agree with. I don’t see what’s so non-sensationalized about that.


I always want to have a moral true north somewhere. It’s easy to get lost in the world of ‘bad people doing bad things to other bad people.’ I think a lot of writers and readers can find themselves rooting for things they shouldn’t be rooting for. And that’s fun for a while, but in the end it’s cheap and it’s a little dangerous.”

So Rosenberg’s another member of the boat who considers Punisher a criminal all the way through, and sees no differences between him and the criminals he battles. I just don’t understand why, after all these years, this is even an issue anymore. IMHO, the whole debate over whether Punisher is a good guy or a bad guy has long been beating a dead horse. Especially if, despite their put-downs, they still consider Frank Castle perfect Hollywood material.


“The danger for a subversive and outrageous tone is that you become gratuitous — or that you become shocking for shock’s sake,” said Kripke. “We can have totally insane moments, but we have to be able to justify it.”

Though there may be a line that can’t be crossed, “The Boys,” which often uses crude comedy to attempt levity in tense situations, still makes some choices that could be considered questionable.

Not “shocking for shock’s sake” at all


Well at least we know the defense they’re not relying on the sensationalistic isn’t as honest as they must want us to think it is.


“I read Garth Ennis and Neil Gaiman. Those were the guys I was obsessed with,” Kripke continued. “Both the comic and the show are about how completely ridiculous celebrity culture is. It’s also about how completely ridiculous and corrupt politics are, and media, and how the worst of it all is when they combine into one thing. And Garth was writing about that in 2006 and 2007. The [real] world has come to reflect the world of ‘The Boys’ more than it ever has.”

Maybe Ennis has attacked celebrity culture, but I’ve got a feeling he’s always been restrained when it comes to Hollywood, and since he’s an ultra-leftist, that’s why there’s minimal chance he’s ever been critical of the left overall. At the end, he said:


“The appeal for me is that I can write about life as I find it, rather than idealized fantasy figures that bear no relation to reality,” said Ennis. “The notion that the medium I work in is dominated (and, sadly, defined) by such a stupid genre is not one that feeds my sense of idealism. They’ve ruined comics, so there’s no reason they can’t ruin film and TV as well.”

I think Ennis counts as an early example of what we now call SJWs. A pity he can’t appreciate fantasy and its wish fulfillment components whenever used. Similarly, a real pity if he doesn’t think the people of his standing have ruined superhero comics as they stand now, what with rabid leftism running amok, increased reliance on darkness and deconstruction, to say nothing of a most mean-spirited tone laced with cheap violence. One of the biggest victims of recent is women’s sexuality, which is now being considered by some leftists an inherently negative example, while making no distinctions between sexuality and how it’s conveyed/made use of. All this tearing down on escapist fantasy is leaving comicdom without a proper balance, yet it means nothing to phonies like Ennis, who shouldn’t even be associating with superhero comics if he really has such a problem with them. At least here, he’s working on something that’s his own creation rather than somebody else’s.


Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1