Or – “In Which A Difficult Question Is Finally Raised…”

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For nearly three years now, the operatives known as The Boys have gone into battle against corrupt superhumans big and small, from Moscow to North Dakota and back, armed with only their wits and several black leather trenchcoats.  In all this time, in the back of my mind, I wondered…  The Female of the Species makes sense, as she is the only girl.  The Frenchman is, well…  French.  Butcher uses his real surname.  Wee Hughie is a little guy named Hughie.  Why in the world do they call him Mother’s Milk?

Bo2.jpgPreviously, on The Boys: Billy Butcher, son of England, a cold-eyed killer with no apparent scruples at all.  The Frenchman, Gallic warrior, a gangly force of nature with a love of chocolate oranges and a deep affection for his teammates, one in particular.  The Female of the Species, an Asiatic woman of unknown descent who is so devoted to the art of killing that she seems to have no time for anything else, even the most basic communication.  Mother’s Milk,  Butcher’s good right hand, an oasis of calm in the madness of the characters lives (but not afraid to bust some heads when necessary.  Wee Hughie, a Scotsman who has always believed that he real powers behind the world remain hidden, whose final confirmation of this fact led to the superhuman-caused death of his beloved fiancee.  Together, they comprise the cover operative team known as The Boys, and where they go brutally weird $#!+ follows.  After all the unpleasantness of recent months, (the super-team called Payback were somehow set upon them, with Stormfront, Payback’s most powerful member, nearly crippling The Female, leading to an all-out battle between Butcher and the vaguely Avengers-like organization.)  After the ambush, Butcher made a vague reference to Mother’s Milk about “explaining who we are” to new recruit Wee Hughie.  In a moment of calm, Hughie and Mother’s Milk have taken a few moments to discuss what made MM what he is, and… um…  It’s not pretty.

We open with Hughie and Mother’s Milk standing quietly and watching construction crews rebuild The Brooklyn Bridge, destroyed in previous issues.  Series creator Darick Robertson is back with this issue, and I find that I have missed his art more than I thought.  Certain characters work better under certain pens for me, and these characters are among them.  (Nobody other than Ditko has ever done what I consider to be an effective Creeper.)  Mother’s Milk starts to spin his story, the only member of the squad from America and the only New Yorker in the bunch.  His momma once worked in a factory owned by evil corporation Vought-American back in the day, leading to the family having to deal with the fallout.  His brother was born developmentally challenged, as as for himself, when his mother tried to wean him from breast milk, the baby who would become known as Mother’s Milk became deathly ill.  He nearly died several times before the family decided that this (like his brother’s affliction) was something with which they would just have to deal.  The sequence moves along, with Mother’s Milk calmly telling his story, while Wee Hughie suddenly comes to the realization of what it all means…  It’s a beautiful sequence by two excellent storytellers.

With his family so affected, Mother’s Milk’s father (try saying that out loud) dedicates himself to studying law books, searching endlessly for a way to make V/A responsible for what their neglect wrought on his wife and children, eventually winning a court case with a tiny payout, after which MM heard the corporate lawyer’s walk away, shrugging the whole thing off as a meaningless fluke.  “They exhausted that man,” he tells Hughie angrily.  “They took everything but the last $*$@$ inch of his heart.”  Again, the facial expression in the scene does as much as the dialogue to show us the emotions he’s feeling.  Vought’s mutational serums and poisons lead to the death of his brother, (an incredibly powerful sequence, especially their father’s response) to his own being drummed out of the military for accidentally killing a man in a boxing match, and eventually to his meeting Butcher and Mallory, who recruit him into The Boys.  His story pauses for a moment, and Hughie delicately tries to voice the question that he (and I) need answered.  “You know this thing, where, y’know, you’d like shrivel up if you didn’t go to your mum?  If you didn’t… you know, get…  Do you still have to–“  Mother’s Milk interrupts, asking Hughie if he wants coffee, and we fade to black with the question still unanswered.

I’ll say this for Garth Ennis:  he can take something that should be horrifying and somehow turn it on it’s head and make you forget that it should be such.  He did it in Preacher (notably with Arseface, but to a lesser extent with Cassidy and even the Saint of Killers) and he does it here with the story of Mother’s Milk.  Nobody ever thinks that their life is unusual.  They lived it, after all…  But this issue is remarkably subtle about the question of whether the now adult, 6’8” Mother’s Milk still has to draw his namesake from it’s source, and it’s strange how engaging his story becomes.  The death of his brother starts out ridiculous, going from farcical to horrifying to tragic in the space of a few panels, and the reaction of his father to the loss of a child is absolutely unbearable.  What’s most amazing about this story is how the telling of it draws us in, makes us see that this life may have had it’s oddnesses, but it wasn’t really all that much more unusual than any of our own.  (For what that’s worth…)  This series has a reputation for blood and gore and sex and violence and the cheap belly laughs that come from seeing various assclowns hoist by their own petard, but Garth has taken a moment to slow the tale down and tell an honest-to-Jesse-Custer moving tale of family and loss.  Even the somewhat juvenile “Does he or doesn’t he?” question doesn’t undermine the tragic intent here, and Darick’s art sells it perfectly.  The Boys Thirty-Five earns a very incredible 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  No lie, folks, stories like this are the reason to read comic books…

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. Sarcasm Kid
    October 14, 2009 at 6:01 pm — Reply

    Well, if typing stuff like “Mother’s Milk’s father” was heard, you could’ve tried abbreviating it like MM’s father. Not sure if that helps now, though.

  2. Joshua Smith
    October 15, 2009 at 3:16 am — Reply

    Hey Matthew, not to be the glasses wearing uber-nerd that I am… but it was actually MM’s Mother that worked at a meat processing plant owned by V/A. Other tan that I could not have said it better myself. This issue made me glad you forced me to start reading this book at Gatekeeper.

  3. Salieri
    October 15, 2009 at 3:09 pm — Reply

    Still doesn’t explain why a trip to his Mother’s makes him throw up at the thought of giant pythons…

  4. October 15, 2009 at 10:18 pm — Reply

    Mmm… I had wondered about that as well.

  5. October 15, 2009 at 10:18 pm — Reply

    Hey Matthew, not to be the glasses wearing uber-nerd that I am… but it was actually MM’s Mother that worked at a meat processing plant owned by V/A.

    YOU ARE BANNED FROM THE STOOOORE!

    Naaaah, you’re quite right… Good catch, sir.

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