Or – “Butcher May Have A Heart After All…”
A Garth Ennis two-parter? Either I’m having a theme weekend or this was incredibly poor planning on my part. Either way, I have been a bit surprised at Billy Butcher’s response to recent events in his life, what with forgiving Wee Hughie his indiscretion and threatening to kill Director Rayner’s family out of what seemed like sheer bastardry. There are a few unseen wheels turning, though, and Butcher’s about to be put through even more changes…
THE BOYS FIFTY-ONE
Writer: Garth Ennis
Illustrator: Russ Braun
Cover Artist: Darick Robertson
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Colorist: Tony Avina
Editor: Joseph Rybrandt
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Cover Price: $2.99
Previously, on The Boys: Billy Butcher took over command of the secret CIA task force known as ‘The Boys’ from Colonel Mallory after a particularly disastrous mission went pear-shaped in a quite personal way for the boss. Recruiting former Scotland Yard detective Hughie Campbell, it seemed like old times, until Hughie’s relationship with one of the very supers that they police came to light. At the same time, the mysterious Man From Vought-American has taken on what I can only describe as a collaborator, a young woman who has already witnessed enough to know that the precarious balance between man and superman is very much off-kilter. CIA Director Rayner (who has had a sexual relationship, sort of, with Butcher) stepped away from the team and left her underling (whom Butcher calls ‘Monkey’) in charge, and Monkey intends to get even for every slight and insult. Things are getting ugly in Boys-town, but at least we know that inside every silver lining is another dark cloud…
A Bad Day For Monkey…
We open up at the White House itself, as President Dakota Bob and Vic The Veep host a gala event for a celebrated paralympian. Some seriously creepy dialogue occurs between patrons, underlying the corruption of government and industry that pretty much permeates this whole series, while Butcher saunters in unquestioned, sweeping by the Commander-In-Chief with a brusque, “Smaller fish to fry.” While Monkey tries to get the one-legged lady athlete in the sack, Vought-American’s Jess Bradley has come up with a plan to rid her parent company of the twin menaces of The Boys and The Seven. It’s actually a clever development, if somewhat telegraphed by the fact that it’s inevitable. Artist Russ Braun has done a great job this issue, imbuing Jess with facial expressions that clearly show us her intelligence and the ice-cold nature of her personality, especially given that her scenes take place in a darkened office at a computer, discussing the situation on her headset. I still miss what Darick Robertson brings to the book, but Braun is doing good work here, especially when Monkey makes his move and gets easily knocked out by his lovely target. He awakens to find himself at the mercy of Billy Butcher and Terror (the killer bulldog) and his comeuppance is… painful to even consider. Gyaaah.
A Good Day For Director Rayner…
Once Monkey’s gruesome punishment is out of the way, Butcher visits Director Rayner, who is understandably cautious about this superhuman murder machine who threatened to kill her family. I actually found myself tensing up as Butcher calmly sits down and delivers his warning, blithely ignoring the gun in his face. Rayner is at first enraged, then confused, then stunned at what her $@&$-buddy has to say. Their little tete-a-tete brings to light one previously unrevealed bit of information (here’s a hint: The Homelander and company might have weaknesses after all.) Again, Braun does wonderful things with what might have been a talking heads sequence, combined with some excellent Ennis dialogue. Butcher even sorta-kinda apologizes, saying “I ain’t gonna kill anyone’s kids. That’s your game, remember?” I appreciate how well the sequence works, especially given how shocking and uncharacteristic his threat was all those months ago, and things even end up with the Director asking him to stay, while Ms. Bradley works out what Butcher and her boss already knew: The Seven and The Boys are on a path to destruction, but Jess thinks she knows who the real victor will be.
The Verdict: Things Are Looking Up
The last few months of this title have been pretty unrelentingly bleak, and for The Boys, that’s saying something. But with Hughie’s solo tale over, and Butcher admitting that he’s not the bastard that he seems to be, this issue feels like a return to form. Of course, I don’t suspect that this is ever going to be a nice title, but at least I’m able to deal with my protagonist again as a bastard of acceptible magnitude. Jess is the real variable in the story for me, and the fact that I don’t know exactly what her hidden agenda is yet makes the whole thing intriguing. Ennis has long had a winner on his hands with this series, but this issue manages to cover a lot of territory in a short period of time. My only complaint is that this issue consists almost entirely of talking heads sequences, going from the party scene to Rayner’s office with only the violation of Monkey (and, by the way, raise your hand if ‘EWW?’) to pad it out, giving me the unpleasant ‘middle-of-the-trade-paperback-working-at-the-carwash-blues’ and making me wish that things were paced somewhat differently. Darick Robertson has indicated that he should be returning to the series as soon as work on the Butcher solo miniseries is done, and the plot is heading out of super-dark territory, and my interest in the series is picking up again. The Boys Fifty-One is a sorbet to clear the palette between big arcs and big occurrences, and does it’s job well, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. Now, how about a little Frenchie, guys?