Or – “Maybe You Gave Grandpa The Keys, Right Before The Battle Of Verdun!”

Hughie’s “vacation” didn’t really clear his head, and it didn’t fix either his life or his relationship with Annie.  In fact, the only positive in the whole mess was his introduction to the former commanding officer of The Boys, Colonel Mallory, who has quite a few interesting bits of history to share with young Master Campbell…

THE BOYS FIFTY-THREE
Writer: Garth Ennis
Penciler(s): John McCrea with Keith Burns
Inker(s): Keith Burns with John McCrea
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Colorist: Tony Avina
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, on The Boys: Wee Hughie became a member of the clandestine underground anti-super-team-team called The Boys by accident.  After the death of his fiancee at the hands of a couple of irresponsible superheroes, The Butcher adopted him, for reasons which still aren’t entirely clear.  As things get more and more complicated for both Butcher and Hughie, one man still seems to have answers.  His name is Mallory, his history with Vought-American is long and horrifying.  And he has targeted Hughie specifically to drop a little knowledge on the laddie.

Dateline: 1944

I’m extremely unnerved by Mallory’s stalking of Wee Hughie throughout the ‘Highland Laddie’ series, especially given his completely hidden agenda, but Hughie seems to trust the old man.  Last time ’round, Mallory began the story of what happened on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge, and he and his tank battalion were chosen to test a new Vought-American supergun.  What the R&D types didn’t reveal was that they were also going to be the testing ground for another project, as the first wave of superhumans has been sent into the field for their inaugural mission.  “All I could think was ,’Why are these lunatics dressed like this?’ ”  Heh.  For all the folderal about Captain America as a living embodiment of the warriors of Dubya Dubya Two, you have to imagine that the ear-wings at the very LEAST would cause some military consternation…

The Other Shoe Drops

The Avenging Squad contains the original bears of the names Soldier Boy, Crimson Countess and Laddio, as well as Teknight’s forerunner, the Steel Knight, and the soldiers are impressed by their feats of strength, up to a point.  Soldier Boy reminds them that they’re in no danger, as his team’s reconnaissance has shown no Germans anywhere around.  Ennis handles this bit of interaction very well, as I felt my own blood run cold at the same moment that young Mallory’s did, realizing that the sight of flying men would certainly draw the enemy to follow them to ground, and just as he starts to mobilize the troops, the shooting starts.  It’s remarkably brutal, as anyone who has ever read an Ennis war book will tell you, and Mallory quickly finds himself the last man standing.  He is shellshocked, but not so much that he can’t give Soldier Boy a little bit of well-deserved (if somewhat vicious) poetic justice in the end.

The Verdict:  Ennis Does A Mean War Comic.

If you’re avoiding the Boys title because you think that it’s all about shock and mockery of super-heroes, you’re missing a pretty wild ride.   Highland Laddie was a combination of Vonnegut-style existentialism, boys adventure and romance, and the series as a whole is much more than the sum of its parts.  The world-building has been subtle since the very beginning, but this dose of alternate history shows us how truly bankrupt and rotten Vought-American is and has been, and the use of Mallory as Greek Chorus (much as the Legend served in previous issues) is quite effective.  I wondered a couple of issues ago why they couldn’t just do the Highland Laddie series within the main comic itself, and the answer becomes clear here, with no sign of Butcher, Frenchie or the Female or the overarching plots.  This is a strong issue (albeit one that might require you to have a strong stomach) and Ennis & McCrea drag you into the story within the story, without letting you forget that Mallory’s actual intentions are still unknown.  The Boys Fifty-Three is a unusual tale for this series, but one that deepens the main narrative and tells a pretty awesome story along the way, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Do you mind when war stories or cowboy stories or soap opera stories get mixed in your superhero books?  Can combining genres really work?

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.

Previous post

Critical Hit #93: Enter the Jaguanas

Next post

REVIEW: Annihilators #2

4 Comments

  1. ~wyntermute~
    April 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm — Reply

    “(albeit one that might require you to have a strong stomach)”

    That, right there, is why I cannae read this book. But I like to read your reviews nonetheless, so I can kind-of-sorta-maybe-a-little enjoy the ride anyway. :) Keep ’em coming Mr. Matthew!

  2. Doctor_Why
    April 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm — Reply

    Great George Carlin reference in the sub-title, Matthew!

  3. Antonio Sanciolo
    April 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm — Reply

    the combination of genres generally leads to the definition of new genres; it must have worked so far or else we wouldn’t have cyberpunk, steampunk, spaghetti-western, rom-com et al.

  4. Noobian74
    April 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm — Reply

    Earlier issues of The Boys talked about how Vought-American became involved in the political structure of America, so, in this case, the war genre made sense.

    Listen, I’m a complex man with simple needs. If it helps/enhances the story, let them there genres cross!

You know you have something to say, say it in the comment section