After muddling through most of The Boys and cross-sections of Crossed, there is just no escaping the conclusion that Garth Ennis is a hack. When Preacher came out, Ennis looked good because there was nothing quite like it. But The Boys had to run side by side with Irredeemable and Incorruptible, the series which for all its flaws did the evil superheroes things much better than Ennis. And Crossed is a poor man’s Walking Dead with gore splattered everywhere. Even its premise seems lifted from Warren Ellis’ superior Blackgas.
What The Boys and Crossed punishingly bring home is that Garth Ennis has absolutely no ideas. The only reason to read through anyone that Garth Ennis writes is to see superheroes, criminals and people in a zombie apocalypse who talk like the guys from a Guy Ritchie movie. That’s fun in a way but it doesn’t nearly justify the price of admission.
The Boys had just about wrapped up after endless delays and routes left, which were far more inexcusable than when Garth Ennis was fumbling around with Preacher. Garth Ennis doesn’t do plots well, that’s no real surprise to anyone, and he doesn’t do conclusions too well either. The big battle with Homelander wasn’t much of a battle at all. But battles are another thing that Ennis can’t really do. His characters win fights because they have the better lines, not because they really do anything.
The question for those who defended The Boys is what does the series actually do well?
The Boys just revived Garth Ennis’ own The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe concept and swapped out the Punisher for a British version who is drawn to look like a softer version of Frank Castle. Then he threw in a Captain America origin story for the entire crew and his thoughts on American politics drawn from Guardian editorials and 9/11 Truther videos.
How much of a hack is Garth Ennis? Go look back at the superheroes in The Boys. How does Garth Ennis characterize them? Ennis only has one way to do that and that’s sex. Some are evil because they’re gay. Some are evil because they’re promiscuous. Some are evil because of some more exotic fetish. Batman has sex with everything. The X-Men are pedophiles. One superhero has a gerbil up his ass. Another has sex with transvestites. It’s boring and borderline homophobic and it’s the only idea Garth Ennis has.
Hughie, like every Garth Ennis hero, is a good man because he’s in a heretosexual relationship with a sweet girl. Butcher once used to be good when he had that kind of relationship, but when the Homelander raped his wife, he turned into a ruthless vigilante. Ennis is relying on the same exact lazy characterization of a 1940’s movie spiced up with every fetish he can think of to characterize the bad guys. And this isn’t new for him. He did it in Preacher too.
Pull back the curtain a little and the superheroes in The Boys aren’t bad because they’re bad. They’re bad because they have a lot of sex. Ennis can dress that up in lots of graphic scenes, but it’s the same exact message you would get from a 1940’s movie.
Now for the rest of it.
After 65 issues, we have finally gotten to the point where Hughie, an irritating character who whined and fumbled through the 65 previous issues is finally forced to face off with Butcher. Butcher and Hughie are the only characters in The Boys that Garth Ennis cared about. That didn’t stop Ennis from drawing in three other stereotypes and spending entire issues on backstories that were a joke, just not the funny kind, and from killing them off.
Everything that has gotten us to here comes down to the same plot that the X-Men have done forty thousand times. And it’s just there so Hughie and Butcher can swap some lines for two more issues. That’s all there is here.
The Boys and Crossed forced me to reach the conclusion that Garth Ennis’ style is his cover. He doesn’t hate superheroes, he just can’t tell a story. The smug superior attitude and graphic content are defense mechanisms because they and characters drawn from British gangster movies are the only things he brings to the table. Garth Ennis is a hack. He writes the way he does because he hopes no one realizes that he can’t do any better.