In the years since his misadventures with The Boys ended, Wee Hughie has settled back into a quiet life in Scotland with his true love, Annie. All he wants to do is forget the horrors he witnessed, have a drink with his old friend Bobbi, and move on with his life.
But the arrival of a mysterious package brings back the "good old days" with a vengeance. Who has sent the secret diary of Billy Butcher to Hughie, and why?
The tale of a lost case of the Boys' may hold the key...
The Boys was a nasty, mean-spirited, over-the-top violent, borderline sociopathic takedown of the superhero. It was also a crazy amount of fun, and took more than its fair share turns in its narrative, while also building emotionally complex characters whose motivations shifted as the series went on, morphing from a superhero parody to an excoriation of the military-industrial complex. It was writer/co-creator Garth Ennis at both his best and his worst, and was a divisive comic to say the least. It was also a product of its time – springing to life during the mid-Aughts, when the country was still grappling with both the social and political ramifications of 9/11 and the identity crisis the Bush administration caused Americans to have with their faith in institutions. To an extent, as a nation we’re still grappling with those things, but in the intervening years since The Boys concluded, those things have twisted and morphed into far more sinister, potentially cataclysmic affairs. The reciprocal response has been the empowerment of a proudly oppositional culture, starting with Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movement and cascading throughout the left-minded parts of American society to hold society’s uglier side to task for its immoral behavior. That response has, in turn, caused both sides of the political, moral, and social divides to be more at odds with one another than they have been in several generations.
With all that in mind, can it easily be said that this was the time for The Boys to return in the form of this four-issue Dear Becky miniseries? Does the comic-reading public, which largely skews left, have the stomach anymore for a comic where the protagonists brutally cut a ten-year-old’s tongue out so he can’t say his magic word and transform into an adult-sized superhero, and then punch him in the stomach as one last eff-you gesture?
Timing, of course, is everything. When this comic was plotted, given the green light, drawn, and otherwise produced, no one could have foreseen the nigh-apocalyptic shape America was going to take over the course of the past three months thanks to COVID-19, nor the social unrest caused by the murder of George Floyd and the unending institutionalized racism rampant throughout America’s police. Combine these things with the ever-spiraling state of the White House, and suddenly, a comic of this nature looks far less like a sure thing than it might have at the beginning of 2020. People, by and large, are wanting something hopeful in their escapism, not down and dirty and bitter.
It’s not fair to dovetail an objective review of Dear Becky with these external factors, but at the same time, it’s impossible to extricate the two. Pop culture – and more specifically to this review, comics – are both reflections of and responses to the Zeitgeist. With that in mind, Dear Becky – through no fault of its own – finds itself extraordinarily out of step with the moment thanks to the timing of its release. (Compounding this is the fact that publisher Dynamite has in recent months proven itself to be a haven for oustered ComicsGate pros, which does nothing for either the company’s reputation or by extension this comic’s mere existence. For the record, Comic Watch officially stands firmly opposed to ComicsGate and all it represents.)
With all that in mind, Dear Becky finds itself in a tricky spot. It certainly doesn’t help that the opening sequence has Hughie casually railing against the concept of wokeness to his trans friend Bobbi, and although there’s a conversation between two friends element to it, it’s clear that Ennis is channeling his own thoughts on the subject through Hughie. To be clear, he’s more opposed to the notion of talking instead of acting when it comes to change, but Hughie/Ennis misses the point completely that the idea of wokeness – like political correctness before it (something Ennis similarly railed against way back in Preacher) – is the activation of change by creating awareness to the plight of the marginalized. The whole scene lands wrong, and is certainly out of touch with our times – and, frankly, feels a bit like an old man yelling at a cloud. Perhaps fifty-year-old white men should listen and learn on subject matter like this instead of having the knee-jerk reaction to rail against it?
Bobbi, too, is a troublesome representation of a trans woman. While not explicitly transphobic, by her nature as a buff, hulking alpha male who now wears badly-applied makeup, wears her hair long, and looks quite ridiculous in female attire, Bobbi is at best a joke at trans people’s expense and at worst an anachronistic caricature from a long, long-ago era. Bobbi feels more like she was ripped from a late-’90s episode of South Park than should be allowed. All that said, visuals aside, Bobbi is treated like a real person in her dialogue with Hughie. They banter like two old friends should: casually, gently ribbing one another, with obvious camaraderie. She gives him a hard time over calling her “Bobby” instead of “Bobbi.” There’s genuine love between them, despite the changes Bobbi has gone through. That clash in Bobbi as a trans woman – visual versus interior – is a bit maddening, because if she’d been designed just a little differently (read: respectfully), there’d be absolutely nothing wrong with her character.
But the scene between Hughie and Bobbi is just preface, a scene-setter to allow readers a window into Hughie’s post-Boys life. All things taken equally, he’s been lucky to return to a relatively normal, placid existence. His love Annie (formerly known as Starlight) isn’t seen in these pages, but her presence is felt; Hughie and she have fallen into a benign, loving routine, quietly leaving behind the chaos that once defined their worlds. That existence is shaken (hard enough that Hughie falls off the toilet and is rendered fetal) when a package arrives for Hughie containing the lost diary of Billy Butcher, Hughie’s former leader/mentor/tormentor/comrade/brother-figure/psychological manipulator from The Boys. The diary itself actually belonged to Billy’s deceased wife Becky, but he began writing in it after she died, presumably as a means of coping with her death.
Becky was only seen in two issues of The Boys‘ original run, in the Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker mini that detailed for the first time Butcher’s shady and tragic backstory. Becky was cast as a shining beacon of light in Butcher’s world, the one lodestone that could see the good in him and set him on a non-violent, even benevolent path. Beyond that, Becky really wasn’t much of a character – more of an archetype than anything else. Upon its announcement, the idea behind Dear Becky was to shed some light on her, who she was – so pivotal yet so criminally underdeveloped. Without her (and of course her subsequent demise), the story of The Boys would have never happened. She’s important!
With that in mind, it’s confusing that Becky is completely missing – either visually or in spirit – from these pages. True, the diary itself initially belonged to her, but it’s the memory and words of Billy Butcher that cause such a panicked reaction from Hughie. Otherwise, Becky is as missing here as she was in the original run of The Boys. While she might come into play further down the line (which stands to reason, since one of the things Butcher mentions in his writing was how angry he became after reading the diary after her death), but at this point, her non-presence in the story is glaring.
Who sent the diary? What does it mean for Hughie? How does it tie into the events of The Boys? Those are questions to be answered further down the line, too, but the best clue we get is a flashback to the team – pre-Hughie – cutting a ten-year-old boy’s tongue out so he can’t say his magic word and turn into a super-adult. The scene is not only brutal, but it’s brutal in its lack of emotion as well. The team is torturing a child yet because he’s a “supe,” they respond with all the interest of slicing a cucumber. It’s unsettling, to say the least. Coldly sociopathic. The Boys never shied away from the regular vicious death of a supe, but the fact that it’s a kid this time is hard to sit through without feeling some serious discomfort. That kid, of course, is a surrogate for Billy Batson, who even after he has his tongue cut out is angrily trying to shout, “THYATHAM!” to his disinterested torturers. (Never mind that it’s physically impossible to make the T-H sound without a tongue.)
Remember, these are supposed to be the protagonists. I use that term specifically because, as The Boys progressed, it was gradually revealed that Billy Butcher was the true monster of the story, which in turn cast a different light on all previous events. There are no heroes in this story, except for Hughie, who eventually turned against Billy 0nce he realized his complicity in the latter’s horrors. That understanding makes the “thyatham” scene in Dear Becky that much more of a gut punch, because we know from the outset that these are absolutely not good people we’re watching (as if it wasn’t already clear). It’s just a mean and cold-blooded scene that takes zero pity or empathy on any of its participants. The Boys, for all its horrorshow violence, generally kept a sense of playfulness in its brutality. This is more like straight-up torture porn. Of a ten-year-old.
Is that what the world needs right now? Timing is everything, as I said above, so that can’t really be the fault of Dear Becky. The difference between now and the original planned release date is – well, everything. In the last three months, the world has completely changed. There may not be a place for a comic like The Boys: Dear Becky anymore. Whether that’s true for the individual reader is up to them to decide – but as unsettling as this comic is, whatever their decision, they probably won’t feel good about their choice either way.
The Boys: Dear Becky #1 is a comic that feels ripped from a bygone era, and whether or not readers can stomach it given the world's current climate is going to be a personal choice. The Boys remains as brutal and uncaring as ever, but now lacks the wink and sense of fun the original run had. And perhaps that, too, is a reflection of the times.
The Boys: Dear Becky #1 (of 4): Out of Touch
Writing - 5/105/10
Storyline - 4/104/10
Art - 6/106/10
Color - 6/106/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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