The Boys: Dear Becky #1 – Uneven But Gripping

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Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

Garth Ennis is a conundrum. On one hand, you have an immensely talented comic scribe who explores subject matter such as male friendship, PTSD and loss with tenderness and unexpected nuance. On the other, you have a writer who just refuses to learn.

The Boys: Dear Becky #1 displays many of Ennis’ shortcomings as well as many of his strengths. There’s an excessive reliance on dialogue, both to convey information and to set the scene. Pages and pages of miscellaneous conversation clutter up the story, disrupting its flow. This is a pity because as always, Ennis delivers a riveting premise. More than a decade after the slaughter of The Boys’ finale, survivor Wee Hughie’s life is calm and settled until his bloody past once more returns to haunt him.

As in the The Boys, Hughie is the everyman protagonist. Readers experience events through his eyes and he proves a sympathetic POV character. It’s a mark of Garth’s ability that we feel Hughie’s nauseating dread when things start to unwind. The growing sense of tension throughout the book is handled masterfully.

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The Boys’ trademark violence and gore are present. There is a truly horrifying moment involving a minor and a razor blade. The scene is enriched by Ennis’ sharp, cynical wit, which has Butcher referring to the blood on his hands as “kid’s claret.” You’ll laugh even as you shudder.

All the characters are drawn sharply with clear motivations and flaws. Few writers approach Ennis’ skill for evoking an emotional response in readers. You can feel the cast’s pain as your own. The comic is also richly atmospheric. With just a few words of dialogue, Ennis can conjure up rural Scotland or a torture scene. It’s a pity then that he chooses to be so verbose. A stricter editor would have done wonders.

Braun’s muscular artwork helps carry the story. The characters have weight to them; Braun manages to make them appear both larger-than-life and relatable. His layout is old-school and clean, broken up by very effective use of metapanels. The emotional range displayed by the characters is impressive. Butcher’s subtle facial tics and insincere grins deliver as much of an emotional gut-punch as Huey’s more exaggerated responses.

Sadly other elements of the comic work less successfully. Ennis’ humor was controversial twenty years ago. Today, much of it comes across as simply immature. Logan Dalton of Graphic Policy likened it to “a tone-deaf Scottish boomer ranting on Facebook.”

Bobbi – Huey’s transgender friend – appears throughout the issue to act as a sounding board and source of humor. Her appearance, body language and repeated misgendering are portrayed as a running joke. It’s a sad contrast to Florence Kilcolm from the gritty SINK series. Like Bobbi, Florence doesn’t always “pass” successfully but she’s portrayed with great sensitivity and empathy by writer John Lees. Bobbi, to say the least, is not. While Braun is responsible for the visual aspects of The Boys: Dear Becky, it’s hard for anyone familiar with Ennis’ oeuvre to believe that he didn’t direct the artist’s approach.

Terms like “woke”, “white privilege” and “dead name” are used willy-nilly without real understanding or interest in context. Ennis’ work has never been what one could call political correct nor should it have to be. But now he no longer has the balls to own his own crude humor and biases. Instead he wants to be able to hold up certain minorities as a source of humor and still get patted on the back for being… “woke.”

The Boys: Dear Becky  is an uneven start to what could be gripping mini-series. While many of Ennis’ flaws and stock stereotypes are on display, his brilliance still shines through. You don’t need to be an Ennis apologist to enjoy the comic; you just need a strong stomach. And if you’re a long-time reader of his work, you probably already have one.

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