Sunday, May 15, 2011

TWT Checks Out The Boys: Highland Laddie

Garth Ennis’ series The Boys has been one of my favourite series since I discovered the early trades of the comic a couple of years ago. I pretty much devoured the first five or so volumes of this series, which so cleverly turns the table on the mainstream superhero genre. Tonight I’m looking at the latest collection of the series in Trade Paperback, The Boys: Highland Laddie”.

While this has been put out as Volume 8 of the series, Highland Laddie was actually a six issue mini-series, much the same as Herogasm, which was issued as a Volume 5 of the series. While it stands apart from the main series in one respect, I’d still suggest that it’s required reading if you’re a fan of the series.

Anyone who knows The Boys won’t be surprised to know that Highland Laddie focuses on Wee Hughie, the Scotsman who has been the lens through which we have come to understand the world of The Boys. In the preceding issues of the main series, we’ve seen the origin stories of three other members of the “team”; Mother’s Milk (aka “MM”), The Frenchman and The Female. In this mini-series, it’s Hughie’s turn.

Having come to a crossroads in his desire to be a part of The Boys’ world, Hughie returns to his native Scotland for some thinking time, and we learn about his background and upbringing as a result. We meet his “Maw” and “Paw” and learn that he is adopted. We meet his two oddball friends from his youth, (Rich Johnston from Bleeding Cool has a great article about how Hughies’ family and friends are a homage to a 1930’s comic strip) and come to some understandings of what made Hughie the person that we met back in The Boys #1. It’s totally consistent with anything we may have known or thought about him, but adds a great deal of texture and understanding to his character and story.

As it turns out, this mini isn’t just a vehicle for Hughie - it’s also Starlight’s origin story. We’ve seen Annie January’s evolution from young innocent to the conflicted and somewhat cynical person she is in the stories today. When she comes to Scotland to try to patch things together with Hughie, we learn how she came into her powers and her “career” as a Vought American superhero. Ennis takes a stab at the fad of children’s beauty pageants by showing a Compound V infused iteration, which is the main section of this story that “feels” most like a classic Boys tale. It’s well done, and makes its point without unnecessary gore. This little flashback also gives us an insight into how Vought grooms its employees from an early age, and stage manages so much of what they do.

Alongside these “origin” stories, there is a storyline that is told and resolved within the mini-series which is a good read in itself. It seems unrelated to the world of The Boys at first, but by the end it has linked in, and explains a bit more of just how much the impacts of Compound V have bled in to normal society.

I have to admit that prior to reading this volume, I was coming to a bit of a crossroads with this series. I loved the initial story arcs, but the book seemed to have fallen into a predictable pattern: we meet new “heroes”, discover their particular form of debauchery, and then see them dispatched in some horrible manner. Fun, but for this reader at least there needs to be a little bit of soul to justify my gore and violence. It might just be mind tricks to justify guilty pleasures, but that’s the way I tick.

Highland Laddie is a welcome reprieve from that routine. Its focus is on helping us know Hughie and Annie better, and without spoiling anything, there’s no terrible sinister undertone to any of the characters we’re introduced to from Hughie’s upbringing. There is a refreshing normality of dysfunctional yet loving family relationships that comes through in this story which reinforces the points of difference between Hughie and the other members of The Boys, and I expect that the realisations that Hughie comes to within himself in this arc will have some flow-on effect to how he functions in the main book.

The verdict? If you read The Boys solely for the gore, sex and violence, Highland Laddie might disappoint, as they’re all in short supply here. If you character development is important to you, then Highland Laddie is essential reading, as it will not only add depth to your understanding of some of the main characters of the series, but is also sure to have some reverberations in the main series of The Boys. Definitely two TWT thumbs up!

What now? If you’d like to check out The Boys: Highland Laddie, click here to buy it from Amazon.com and support Trade Waiting Tales!

Next up: a blast from the past of the female, green, John Byrne variety: Sensational She-Hulk, Volume One. Should be fun!

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Happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. I actually didn't enjoy this book as much. I appreciate the origin of Starlight, found the origin of Wee Hughie unnecessary (since he's meant to be the "normal" one), and the main plot was quite ho-hum. and the ending with Hughie and Annie was not the level of unfair suffering I'd expect from Ennis (unless he makes it worse, and I'm sure he will).
    Also Darrick Robertson > John McCrea on this book.

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