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Plato Meets The Boys

It has been a hectic week here in philosophy land. I managed to survive this round of the craziness, though I think a few bits of brain might have dribbled out my nose along the way. During a less hectic moment I found time to finally sit down and start reading some of Garth Ennis’ The Boys. On the whole it has the same kind of over-the-top elements that Ennis typically brings to his work.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series I’ll try to give a brief synopsis without spoiling the particular details. The series revolves around a group of people working for the United States government. These would be The Boys of the eponymous title. People with superpowers are a threat to the status quo, and it’s The Boys’ job to try and keep the capes in line. Of course in your typical comic setting the capes are anything but a threat to the status quo; indeed, the very nature of most superhero books is such that the spandex crowd are generally the ultimate enforcers of it. So why are the supes in The Boys different?

The answer’s a pretty simple one, really: because the vast majority of them are shitbags. That’s not even much of an exaggeration. The supes in Ennis’ vision get up to things that make Hank Pym’s drunken, wife smacking, multiple personality shenanigans look like a pleasant holiday at the beach. In public these people are all about maintaining the typical supherhero image… mostly. Fortunately they have corporate backing so that when they brutally murder someone in public, or cause a plane to crash into the Brooklyn Bridge through arrogance and incompetence their public reputations remain untarnished. In private many of these heroes are violent, abusive, drunken oafs… and many of them take it well beyond that, and add such offenses as rape and pedophilia to their repertoires.

While their are exceptions t0 the above, for the most part the “superheroes” of The Boys are people who revel in having reputations as just people, while being able to behave in an unjust fashion. If you’ve ever read Plato’s Republic, then you already know that a discussion very much in that vein happens when the characters in the dialogue are discussing ideas of justice, and it is picked back up post-ideal city in the story about a ring that can turn people invisible. Long before Spider-Man told us that “with great power comes great responsibility,” Plato was asking, “if you had great power, and no accountability would you really behave responsibly?” If Ennis’ vision as articulated in The Boys is right, and some days I fear that it is, the answer is “probably fucking not.”

Sure, you could come to The Boys because you want to see the titties, and faces being ripped off, not to mention the fucking profanity. Or, you could pick it up for its Platonic engagement, musings of morality and violence, and commentary on corporations and our obsession with celebrities.


Posted by on February 26, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy


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