“Highland Laddie” is the second of three planned mini-series to accompany “The Boys” and, unlike last year’s “Herogasm,” it focuses on one of the main cast members -- in fact, you could say it focuses on the main cast member, the point of view character for the series, Hughie. After recent events in the title that saw him take a terrible beating from a superhero and learn that his girlfriend Annie is one of the Seven, Hughie takes some time away from the group to return to his hometown of Auchterladle, Scotland. The way things go, it’s almost surprising that Ennis didn’t title the issue “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
While Hughie has been a strong focal point for “The Boys,” this issue takes him out of the context we’re used to and presents him in a somewhat altered light as he tries to put what happened in the US out of his mind. A big part of this issue is Hughie going out to a bar with his two childhood friends, Det and Bobby, and it not going as well as he’d like. Ennis is a master of the ‘guys hanging out at a bar’ scenes, but he changes it up somewhat in this issue by producing a thoroughly unsatisfying experience for Hughie. Normally, Ennis bar scenes have some awkward laughs, with people (especially men) coming closer together and having a great time by the end. All Hughie feels by the end, though, is let down by how annoying his friends can be.
Det and Bobby aren’t quite what you’d expect from Ennis either. Det has a medical condition that causes him to stink and wears a gas mask as a result, while it turns out that Bobby is a cross-dresser to Hughie’s surprise. Neither of these points are discussed at great detail, they’re presented more as facts about the characters as Ennis chooses to focus on their interactions with Hughie and how they impact him. Hughie goes into the evening in a fog of nostalgia, but that’s quickly shattered when they remind him of a cruel joke they played on him by lying about his biological father's death.
Hughie coming to terms at the end with how he’d glossed over the bad parts shows Ennis’s strong understanding of what it’s like to try and return to the past. It’s touching and comes off as real and naturalistic. At the same time, Ennis begins to set up a larger plot for the series building off Hughie’s time as a teenage detective of sorts. That part of the issue feels forced and somewhat out of nowhere, but I’m inclined to give Ennis the benefit of the doubt.
Like “Herogasm,” Ennis is joined by the art team of John McCrea and Keith Burns. Unlike previous work on “The Boys,” the duo used a harder, more angular style that works quite nicely at times. Hughie looks a little older and tougher in this issue than he’s usually portrayed, which plays off his recent experiences well. He’s not as soft and naïve as he was at the beginning of the series, and it’s nice to see that reflected in how he’s drawn.
As well, McCrea and Burns are a nicer fit here than they were on “Herogasm” with a strong ability to draw characters just sitting around, talking and drinking. This comic plays to their strengths while also subverting the expectations of an Ennis comic where three guys go out drinking. “Highland Laddie” #1 shows a different side of Hughie and builds nicely on what’s been going on in “The Boys.” This is exactly what you want out of a spin-off mini.