Anyone who complains that comics only take two minutes to read will not have that problem with the latest issue of “The Boys.” The best word to describe this issue is ‘infodump,’ with Garth Ennis having Mallory lay out a large picture of his role in the birth and growth of the CIA after World War 2 as it relates to the rise of superheroes courtesy of Vought-American. It a lot of text to slough through and, if you love this sort of thing, it’s a great read. If you don’t, this may be the most frustrating issue of “The Boys” to date.
“Barbary Coast” is a story arc that clearly recalls “I Tell You No Lie G.I.,” the story where the Legend told Hughie the history of Vought-American’s superhero program and the poor weapons they made for the US military during the Vietnam War. Here, it’s Mallory disclosing his history from World War 2 up through his time with the Boys. Ennis shows how Mallory’s experiences with superhumans in World War 2 helped fuel his distrust/hatred of superhumans and how he eventually used the CIA as a tool to work against V-A and their supers.
The choice to throw it all out there in such a text-heavy manner is debatable. It’s effective and Ennis’ writing is engaging, but it’s also meandering and seems to spend three sentences saying something when one will do at times. Worse, Mallory’s story drags in places, never reaching that epic level of tragedy that it seems to aspire to. It’s basically, he knows V-A is up to something with superhumans, others don’t believe him or want to ignore him, and, then, something happens that makes a group like The Boys a possibilities. Small parts of the journey are entertaining, not the whole thing.
Matters aren’t helped by the John McCrea/Keith Burns art team. McCrea is known as a great collaborator for Ennis, but every single time he’s handled the art on an issue of “The Boys” or one of the spin-off minis, the comic has suffered for it. He can produce good pages, like the double-page spread of the aftermath of a World War 2 beach battle. However, other pages feature baffling, convoluted layouts and he seems limited to only a few very basic, over-the-top expressions. After the level of quality set by Darick Robertson and Russ Braun, the art here is a large step down. Then again, since most of the issue is two characters standing around talking, lackluster art doesn’t hurt as much as it would normally.
More than most issues of “The Boys,” this will be a hit or miss one. Some will call it boring, others will be entranced by Mallory’s story, and I fall somewhere in the middle. Parts of it work well and Ennis is great at writing these sort of moral characters that make bad choices because of their morality or the influence of or simply because they’re too dumb to see reality. That doesn’t make the entire tale well-written or engaging. It drags far too often. But, at the end of the day, it is a necessary issue and one not to be missed by faithful readers of the series.