The Boys: Homelander takes the evil superhero idea to its fruition
With the second season of The Boys coming to an end, the writer talks about how justice has finally been done to the evil superhero idea
The character type of Homelander has been coming for a while now. Both DC and Marvel have tried to explore the idea of grey superheroes, and so, it was always going to be a matter of time before someone—in this case, Eric Kripke with his adaptation of The Boys comicbook by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson—would get it right. It’s a puzzle the two big studios have looked to crack for a while now. How do we humanise Superman, how do we make him flawed and more real, shorn off his perfections? Is it not likely that such a person will be afflicted with isolation? Is it not natural then that such a superhero should spiral into moral descent? Think of the earliest depictions of evil Superman variations, like in The Great Darkness Saga or The Dark Side Superman.
Homelander is almost a twisted homage to the all-white superheroes we see in this era of superhero cinema. Remember Homelander’s appearance in the first-ever scene of The Boys, where he stops a bank robbery? Squint, and you will see DCEU’s Henry Cavill playing Superman. Squint again, and you will see Chris Evans’ Captain America. The gist of the scene is this: A man wearing an American flag for a cape takes bullets from an assault rifle as he calmly walks into a bank and saves the day. He then lets a couple of kids take selfies with him (remember a similar scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Homelander is also the sort to cap off a rescue effort by telling the police people that they “are the real heroes”. It’s a sentiment we have observed in superhero cinema. This is also repeated in Hancock, a film that too looked to explore the inherent loneliness and the negative effects of being a superhero.
Homelander is an embodiment of what Lex Luthor and Batman feared in the DCEU. Remember the dialogue: “If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all good. If he’s all good, he cannot be all-powerful.” It’s his hubris over his invincibility that makes Homelander perceive puny civilians with a perpetual smirk. Last year’s Brightburn too was an attempt to delve into the psyche of an ‘evil’ superhero, a character arc that reminds you a lot of Homelander. It’s suggested in The Boys that Homelander’s lack of empathy owes itself to ‘mommy issues’. It’s a running theme in the show, and even in Episode 7, the behaviour of Ryan, Homelander’s supe son, seems to be indicative of the evil superhero arc. And yet, the finale’s turn of events establishes that it probably won’t be the case with the son. We will have to see if Ryan turns into a Homelander in future seasons though. While on paternal conflict, another film that explores this angle is Chronicle (2012). The character Andrew Detmer owes his aggression to the abuse he encountered from his father. In a different vein, in DC’s much-acclaimed Joker, it’s another father-esque figure, Thomas Wayne, whose slap causes Arthur Fleck to succumb to his dark side.
And yet, The Boys has humanised this superhero figure in a way Nolan didn’t (The Dark Knight Trilogy), in a way Zack Snyder couldn’t (DCEU). Homelander is a character shown to browse through memes as we do. He is a character who pictures himself slaughtering a thousand people while being at the centre of their outrage. And yet, he knows he can’t because there will be consequences. Like Superman, Homelander too has a 'kryptonite', a drug he craves, a drug that’s his undoing: Social approval. In a sense, this desire for social approval mirrors the social media generation and how it is addicted to the dopamine hits on social media accounts.
Another film, or rather a franchise, to be mentioned here is M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy. You could argue that Vought in The Boys does pretty much what Shyamalan’s Mr. Glass theorises—which is creating super villains to match up to the heroes. Homelander, after all, is unbreakable.
Homelander is a result of many attempts over the years to explore the realistic consequences of being a superhero. The Boys is perhaps the best we have got in this space so far. What do the upcoming seasons hold for Homelander? What new depths will he fall to? Will he be pushed to drop his act as America’s greatest hero? What lies ahead in The Boys’ exploration of the psyche of a superhero? Further seasons may or may not get better, but there’s no question that Homelander is a character that will stand tall in the annals of dark superheroes.