How DC Comics Almost Killed 'The Boys'
Over the decades, DC's superheroes have met everyone from the Avengers to the aliens from Alien to the Nesquik Bunny to Orson Welles. Everything's possible through the power of imagination and corporate synergy, as demonstrated by the recent movie where Chip and Dale team up with Ugly Sonic to fight the Coca-Cola bear. Or, well, almost everything. It's kinda hard to imagine Superman and Batman ever interacting with the super-psychos and omega-level perverts from The Boys. The thing is, a DC Comics/The Boys crossover already happened behind the scenes, and it almost ended the series just as it was getting started. In fact, for a short while, The Boys was technically a DC comic.
The Boys was co-created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, both of which have a long history with DC. Robertson even drew the actual Justice League for a while, which is a little surreal to see now that his art style is indelibly associated with superheroes murdering people and having giant orgies and such.
Meanwhile, Ennis wrote some Batman comics and had lengthy runs on DC series like The Demon and Hellblazer, including the issues that were loosely adapted as the Keanu Reeves movie Constantine. It was Ennis who came up with the classic scene of Constantine flipping off Satan himself after tricking him into curing his lung cancer.
Ennis also co-created Hitman, about a Gotham City assassin for hire who gets superpowers, which provided a recurrent setting for the Harley Quinn animated show and its upcoming spin-off. It was in Hitman where Ennis became known for brutally mocking every superhero they let him get his hands on -- except for Superman because, despite what you might have naturally assumed from Homelander's depraved portrayal in The Boys, Ennis is an admitted Super-fanboy.
But Ennis' most famous work of the '90s was Preacher, co-created with Hellblazer artist Steve Dillon, which asked deep theological questions like "What if God just quit on us?" or "What if you hunted down and killed God for quitting on us?"
In the early 2000s, Ennis and Robertson teamed up for the first time for the R-rated Marvel comic that permanently scared George Clooney away from playing Nick Fury. They also worked together on several Punisher comics, including the one where Wolverine gets chopped up by mobsters and run over by a steam roller, among other indignities. It's basically a Wile E. Coyote cartoon with Marvel characters.
In 2006, DC announced Ennis and Robertson's The Boys, which was originally going to take place in the DC Universe until the creators changed their minds so they could push the envelope just a wee bit further. The Boys was hyped (even on DC's website and promo materials) as the comic that would "out-Preacher Preacher," a series that already included stuff like a character being told to go screw himself and taking it very, very literally. At first, DC was fully on board with the new series, to the point that they moved the release ahead by two months and dropped the first two issues at the same time to generate buzz (kinda like what big streaming shows do now). The Boys was all over DC's site via free wallpapers, a trailer, and preview pages proudly watermarked with DC's URL.
There was even a launch event where Robertson drew some lucky fans' favorite heroes getting their asses brutally kicked by the titular Boys. Skip to 3:13 here for The Tick/The Boys crossover we all unknowingly yearned for.
The first six issues came out on DC's WildStorm imprint, and they included gore, depravity, drug use, self-harm, and a big bulldog sexually assaulting a shih tzu. So what happened? Where did DC draw the line? At making fun of Batman, apparently. Issue #7, the one where DC decided to pull the plug on the series, was also the one that introduced Tek Knight, a non-powered millionaire who uses hi-tech gadgets to fight crime aided by his teen sidekick and faithful butler. He actually seems like a decent guy ... until he develops a psychological problem that "causes him to have spontaneous sexual relations with both living creatures and inanimate objects." Yes, they turned Batman from someone who doesn't do oral sex to someone who can't stop doing every type of sex.
When he starts having impure thoughts about his sidekick, Tek Knight ditches the kid and tries to get help, but his "faithful butler" ends up blabbing to the press about all his compulsions (as revenge for a non-consensual incident involving the butler's ear). Tek Knight falls into disgrace and is fired from his own superhero team, but then he redeems himself when a meteorite is about to destroy the Earth, and he volunteers to fly into space and stop it ... with his penis.
Of course, Tek Knight's heroically horny sacrifice wasn't real -- turns out he had a massive brain tumor and hallucinated the meteorite stuff right before dropping dead. DC actually took pre-orders for the issues starring Tek Knight but abruptly canceled the series before the first one could come out, despite strong sales and raving reviews. They even killed the collected edition for the issues they'd already published. Ennis and Robertson both said that there was no bad blood with DC and the comic simply wasn't a good fit there, but we're guessing the fact that they'd just turned the company's most profitable hero into a sex maniac isn't a coincidence.
Fortunately, DC was cool about reverting the rights back to Ennis and Robertson, and they managed to find a new publisher within a few months. In the end, Ennis said that getting kicked out of DC was "the best thing that happened to the book" since he was able to write the series without constantly worrying about pissing off some Warner Bros. executive, although he made sure to note right away that "just because we're at a new publisher does not mean that the book will turn into hardcore pornography" (to at least a few fans' disappointment, no doubt).
The Boys ended up lasting 72 issues, plus various miniseries and not one but two TV shows (counting the animated spin-off). As for whether it actually lived up to its original tagline? In Ennis' words: "Given that Preacher was never withdrawn from sale, I think we out-Preachered it in a swift six issues." Excellent point
Top image: Amazon Studios, Warner Bros. Pictures