Monday, August 23, 2010

The Boys – Highland Laddie #1 Review

The Boys has been kicking on for years but this week their second tie-in mini just launched. Highland Laddie focuses on Wee Hughie, the man who is our eyes on the ground of this rough and tumble super squad that keeps the bastards honest. This intro issue takes us, with Hughie, back to his hometown, and it’s a nostalgic look back at where Hughie began and what he’s really coming from. But is it any good? Hit the jump to find out what I make of stinky old mates and shadowy bad guys in SUVs.

Highland Laddie #1

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John McCrea and Keith Burns

This tale takes place directly after the events of the last issue of The Boys that shipped. Hughie has found out a terrible secret and so feels he needs to go back to his roots to figure out exactly where he really is and where he wants to be. There will be some cameos of the other team members, in flashbacks, but otherwise this is Hughie’s time to shine.

The first mini series attached to the Boys was Herogasm and it focused on the terrible superheroes as they attended their annual ‘crossover event’. This event, the eponymous Herogasm, was just a massive excuse to all get together and express their salacious and devious sides. It is a very funny idea that these supers just pretend to be off fighting some intergalactic menace when they’re actually chilling out and generally frolicking naked and doing whatever they want with whatever or whomever they want. A very funny idea that wasn’t exactly the making, nor the setting, for a good story. That mini didn’t feel like it went very far and so I went into Highland Laddie with heavy trepidation.

This first issue doesn’t assuage my fears, even though it looks like it’ll pack much more story than Herogasm even thought about. My main problem is that the story being shown doesn’t actually look very good. The idea of Hughie going back home for some introspection and self-discovery should have been great. It could be grounded in a solid cast, family and friends, and Hughie could carry the tale as he so often does anyway. Sadly, Ennis instead decides to pack the tale full of more silliness and he pretty much loses me on a few sticky points.

The second panel of the first page pretty much lets you know that you’re in a Garth Ennis comic. Hughie is catching a buss back home and as he gets ready to depart the bus driver extends a hand with some blow on a tray. He even says, “Want a wee shottie o’ billie before ye go?” It’s just not the intro I had hoped for and it makes me wonder; I thought this series was all about how bad the supers are, how egotistical and perverted they felt they could be, and while the rest of the regular world wasn’t exactly shiny it also wasn’t a cesspool of depravity. I would expect a super to offer some blow to a stranger in a public place but not some random bus driver in a small Scottish town. It just felt like a sick and small little joke that completely sacrifices the world building going on in this title. A normal person shouldn’t be like this, in this book, and yet Ennis gives us this as our establishing shot of Hughie’s simple home town.

The scene that follows gives us Hughie and his family. It’s surprisingly simple, nice, and sweet but it doesn’t really go too far. It’s a little too easy and even though I complain before about the terrible break is ‘realism’ and here we are given quite a real moment of Hughie sitting down to a meal with his parents it still doesn’t interest me. There’s far too much regional dialect that took me off the page while I slowed down the read everything. I don’t mind altering the speech patterns of a character to make them fit their location but with this exchange I needed to constantly stop and figure it all out. It’s not effective if it takes you out of the story which this did. I’m sure if I met people like this in this place I’d struggle to listen to them as well, so it’s probably precise, but it doesn’t make me enjoy it any more.

Once Hughie gets to his friends, though, I knew I was done. Hughie is going to have beers with his two oldest mates, Det and Bobby. This was a great opportunity to really do something solid but in both cases Ennis drops the ball by going for the over outrageous. Det, called so as shorthand for detergent and ribbing the fact everyone thinks he never uses any, is a bloke who just happens to smell atrociously. To combat this he wears a full gas mask at all times, even imbibing his drinks through the tube and also vomiting said brews back up and out through it. It’s a cheap gag at all times and makes no sense as no one else around him seems to have any adverse effects to the smell. Det’s mother also wears the mask and it feels like Ennis is going for that sort of vibe that made Arseface an icon but instead it just comes across as a cheap ploy to get a laugh without ever earning it.

The other mate, Bobby, was a bruiser back in his youth and still packs the kind of muscles that only McCrea can draw, which is not a compliment. This man among men now also sports a dress and terrible make up. Before the reveal even comes you kind of know what to expect, which is a real shame. Ennis has become a real pastiche of his former self and that’s the sign that he needs to stop trying to out-Peacher Preacher. You can shock, sure, but you don’t need to do it constantly. Preacher worked because of the story not the shocks, and here Ennis firmly seems to think it was the other way around.

By the end of the issue, Hughie has realised that you can go home but you can’t go home, a story trope well worn and not exactly deftly delivered here. His mates aren’t exactly what he thought he hoped they were and nothing quite seems as clear and simple as you always hope going home should be. He’s lost and disillusioned on so many fronts. Then, on the last page, we see he’s not alone in his predicament because there’s a major drug runner who has spotted his return. Hughie is a member of interest from his youthful days of running a little detective agency of sorts and so it looks like thid dealer is going to keep Hughie in his sights.

Yeah, some of you may have missed that. Hughie ran some sort of mystery solving group as a kid. I know, it doesn’t sound promising. I concede that it may be handled really well, I just don’t think it will be, and I certainly won’t be around to find out either way. The main title of The Boys has toyed on my chopping list lately for being cut, especially with the departure of co-creator Darick Robertson and the price hike to $3.99, but the last few issues have actually been pretty good so I’ve stayed the deciding blow. Highland Laddie will not be given any such graces, Herogasm massively disappointed and I just can’t commit to another half a year of an overpriced comic that I’m getting because I feel I should not because I want to.

Verdict - Avoid It. Highland Laddie peddles in pretty trashy stereotypes, shocks, and out there moments. Sadly, unlike its parent title The Boys, it doesn’t do it within a good story. Watching Hughie get his exposition out on his parents and then drink with his mates who cover their faces, with gas masks and make-up, isn’t my idea of a good comic. To top it off we seem to be leading into a story where no-name dealers going up against Hughie because of his great childhood pedigree of crime solving isn’t something I want to be in on. It might change Hughie, send him back to the main title with a clear head, but I don’t care how it happens. Count me out.

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brandon said...

I find when getting through the dialogue it is best to speak the words aloud. Otherwise I end up doing what you did which was parse it all out and go over it and over it.

I liked the issue but did find two things that held it back.

1) The whole notion of him going home again didnt sit well with me. When his girlfriend was killed in issue one did he go home? Not that we saw. Why would he do this now? It doesnt seem like its in his character to go back. He's a man who goes forward.

2) The idea that he is a detective or was one in his childhoold. Mother's Milk or Butcher have always had this characteristic but never Hughie. It just doesnt fit well and is too much Scooby-Doo. Maybe that's the joke but it doesnt make a six issue mini more interesting.

I did like the ribbing that his friends gave him because I felt it rang true. I also liked the painter character because I think that may play in later. I also though the idea that he's adopted is something I hope gets explored deeper.

Simply an "okay" issue.

Anonymous said...

You should do the next calling card on Garth Ennis

Daryll B. said...

Brandon you hit on the head with the Hughie/Scooby Doo comparison...

I shook my head and just muttered "what the f***?!?" when I read that...

And yes Ryan, the gas mask thing was over the top and had me saying Ennis!

Matthew B said...

I was disappointed as well with the two-dimensional attention paid the side characters. The Det/gas mask thing was the worst, and doesn't make a lick of sense - it would only have protected the wearer from the smell, not the other people. Going by the word "detergent", it's not his breath that smells but his general body, which means it's probably his skin or ass (sorry, Ennis: "skaen 'r arRRse"). His neck, hair, and hands were exposed, and he looked to be wearing a cotton t-shirt and jeans, both of which would not block his odor coming out. The only reason Det should've been wearing a gas mask would be if HE thought he smelled, which he doesn't seem to. Otherwise, not only is it a dumb throwaway joke, it's a dumb throwaway joke that makes no sense and makes everyone in the comic look like complete idiots.

And WTF was up with the random "clothes peg for your neb?" bit? That was just stupid. "Ooh, me characters 'r weird because I'm Bri-ish, innit? This'n wants a clothes peg on 'is neb, brilliant, ay?"

Plus that random old artist guy painting the "simmer dim", Alistair Vigors up from Surrey, is gonna turn out to be Hughie's real father. I'm calling it here.

Maven said...

Great review, absolutely spot-on.

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