In the real world, law enforcement see civilians recording police activity with their cell phones as threats to their jobs. In the real world, the Academy of Motion Pictures’ membership was made up of 92 percent white people in 2015 before an April Reign-created hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born. In the real world, simply saying “Black Lives Matter” is met with spray-painted swastikas and citizen militias meant to preserve America. Usually, you could disconnect from the ills of reality and be reminded of the potentiality of goodness by bingeing on superhero movies.
In The Boys, Amazon’s dark superhero drama, our world seeps into the comics. In Season 2—which hits Amazon Prime Video on September 4—superheroes complain about not being able to do their job because everyone records on their phones likening, it to “the deterioration of good, God-fearing American values,” before opting to crush a criminal’s skull instead of turning him over to the proper authorities. In Season 2, 92 percent of superheroes are white and the exceptionalism of superheroes didn’t preclude a #SuperheroesSoWhite to emerge. In Season 2, superheroes believe their powers are to protect, when they were actually given in preparation for potential race war. Any of that starting to sound familiar?
Based on the eponymous comic book from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, The Boys centers around a consortium of superheroes known as The Seven employed by conglomerate Vought to, ostensibly, fight crime while a vigilante group of humans they've wronged work to expose the corrupt superhero group. The series is more HBO’s Watchmen than it is Marvel’s Avengers in the way it eschews the almost supernatural dedication to morality in favor of showing the darker side of having power most humans do not. We see superheroes sexually assaulting other superheroes; superheroes accidentally killing bystanders with super speed; superheroes threatening to kill victims asking for them to save them from an impending plane crash. And that’s just in Season 1.
But, above all else, The Boys did something that opened the door for the new season’s intense dive into the racism of power: They made their superheroes humans. All the superheroes of The Seven were unwittingly injected with a substance known as Compound-V by Vought when they were toddlers at the approval of their parents. Making the superheroes not only humans but corporate experiments instead of aliens or miracles allowed for the same amplification on the virtues of good that superhero archetype promotes to be used on the corruptive influence of power.
The new season of The Boys shows how racism can be a superpower and how it already might be.
HBO’s superhero drama Watchmen helped break the superhero TV mold by delving into racism through stories of Black people becoming caped crusaders and demigods in order to thwart racists in power. In The Boys, The Seven are celebrities, soldiers, and national law enforcement. We don’t see other famous people; we rarely see police officers and soldiers; The President is a faceless plot device. So, the superheroes are the sole representation of power in America in order to show how the embrace of their darker proclivities is as American as apple pie and police shootings.
The very institution of American law enforcement was practically founded on racism. In the 18th century, groups of American civilians known as “slave patrols” were emboldened to punish slaves who broke the racist rules of the day. Centuries later, the Klu Klux Klan terrorized African Americans with founding members bragging about police departments belonging to the KKK in the press. In recent years, police have begun to revert back to their vigilante roots with some preparing for a race war and others ready to “start slaughtering them fucking N-words,” according to former Wilmington Police officer Kevin Piner in an unearthed patrol car video. It’s hard to look at the history of those meant to protect and serve and not see how racism wasn't part of that protection.
In one gruesome scene of the second season of The Boys, it’s 1972 and a Black man is pummeled by a white woman meant to protect and serve after they accuse the man of driving a car involved in a robbery. The man tearfully asks, “Ain’t you supposed to be the hero?” Before she delivers the fatal blow, she sardonically responds, “I am a hero...for killing a Black piece of shit like you.” His face looked as mangled and unrecognizably human as the face of Emmett Till’s after his fatal beating at the hands of J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, two white men emboldened by the same racist social norms of the time that led to their acquittal and let that superhero kill that Black man with impunity. Racism in a racist country may not let you leap buildings in a single bound, but history has shown it makes you impervious to accountability for plundering Black lives.
The racist superhero who pummeled that Black man was born in Berlin in 1919 and was inciting xenophobic mobs in 2020, all without looking like she aged a day. Her anti-aging powers weren’t just to keep her alive during battle like you’d typically expect from a superhero story. It was in order to literally preserve and reinforce a century-old racist genocidal plan throughout eras of American history until the plan is fulfilled. That’s because she received the first successful shot of Compound-V from Frederick Vought, a Nazi sympathizer who started creating superhumans with plans to create an army of white superheroes to fight in a war against the other races they believe are taking what is their birthright: America.
What makes superheroes who they are in The Boys is what preserves racism through generations in the same way what founded the idea of American law enforcement has persisted through decades of disproportionate mass incarceration of Black people and a chilling regularity of police-involved shootings. In this season, we never see angry mobs calling for death to all white people or the tearing down of America the same way you probably never see any of the threats of Black insurrection that terrifies the “silent majority,” a phrase as ridiculous as “white genocide.” In the context of a superhero universe where the unimaginable is accepted as commonplace, The Boys poignantly shows how ridiculous racism is by making it the center of the plot of a supervillain.
Compound-V sustained a racist superhero in The Boys, but in the real world, the primary way racism has sustained through generations is by its infection in the creators of the future: children. Whether it’s schools teaching students the "positives" of slavery in the 2010s, laws racially segregating children in the 1950s, or simply slaveowners raising their white children on plantations in the 1800s, future racists are always incubated in the past. The impressionable children have no idea what monsters they are growing into until it’s too late and the racism they are imbued with is perceived as power in an American society that does anything to protect it.
The leader of The Seven and The Boys’ Superman character Homelander attempts to connect with his son Ryan, who's born with his father’s superhero abilities dormant within him. When Ryan is unable to shoot lasers out of his eyes, Homelander reveals that hatred is usually a good source for activating his laser powers, reinforcing the notion that hate is a catalyst for superpowers we’ve already been told were created for the expressed purpose of fueling a race war. While Homelander encouraging the son he conceived through sexual assault to embrace hatred in order to accept an identity the child had no say in creating is bad parenting, it quickly turns to racist indoctrination that is all too familiar.
The racist superhero who has survived throughout time informs Ryan that him not possessing hate is not something people like them can afford in these times. “We’re under attack. Bad guys want to hurt us just because of what we look like. They want to wipe us from this Earth just because of the color of our skin. It’s called ‘white genocide’ and we’re going to need people like you to protect our kind, “ the racist superhero says.
Superheroes are deluded into thinking who they are is what they do by their power separating them from everyone else. Racists are deluded into thinking what they are is what they believe with those beliefs of supremacy separating them from everyone else. Racism is a super power in an American society that lets white cops kill Black people without punishment, elects a racist to become President of the United States, and allows white people like Kyle Rittenhouse to kill protestors in cold blood with an assault rifle on Tuesday and be identified as an “aspiring cop” the next day instead of the domestic terrorist he really is.
Racism is a superpower in America, and just like billionaires, the world doesn’t need superheroes. We need humans and The Boys is a dystopian depiction of exactly why.