Photo: The Boys series vs. The Umbrella Academy/Netflix/Amazon Studios
The Boys series or The Umbrella Academy? – With great power comes great responsibility… and some screwing with your siblings and just generally being an awful person to those around you. The Boysand TheUmbrella Academy picture a world with superheroes who are humans too. They’re not idyllic like Superman or sworn to protect civilians like Batman. Instead, they let the power go to their head, let their power turn them into supervillains (sometimes without realizing it), or don’t know how to deal with their power in the first place. Both of these shows respond to big superhero blockbusters in which the protagonist is always morally driven and focused on doing what’s right by any means necessary. It’s as if acquiring superpowers somehow makes a person a mutant Mr. Rogers.
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TheUmbrella Academyis a Netflix original about seven adoptive siblings born on the same day from mothers who were not pregnant before giving birth. Oh yeah, and they all have superpowers. Doomsday seems to follow these siblings wherever they go, and, thus far, the majority of the series has been centered around stopping the end of the world… and the assassination of JFK at one point. Yeah, it gets a bit complicated at times. On the other hand, The Boys portrays a world in which superheroes exist as part of the general public consciousness. The greatest of the elite heroes make it into The Seven, which is like the Avengers if all of the Avengers were A-holes in their own unique way. Billy Butcher and his ragtag team of vigilantes want to bring those A-hole Avengers down in the most violent and graphic way possible. Trust me, don’t have your kids within fifteen feet of the TV when you’re watching The Boys.
Round #1- The Good Guys or “The Good Guys”
One thing we have to get clear right off the bat with The Boys: no character is one hundred percent likable. Frenchie is too good with strategic weaponry to have been a good person at any point in his life. Mother’s Milk has far too creepy a nickname to assume he’s not done terrible things to earn it. Kimiko is a low-key kind of a terrorist, and Butcher, well, he’s just an A-hole. The only somewhat redeemable character in the scrappy band of superhero murderers is Hughie, but we’ll get to him later. It’s kind of the point that no one is likable. When even the people who are supposed to be saving the world are terrible human beings, what hope is there for anyone else to be a decent person? It’s not as if The Boys are terrible people without reason. Homelander, kind of the head honcho of the superheroes, caused Butcher’s wife to disappear, and Kimiko was born and bred for the sole purpose of killing people, which would tend to put a chip on one’s shoulder. The central theme of The Boys is the idea that no one is perfectly pure-hearted, and the majority of humanity is the furthest possible thing from that. In this way, the members of The Boys encapsulate the theme of the show beautifully.
The Umbrella Academy is comprised of seven once-estranged siblings brought together by the death of their father: Vanya, Allison, Luther, Diego, Five, Klaus, and kind of Ben (Ben is dead but Klaus can communicate with him because he has the ability to talk to ghosts). Unlike The Boys, the goal of the members of the Umbrella Academy is to actually save the world instead of obtaining vengeance. Allison can do mental manipulation, Luther is a non-green version of The Hulk, Diego is an expert knife thrower, Klaus can communicate with ghosts, and Ben just has a heart of gold. I guess Ben had a superpower in life, but as a ghost, he’s just adorable and sassy. They all work together to save the world and, in the process, become more of a family. It’s touching and, at times, graphically violent. I love both of these misfit bands of heroes, but The Boys represents a group of real people. They’re flawed (perhaps an AF is necessary there), they know they’re dirty, and they’ve all made mistakes in their lives, but they’re fighting for redemption from the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. The Boys leans into the flaws of its heroes, which makes them so hard to love and yet impossible to turn away from. So round one goes to The Boys.
Round #2: Villains- Who Do Audiences Love To Hate The Most?
Both of these shows have villains who will make anyone’s skin crawl. The Boys work against The Seven, an organization of superheroes. Theoretically, they should be good guys, but they are far scarier than anyone they go up against. A-Train is a vengeful super-drug addict, Stormfront is a Nazi in the most literal sense possible, Deep is a sexual predator, Queen Maeve has given up on goodness, and Black Noir is just creepy. But all these supervillains disguised as heroes pale in comparison to Homelander. How do I describe Homelander? He’s like what would happen ifThanos teamed up withDarth Vader and hadHans Gruber on stand-by. He’s like God if God had a God-complex. Homelander maintains his fame, money, and hero-status by any means necessary, which leads him on a path of pure evil. He’s willing to make anyone and everyone suffer to get what he wants.
In season one of The Umbrella Academy, Leonard manipulated Vanya into becoming a superweapon. Leonard knows how to play with Vanya, who feels unloved and unwanted. He turns her against her siblings and against anyone in the world who isn’t him. The villain inseason twois The Handler. The Handler is deviously willing to do anything she can to advance her career in The Temps Commission, an organization of time travelers on a mission to preserve the timeline’s natural order. The Handler killed all her higher-ups in The Temps Commission, pitted two long time friendly co-workers against each other, and refused to help our heroes stop the end of the world despite having the power to do so. Both the Handler and Leonard are scary, but I don’t think anything can compare to the nastiness and pure evil of Homelander and The Seven. What’s more terrifying than the corruption of the people who are supposed to be saving the world?
Round #3- Do The Boys Series or The Umbrella Academy Best Showcase the Major Theme – The Corruption of Innocence
Both The Boys and The Umbrella Academy have themes relating to once wide-eyed characters experiencing events that cause them to lose their innocence. In The Boys, this theme is embodied by two characters. Hughie was once just an average, meek little guy. And then a superhero literally runs through his girlfriend, murdering her and leaving only her severed hands left for Hughie to remember her by. Did I mention this show was violent? The death of his girlfriend leads Hughie on a path of vengeance. He doesn’t go from zero to a hundred and immediately wants to kill as many superheroes as possible. He never becomes like Butcher with his bloodlust for superheroes. But he once, like everyone else in the world of The Boys, viewed superheroes as a force for good. Everyone has a child-like adoration for superheroes in this universe, but Hughie saw behind the curtain. He realized just how corrupt superheroes are, and suddenly, he’s willing to do anything to take them down.
The other picture of innocence at the beginning of The Boys was Starlight AKA Annie. Starlight has just been recruited into The Seven in the first episode of the series. She is super eager to start saving lives and making a difference in the world. That is until Deep exposes himself to her within the first half-hour of her training. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is. Annie begins to realize that The Seven are corrupt and that she has to do something about it. So, she becomes an honorary member of The Boys. The tone of The Boys hammers the message of corruption in contrast between the normal world in which everyone is blissfully unaware of the corruption of the people who are sworn to protect them. In the world of The Boys, which is so much darker and grittier, both Hughie and Annie transition into the world of The Boys when they lose their rose-colored glasses view of the superheroes and see them for what they really are.
(SPOILER WARNING: skip this paragraph if you aren’t past season one, episode five of The Umbrella Academy) The innocent person at the beginning of The Umbrella Academy is Vanya. She is pushed to the side by her siblings because she is believed to be the only one of them without superpowers, which pushes Vanya into Leonard’s arms, who is the only person in her life who sees her as special. But Leonard manipulates Vanya. He knows she has powers and turns her into a superweapon against her siblings, and suddenly, Vanya needs to have her memory wiped in season two to go back to who she was at the start of the series, but even that can’t hold her back for long. The message both The Umbrella Academy and The Boys are trying to get across is that power is a corrupting force that breeds destruction. Both shows portray this message in powerful ways, but I have to give this one to The Boys, simply because of the tonal shift between the world of the superhero admirers and the world of The Boys, which really hammers in this theme.
Result: The Boys wins!!
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