“I am in Seventh Heaven.” That pretty much sums up the energy beaming off Darick Robertson.
The self-taught artist and son of a Californian mechanic didn’t graduate from college, but instead a fierce love of action figures and pursued a childlike dream of drawing comics — not even necessarily getting them published, but to maybe one day “make something cool enough to just be out there,” he says. On a dreary September evening in Toronto, even as the weather seemed stuck mid-transition from summer to fall, Robertson, now 50 years old and a celebrated comic artist, is in awe of one of his creations come to life: The Boys.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg successfully brought Garth Ennis‘ Preacher to life as a series on AMC. So they’ve now turned their attention to another of their works, this time for Amazon. In the world of The Boys, populated by superheroes who instead of protecting the innocent became total egomaniacal and sociopathic gods, a group of CIA operatives known as The Boys (despite there being a woman on the team) were tasked to keep them in check — often times in the most savage ways possible.
The actors who play The Seven — a Justice League-esque squadron of corrupt superheroes — are chuckling on the set of their headquarter base as Robertson takes selfies with the prop department’s custom-made action figure of A Train, the Flash-like speedster character he initially conceived with Ennis more than a decade prior. Behind him is prop art the production asked Robertson to design for the set. This geek-out is authentic.
“I spend 14 hours a day in the little basement of my house surrounded by toys because I’m a geek too,” he tells press gathered on the set. “And then they pull me out of that and I go to a convention and it’s a very different experience. And then I go back to my little private life and nobody gives a shit what I do… To go from that life to this is pretty overwhelming.”
Amazon’s The Boys, from showrunner Eric Kripke, is coming out in 2019 as a live-action series with the likes of Karl Urban and Jack Quaid starring — in the midst of the golden age of superhero-based entertainment. Robertson, who’s also designing prop art for the drama, agrees the themes and characters have new meanings 10 years later, but assures us “the idea that we’re just trying to crap on existing superheroes” is a “low-hanging-fruit way to read the overall allegory that absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The allegory is obvious on some levels, but I love Superman. I think he’s a great character… You can’t just put anybody in that suit, give them all the power, and expect them to be Clark Kent. The fact that he is restrained and caring with his powers and wants to help people, that’s the character inside. What happens if the person in that suit doesn’t have the character? What if they’re not good people, but they’re sold as good people? And that’s where our story takes off.
Robertson repeats many times that comic books fans will be pleasantly surprised by this adaptation, but, just as the themes have changed, aspects of the story have changed. The Seven — including the Superman-esque Homelander, Wonder Woman-esque Queen Maeve, and Batman-esque Black Noir — play “a much more important role in the narrative of the TV show.” According to Robertson, The Deep, an Aquaman-esque member of The Seven, also has gone from “a goofy background character” and a parody of superheroes with “overdone masks” to a role more accommodating of the actor who plays The Deep, Gossip Girl veteran Chace Crawford.
He is the Aquaman I wish I had designed because it’s such an innovative design and take on that character. He plays such a bigger role in this story than he did in our [comic] that I feel like I’m experiencing him for the first time through the production, but I love it. Where it matters, he plays a great role and there are beats from the comic he fills in.
Robertson’s original The Deep still lives in The Boys production offices in Canada, where the image of him rising out of the Hudson River in New York with a used condom on his submarine helm acts as art on a crew member’s nameplate. It’s this kind of dark humor that came to define The Boys. But Robertson also notes that, what may have been considered funny a decade ago in the comics, may not be funny as a TV show now. One example he alludes to is in issue #1 when Butcher (played by Urban in the show), the leader of The Boys, commands his dog Terror to hump another pup — and even that’s an fairly tame moment by comparison.
It makes sense to tweak it for now, otherwise what would’ve been funny 10 years ago would be offensive now, but not in a way that it’s Terror on top of a little dog. In the way that tone isn’t good for now and I’m a big believer in moving forward with better ideas. So, does it work perfectly for everything that’s happening in the moment as the comic? No… However, smarter minds than I are on the job and I think fans of the comic are gonna be happy, newcomers to the show are gonna be blown away, and I think people that watch the show and read the comic are gonna find a whole deeper story.
He specifically notes how The Boys director Dan Trachtenberg would frame shots in a way that replicated comic books panels, but acknowledges his own amazement when approached with an entire crew passionate about his source material. That goes tenfold for Kripke, who set up a meeting with Robertson in San Diego to find out “what do you want to see in this show?”
Robertson’s response, to paraphrase, was:
The danger of adapting something like The Boys is, let’s make it the beat-up-superheroes-nasty show and it’s almost slapstick-y and how far can we go with the gross-out humor? And what I think happened at that point is that the heart of what made our comic work and what was so great about Garth’s story is that it’s really about three love stories: it’s about Butcher losing his wife, it’s about Hughie [played by Quaid in the show] losing his love, and Hughie is finding love again where Butcher is going down in the dark hole. Butcher never recovers, and that’s a love tragedy story surrounded by superheroes doing awful things. So if you didn’t have that through line, I think it would be a lesser show. What I see in the adaption and having read the whole first season is that’s the piece that everybody understands in a really good way.
Of course, it’s all still going to be hard R, confirmed by “the disturbing shit” Robertson teased. “I was watching someone’s head get smashed on a sink and I was like, ‘It’s The Boys!’”
The Boys will premiere on Amazon in 2019.