Waiting For A Superman


A surprisingly nuanced take on the “Evil Superman” trope.

It was only a matter of time that a recurring series of articles focusing on Superman analogues was going to get to Homelander. The leader of The Seven and ostensible main antagonist for Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys, Homelander is possibly one of the most high-profile Superman analogues of 2021. Thanks to Amazon Prime’s adaptation of The Boys, more people than ever are aware of just how big a piece of shit Homelander is but what really interests me is his place as the Superman of his universe and how he reflects certain aspects of Superman that few other saviour heroes both with.

Spoiler Warning: This will feature spoilers for the entirety of The Boys comic that may end up being spoilers for The Boys tv show. There’s one thing in particular that I don’t think the show is going to adapt but it would be an absolutely massive spoiler if they did, so proceed with caution.

Darick Robertson, Tony Aviña & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)

The idea of an Evil Superman is something that we all agree is kinda played out. It’s the sort of idea that someone without any ideas comes up with to seem deep and edgy. “You know that guy that’s always there to save us, well what if he wasn’t?” However, it’s an idea that we keep coming back to and that to me is interesting in itself, because everyone that creates an evil Superman always comes at it from a different angle. It might be a bit played out, but not every evil Superman is used to say the same thing and the concept can actually be way more versatile than we give it credit for.

In the previous six installments of this article, I’ve talked about a Superman who snapped (The Plutonian), a Superman who was an alien spy (Omni-Man), a Superman who doesn’t care (Mars) and even a good old-fashioned dark reflection of the hero (Cyborg Superman). Each of those characters take the Superman archetype as a starting point and twist it into something dark, but they each do it in a different way that specifically says something different and unique within that story and I think that’s why we keep coming back to “What if Superman, but bad guy?”

Darick Robertson, Tony Aviña & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)

Similarly, Homelander stands apart from a lot of evil Supermen because he’s always been a monster. Every other evil Superman that I’ve covered in this series has had times when you could describe them as a good person — even Cyborg Superman started out as a Reed Richards pastiche — but Homelander is a born and raised asshole of the highest calibre. I have a theory, kind of a unifying theory of savior heroes, that every Superman is a product of their version of Jon and Martha Kent, so it makes sense that Homelander’s parents were the United States Government.

In adapting the Superman archetype into the world of The Boys, Ennis and Robertson specifically chose an aspect of the character that very few creators seem to find important to what makes a Superman. Homelander is a patriotic superhero. There are dozens of Supermen analogues on comics, films and tv and many of them stand for Truth and Justice but very few of them represent the American Way. Homelander does, but in classic Ennis/Robertson fashion, he represents a more cynical take on the true American Way as opposed to Superman’s idealistic and arguably outdated interpretation.

Russ Braun, Tony Aviña & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)

Homelander is a Superman analogue that is obsessed with status and power in ways that few are and interestingly, he’s a schemer. Unlike most evil Supermen who just take what they want, Homelander works with the superhero community in The Boys to get political conditions just right so that they can attempt a hostile takeover of the American government. Homelander is very much a post-9/11 Superman and I don’t just mean in regards to the fact that the attacks on the World Trade Center is an event that happens in The Boys which Homelander was a part of. Homelander represents an American political system that could only exist in the 21st century and he stands for American ideals in ways that people outside of America view the country.

However, there is a tinge of tragedy to Homelander’s story that I think is really important to understanding the character fully. I don’t think this absolves the character of any of his actions, but the reveal towards the end of The Boys changes absolutely everything we thought we knew about the character and presents the idea of a possible world where he isn’t an absolute monster. The big driving revenge plot of The Boys is that Billy Butcher wants revenge against Homelander for raping his wife Becky, which resulted in her pregnancy and ultimately her death when when the super-powered baby burst from her stomach. 

Russ Braun, Tony Aviña & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)

This is just one of several utterly abhorrent acts that Homelander is told he is responsible for despite having no memory of committing them. It’s the knowledge that he does these things while in a fugue state that allows him to rationalise other evil acts he does that he is aware of, because if he’s already a monster why not be a monster all the time. However, towards the end of The Boys we learn that Black Noir is actually a Homelander clone created solely to kill Homelander should he turn on humanity, but was driven insane by a combination of being unable to complete his life’s mission and being forced to live and work in close proximity to his target. It was Black Noir that raped Becky Butcher while dressed as Homelander, which was part of a larger plot to force Homelander into a situation where Black Noir could carry out his mission and kill him. 

Without the actions of Black Noir serving to gaslight Homelander into thinking he was an absolute monster, he probably still would have been a dick and probably still would have done some fucked up things, but there’s no way he would have done everything he’s ultimately responsible for. There’s a moment where he realises that, and it’s a small, poignant moment where he realises he could have had a different life but ultimately he is still responsible and dies an afterthought at the hands of Black Noir.

Russ Braun, Tony Aviña & Simon Bowland (Dynamite Entertainment)

Homelander is one of the most complex and nuanced Superman analogues and it’s sometimes easy to miss that when Ennis is at his most crass. The character is able to stand both as a critique of American exceptionalism in the vein of classic Judge Dredd stories while also being a commentary on both how our environment shapes us but we’re ultimately responsible for our own actions. The Boys is a comic with a lot to say and Homelander is an integral part of its overall message, but it wouldn’t be possible without the cultural knowledge and expectations we have of Superman and his own role in pop culture. “What if Superman but bad?” can be a road to lazy storytelling but sometimes, it gives us a greater insight into why Superman is so good.

By Kieran Shiach

Writes about comics.

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