Eric Kripke Takes On Corrupt Superheroes

August 30, 2019 Jeff Goldsmith

For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this excerpt of our interview with The Boys creator, showrunner and writer Eric Kripke from the latest issue of Backstory.


In today’s superhero-saturated landscape, the subversive, deconstructionist superhero tale has become its own subgenre. On the heels of Watchmen, which is being adapted again for an upcoming HBO series, and Deadpool comes the new Amazon TV series The Boys. Developed by showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Timeless) from the comic-book series created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, the show, like its source material, not only flips the superhero genre but smashes it into a bloody pulp, much like many of its characters do to one another onscreen. The eponymous “Boys” of the title are a ragtag band of rogue operatives working to bring down superheroes who, behind closed doors, range from dysfunctional to outright sociopathic. The biggest head case is Homelander (Antony Starr), a Superman stand-in with Captain America’s iconography, who leads the Justice League¬–esque group the Seven, whose members include Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), the Deep (Chace Crawford), A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell) and Translucent (Alex Hassell). The series pilot introduces the newest addition to the Seven, a naive young powerhouse from the heartland named Starlight (Erin Moriarty), whose journey to disillusionment begins with sexual abuse by the Deep. In addition to the Seven, the Boys seek to take down their mega-corporate sponsor, Vought International, as represented by senior executive Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue).

The Boys are led by the brutal and profane cockney Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), whose single-minded focus on Homelander is driven by the superhero’s rape of Butcher’s wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanten), who’s been missing and presumed dead for years. Butcher recruits Hughie (Jack Quaid) to the squad after Hughie’s girlfriend Robin is literally liquefied in front of him when the speedster A-Train accidentally runs right through her on the street. The team is rounded out by Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and the only female, a mute, feral young woman with enhanced abilities referred to as… the Female (Karen Fukuhara).

Kripke has long been a fan of Ennis’ writing. “He and Neil Gaiman were my two favorite comic-book authors by a mile,” he says. In fact, he cites Ennis’ run on Hellblazer—featuring occult detective John Constantine—as a big inspiration for Supernatural, his series for the CW that wrapped an incredible 14-season run earlier this year. So when he heard that Ennis’ comic Preacher was being developed as a TV series for AMC, he sought out one its producers whom he knew. “I went in and told him, ‘Hey, man, fuck you for giving Preacher to somebody else.’ And he said, ‘Well, we’re closing in on The Boys. Do you want that?’” Although Preacher executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had been circling this property as well, Kripke found himself on the inside track to develop the show, and Rogen and Goldberg remained to exec produce The Boys as well. “I was never in a bake-off with anybody to get it, which is always nice. I just had to have dinner with Garth and make sure he was cool with it.” At that meeting, when Ennis asked for Kripke’s thoughts on the material, he told the comic creator he saw it as a really sweet story about relationships. “The relationships between Hughie and Starlight and between Frenchie and the Female are so tender, and even Hughie and Butcher in a big brother–little brother way. It was a very human story buried underneath a lot of bullshit, which is a good definition of the world we live in.” And Kripke knew he’d sealed the gig when Ennis responded, “Yeah, why doesn’t anyone see how sweet this story is?”

Ennis told Kripke The Boys was inspired by antihero shows like The Sopranos and The Shield, but when he brought up author James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) as a major inspiration, Kripke seized on the reference. “From my experience as a showrunner, the most successful seasons of any of my shows have been mysteries, because you can have fear and suspense and danger and all the things that genre is supposed to have but you can actually mount them on a TV budget,” he says. He also knew that, as a streaming show as opposed to a traditional network series, The Boys needed to tell a serialized story audiences will want to binge watch to the end. “Story by story, [the comic book] is very episodic, and it’d make a great X-rated cop procedural, but there’s no market for that.”

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