Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The age of Trump has yet to inspire particularly great satire, or political comedy (if anything, it’s completely destroyed the latter).
But Amazon’s The Boys arrived at the perfect time, as the optimism of the Marvel universe stood in absurdly stark contrast to our bitter reality, practically begging to be deconstructed by a more cynical story.
Season 2 of The Boys boasts a surprisingly profound take on the rise of modern fascism, how white nationalists manage to sneak their pathetic pathologies into the discourse, repackaging their bigotry through savvy use of social media and memes.
In The Boys, Stormfront is the face of modern fascism (which, it turns out, is identical to the original fascism). What’s really interesting, however, is her relationship to Homelander – the face of American exceptionalism.
Homelander has always been (arguably) the most compelling character in the show, being the most vicious, depraved and narcissistic of the supes – and of course, the most beloved by the public. Antony Starr’s outstanding performance certainly elevates the character, but the very idea of his existence feels frighteningly real, in a way that earnest superhero films can’t replicate.
These days, Superman seems to be viewed as a bit of an outdated dinosaur, but Captain America and Wonder Woman have managed to popularize the concept of a perfect patriot, decked out in Americana, fighting the good fight against comic book Nazis.
Most of us enjoy looking up to these characters, knowing how implausible idealistic they are. But we all know, deep down, that if Captain America were a real person, he’d probably be an early cheerleader of the Iraq War, and would be bitterly posting on Facebook about how Colin Kaepernick “politicized sports.” I’m not saying he’d go as far as telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” but he’d definitely be disappointing.
Homelander, however, is a wonderfully honest depiction of how an overpowered crimefighter draped in an American flag would really behave, protected by powerful corporations and marketed as a messiah. Watching the character lose his self-control, while struggling against his eternal fear of breaking character and losing the adoration of the masses, makes for incredibly enjoyable viewing.
One of the most memorable moments in season 2 sees Stormfront reveal herself as a card-carrying Nazi (quite literally), explaining to Homelander that he is the perfect manifestation of their Aryan superman. Homelander’s response is darkly hilarious – he doesn’t have a single question.
The character doesn’t seem to be a racist, not particularly – but he’s more than happy to be one, as long as it comes with admiration, the ideology being completely irrelevant to his all-consuming ego. Does that remind you of anyone?
Parallels to public figures aside, it’s a nice illustration of how nationalism and narcissism intertwine with racism so neatly, coiling around each other like strands of DNA. To Homelander, bloodlines matter a great deal, and season 2 manages to twist his parental drive into something far removed from family, that makes tribalism look inclusive.
By the end of the season finale, Homelander has been temporarily tamed by the threat of a piece of footage which would reveal his true nature to the public (although, I can’t help but feel like a significant portion of his fanbase either wouldn’t care, or would decry the footage as fake).
Homelander’s final scene of the season sees him furiously masturbating into the night, a wanker with the power to demolish a city in a heartbeat; I can’t think of a better metaphor for our era than that.