When Amazon Studios announced plans to adapt Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s over-the-top superhero comic series The Boys, few believed a live-action series could deliver a faithful translation of the comic’s raunchy, ultraviolent saga of celebrity superhumans run amok. But the Prime Video series did indeed deliver, to the tune of two critically praised seasons so far and another chapter on the way.
The sex- and gore-filled universe of The Boys now gets its first spinoff project with The Boys Presents: Diabolical, an animated anthology series delivering a batch of tales set in and around the show’s central narrative from a surprisingly star-studded creative team.
Over the course of eight stand-alone stories, Diabolical offers up something for every variation of The Boys fan, whether they’re looking for a deep dive into the show’s mythology, a dramatic tale with emotional heft, or a silly story about a girl with the power to control, well, poop.
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It’s worth noting early on that The Boys Presents: Diabolical isn’t the typical spinoff project we’re accustomed to seeing. The stories presented in the series don’t feel like passed-over pitches or subplots acquired from the cutting room floor, but rather fully formed stories that — in most cases — feel best-suited for a more one-and-done format than the live-action series.
The eight chapters of Diabolical also cover a lot of ground, from the Looney Tunes-inspired episode Laser Baby’s Day Out to the quietly sentimental (by The Boys standards) John and Sun-Hee and the lore-expanding prequel tale One Plus One Equals Two. The individual stories each feel distinct in their style of animation, tone, and relationship, sharing only their brief running times, which never exceeds 15 minutes apiece.
While “easily digestible” might not be best term to describe the series, given the orgy of violence, free-flying viscera, and scatological elements packed into most episodes, Diabolical does make for easy binge-watching, provided you have the stomach for the animated format’s ability to go above and beyond the level of gore and violence in The Boys.
The wide range of stories presented in Diabolical means the best and worst of what it offers will likely differ from one person to the next, and depend on which elements of the The Boys universe you’re most interested in.
The series’ cartoon ultraviolence is taken to its extreme in the aforementioned Laser Baby’s Day Out and the appropriately titled An Animated Short Where Pissed-Off Supes Kill Their Parents, with the former filtering it through a classic cartoon lens and the latter feeling as if it would be right at home in Rick and Morty due to the involvement of co-writer Justin Roiland. Those looking for more backstory from the world of The Boys will find it in One Plus One Equals Two, which depicts an early mission by Homelander (Antony Starr) that began to shape his sinister worldview.
Fans of the original comic book series will find a lot to like in I’m Your Pusher, which depicts the main characters as Robertson’s original artwork did, and even has Simon Pegg voice Hughie, the character he inspired in the comic. That the episode is scripted by Ennis only makes it feel more firmly rooted within the universe of the comics, which tell a different story, but explore many of the same themes as the live-action series.
In fact, the creators behind many of the episodes add to their entertainment value, with some surprising — and some hilariously appropriate — combinations of storytellers and story.
Awkwafina’s BFFS is a pitch-perfect blend of the comedian and actress’ irreverent, self-deprecating humor and story, following the adventures of an awkward, lonely teenager whose encounter with an erratic drug dealer leads to her developing the ability to create a new best friend by … pooping her out. Their ensuing adventure together manages to be both sweet and deeply disturbing at times, much like Awkwafina’s comedy.
Eliot Glazer and Broad City actress and co-creator Ilana Glazer track the rise and fall of a star-crossed couple’s social media celebrity in Boyd in 3D, exploring how the like-and-subscribe economy of online popularity could become even more mercurial — and disastrous — with the addition of superhuman abilities.
Maybe the biggest surprise of Diabolical, however, is John and Sun-Hee, one of the most powerful, poignant stories in the bunch. Directed by Steve Ahn (Voltron: Legendary Defender) and written by Andy Samberg (yes, that Andy Samberg), the story follows an elderly man’s attempts to save his terminally ill wife by injecting her with Compound V, an experimental chemical that gives some people superhuman abilities. The story squeezes a potent emotional journey into 13 minutes, and uses the universe of The Boys to explore some powerful feelings.
While it would be easy to dismiss The Boys Presents: Diabolical as an appetizer of sorts, intended to prime fans for the live-action series’ return in June without providing much substance, the stories offered up in the first season feel weightier than that, delivering more than just distracting filler. The episodes that go for laughs go all-in on it, while the episodes intended to resonate more dramatically are impressively effective at doing so.
If Diabolical is indeed an experiment for Amazon and The Boys, it’s a successful one — and a great reminder of the show’s tremendous potential for exploring the superhero genre in unexpected ways.
Season 1 of Amazon’s The Boys Presents: Diabolical premieres March 4 on Prime Video.
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