The Boys, the twisted superhero send-up from the mind of Garth Ennis, quickly made a name for itself when it was first released in 2006, as a grotesque, often downright upsetting parody of comic books and their various tropes – alongside the gore and profanity, however, the series often does not get enough praise in retrospect for its near-constant subtle effacing of its medium.
“We Gotta Go Now”, the seventh arc of the original Boys run, sends focal character Wee Hughie undercover to join the X-Men parody known as the G-Men. His superhero alias – Bagpipe, since he’s Scottish – offers a sly dig at the early days of Marvel Comics, where creators like Stan Lee often branded their non-American superheroes with a national stereotype.
The Legend Was A Loose Cannon Stan Lee
In The Boys, Hughie’s undercover supe moniker and costume are created by the Legend, the series’ version of Stan Lee. “Bagpipe” as Hughie is labeled, references the many nationalized hero names from the bygone days of comic history, including, but not limited to: Shamrock, Arabian Knight, Blitzkrieg, Union Jack, Pixie, Kelpie, Guillotine. While critics of The Boys at the time of the comic’s release, as well as the creative forces behind Amazon’s television adaptation, have been equally dismayed and enthralled by the chaotic bloodshed ubiquitous in every Boys issue, the series was set on a foundation of deep, encompassing comic book knowledge, with parody baked into practically every panel.
The G-Men Pushed Parody To Its Limits
The G-Men, Garth Ennis’s perverse reimagining of Marvel’s favorite mutants, are one of the most over-the-top entries in The Boys catalog of parodies, which savages practically every iconic comic book superhero of the past century during its seventy-plus issue run. Hughie’s undercover identity as hapless new G-Men member “Bagpipe” is evidence that as often as Ennis goes big in The Boys, he also packs in tons of smaller, deep-cut references for readers with an equivalent level of comic book history knowledge. The Legend is such a dialed in analogue to Stan Lee that Ennis is able to drop references like “Bagpipe” in casually between the gallons and gallons of blood.
Garth Ennis uses the Legend throughout The Boys as a proxy by which to deconstruct comic book history, to critically analyze the origins of the tropes rampant in the contemporary comic book industry which Ennis made it his mission to eviscerate. A seemingly throwaway detail – like Hughie being dubbed “Bagpipe” – is part of this project. It is a great joke, representative of The Boys range of humor beyond its shock gags and toilet humor, but more than that, it is one of the details that grounds The Boys as one of the most potent critiques of comic book superhero storytelling to come out of the medium itself.