'The Boys' Showrunner Erick Kripke on the Challenge of Adapting the Comic and Knowing How Far to Go [Interview]

Many comic books deconstruct what it actually means to be a superhero. Watchmen questions the morality of extraordinary being nominating themselves heroes. X-Men explores mutants with abilities as a persecuted minority. Now, The Boys speculates what if superheroes were just straight-up dicks? Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg produced the Amazon Prime adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic series. Eric Kripke is their showrunner. 

In the first episode, Hughie (Jack Quaid) becomes anti-superhero when A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) speed runs his girlfriend into oblivion. Homelander (Antony Starr) can fly and shoot laserbeams from his eyes, but he won’t always use those powers to save people. Male superheroes in The Seven sexually harass the women like Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty). 

Kripke spoke with /Film by phone last week just before he left for Comic-Con to present The Boys. The series is streaming now on Amazon Prime. 

Thank you for talking to me before you head out to Comic-Con.

Yeah, I’m getting my seven foot Optimus Prime costume ready. I’m ready to roll.

Oh, that’s you!

Yeah, yeah, that’s me. [Laughs]

Is this a time of transition for you with Supernatural wrapping up and The Boys just getting started?

Yeah, I mean, I haven’t been involved in Supernatural for many years now. The last time I was there day to day was season six so it’s nine years that I actually haven’t been on that show. But, it’s more like Comic-Con feels like an emotional turning point in that it’ll be the first panel for The Boys and the very last panel for Supernatural. I’ve thought about that. I’ve thought about the transition that it is.

Until the 10 year anniversary panel for Supernatural.

Exactly right.

Do most of the action scenes in The Boys come from the comics?

Some, not all. They’s definitely inspired by a lot of the sequences in the comics. Occasionally just from images in the comics that we really loved and resonated with us. We tried to recreate certain images that we really loved. So there’s a sequence in the first five minutes of the show that’s almost taken panel for panel from the comic. There’s a plane hijacking scene that we put in mostly because everyone who knew the comics and knew we were making the adaptation, of ten the very first thing they would say is, “I dare you to do the plane hijacking scene.” So I felt an obligation to answer their dare and actually put it in. So we have that one, but because it’s a different animal, I think we work hard to capture the spirit of the comic and get the characters right, but because it’s an adaptation there’s the inevitable adjustments to the story. That sometimes lends to some different action sequences but we’ve always tried to maintain the irreverence and the anarchic spirit of Garth Ennis.

You did a great job with the airplane scene because that’s brutal emotionally.

It’s so brutal. It’s so brutal. It’s so hard to watch and it’s got to be the most upsetting sequence I’ve ever produced. In terms of if the goal is to create a visceral reaction, I feel like we succeeded.

There’s something to the fact that we expect people with powers to be selfless, but why wouldn’t they be as selfish as we are?

Right, and arguably even more so, especially a character like Homelander disconnects from humanity period. He doesn’t even see himself as the same type of human as lall of the people. Not only would they be just selfish because they’re human beings, but I think they would feel even more separate because they feel no real kinship with these people that are skittering by beneath them. 

Has it been, I don’t know if fun is the right word, but getting to do these iconic superhero scenes where they let people die, or in some cases kill them? 

No, fun is exactly the right word. It’s a blast. It’s so fun. I’m having the time of my life on this show. Yes, it’s dark but we’re also, I think we’re really trying to present a package of a lot of different flavors. I think it can be dark but I also think the show has a lot of emotion and heart and sweetness in a weird way. There’s these relationships between Hughie and Annie, and Female and Frenchie, even Butcher and Hughie in a way that show these moments of love and loyalty. To me, that’s what the show’s really about. It’s about this family that comes together, of this blue collar family, disenfranchised miscreants trying to take on the 1% of the 1%. So I think it’s really fun. The superhero myth has obviously inflated so much that it’s fun to kind of puncture it a little bit with a little dose of reality, of well, but… To ask the question, what would superheroes really be like if they were as f***ed up as any other human in the world. How would they actually react in the real world with all the pressures of the real world? That’s been really fun too. In a lot of ways, it allows us to make satirical commentary on so many issues we’re going through right now, so we get to make a very, very current show. It’s not lost on me the incredible opportunity that I have that when I read Twitter in the morning like everybody else and get engaged by what’s happening in our world, I can go to work and write about it and reflect it back through the sort of cracked funhouse mirror of the superhero show. It’s rare and extraordinary to be able to do that, especially to be able to do it in a superhero show like this. I take none of it for granted. I have to say having done a few shows, this is the most fun I’ve ever had.

Another issue we’re talking about currently is minimizing female contributions to business and the arts. That’s what Homelander does to Maeve, isn’t it? 

Yeah, and I think the Seven in general is incredibly toxic, an incredibly toxic place to work. I think we’re trying to really unflinchingly present them as the pitfalls of completely toxic masculinity and completely feeling entitled to do what you want. If that means manipulating women to do it, that’s what the male superheroes in this world do. We wanted to accurately reflect that while at the same time be very, very clear bout the fact that they’re f***ing *ssholes and they have a comeuppance coming. The female characters in the show, although they have to deal with these *ssholes, are very strong and smart and are not victims. It may take a little bit but they’re going to get their payback.

It’s bad enough to have an abusive boyfriend, but if he had superpowers would it be next to impossible to leave?

Yeah, exactly. He’s definitely the psycho ex-boyfriend and he’s also the most powerful man on Earth. That’s a really terrifying situation for Maeve to navigate.

Is Starlight still optimistic through all this?

Yeah, I mean, for the most part. Without giving spoilers away, I think she does a really good job of holding onto her hope in the middle of all this. We say in the pilot, and I really mean it, since when did hopeful and naive become the same thing? They’re not. Just because she’s hopeful and just because she’s good and just because she wants to make the world a better place, that doesn’t mean that she’s naive or simple. It’s a sign of how cynical times have become that when someone is genuinely earnest and wants to do good, they’re often the target of ridicule. So I really wanted to create a character that was hopeful. Basically, Garth created the character but I just wanted to take Starlight and further this notion that she’s also really smart and really strong and she’s aware. She’s not blind to what’s happening in the world. She just knows that you have to want to make the world a better place to enact real change. So I like that about her. There are so many cynical characters in the show and there’s so much satirical and cynical things happening that I thought Hughie and Starlight become very important to the story. They need to be a center of heart and sympathy and likeability to really take you though some of the darker elements of the story. 

This might come from Garth Ennis, but is it a stretch to say these characters are version of Superman, Aquaman, The Flash, Wolverine, etc.?

Yes, it’s Superman and Wonder Woman and Aquaman in there and The Flash in there, but there’s also The Avengers. They have a big tower in New York City. They’re incredibly well funded. They care a lot about their technology. In terms of what we’re referencing, I think it’s an amalgamation of every superhero that’s out there right now, not just DC but also Marvel and anything else. More than that, once we establish these archetypes, then we very consciously said, “All right, let’s explore them psychologically and let’s really make them unique in their own person” because I really believe if this show’s a parody, we’re dead. This can’t be The Naked Gun version of a superhero show. These have to be legitimate characters with a legitimate inner life. Again, we just applied the most stringent reality to their characters. If you were really Superman living in this world and had ultimate power, what would you really be and what would you really feel? Same for if you were the world’s fastest man, you would be a high pressure professional athlete. If you were a guy who talked to fish, you might have an inferiority complex. So on and on and we really worked hard to try to apply real human psychology to these types of heroes to create hopefully original characters.

It seems like there’s no limit to the violence you can get away with on Amazon, but do you have a personal limit?

Yeah, the rule that we have is we can be shocking and we can be violent but only if it advances the story and only if it does something to the characters. I’m not into shocking for shocking’s sake or just being exploitive. If the story cannot live without it, then we’ll unflinchingly put it in but we’re not putting it in just to be irreverent. We’re doing it because we, as the writers, really care about the integrity of the story. 

How did you land Simon Pegg for the dad role?

Obviously, Hughie in the comics, Darick Robertson basically drew him to look exactly like Simon Pegg so Simon has always been really closely associated with The Boys, as almost the star of The Boys. I read multiple interviews that he’d given over the years where he was starting to say, “It’s taken a while to adapt The Boys. I think I’m aging out of this role of Hughie but I would love to play Hughie’s dad.” So when we were greenlit, one of the first things I did was have our casting director reach out to SImon’s reps and said, “I don’t know if he was serious about playing Hughie’s dad but if he is, we have the role of Hughie’s dad and it’s his if he wants it.” To his incredible credit, he took the part. He was incredibly busy. He was cruising the world doing press for Mission: Impossible but he took time out of his busy schedule to fly to Toronto for a few days and play this character. And it’s not just a cameo. It’s a real character with real scenes. I think that shows how much he loves genre and how much he loves and cares about genre fans. I have a lot of respect for him for that.

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