Amazon's The Boys makes a much-needed change to how the comic books handle the issue of homophobia. The original version of The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson is infamously brash and endlessly controversial, and this unapologetic approach is partly behind the comic's enduring popularity and the development of Amazon's live-action adaptation. One of several contentious elements in the story is the portrayal of homosexuality and homophobia, and this subject comes to the fore during The Boys' second volume, in which Butcher and Hughie investigate the death of a gay man.
It's quite clear that The Boys is attempting to make a withering commentary on how homophobia has no place in society, but how the comic goes about this has provoked much debate over the years. While looking into the aforementioned case, Butcher liberally uses derogatory slurs such as "poof" and "bender" and Hughie chastises him for doing so. When their investigation leads to a gay bar, however, Hughie expresses discomfort at stepping inside, admitting he gets "a bit freaked out by what they do." Butcher accuses his partner of hypocrisy and says all honest straight men feel the same before advising "bums to the wall..." and entering the establishment. Elsewhere in the comic books, the Boys expose a superhero's homosexuality, knowing that the conservative, judgmental public will effectively put an end to his career. A newspaper with a front page reading "Homo Hero" proves them correct.
The Boys' intention is to point out hypocrisy in the views some heterosexuals harbor about the gay community and to shine a light on society's lack of sexual acceptance. Butcher's defense for using such colorful language is that he doesn't genuinely hold any prejudice - it's just an extension of his rude, offensive demeanor. Some readers, however, have argued that this approach in itself is problematic, and that having the story's two main protagonists use derogatory terms and admit to being "freaked out" isn't conducive to tolerance in an industry that has historically not represented gay superheroes strongly. Whatever side one takes regarding The Boys' approach to homophobia, there's no argument that the Amazon adaptation was going to need a less controversial strategy.
The Boys TV series does exactly that, flipping the comic equivalent on its head entirely. As with the source material, the Boys use information about superheroes' sexuality to blackmail them, but the figures being targeted, such as the elasticated Ezekiel, are directly connected to the real-world "Pray The Gay Away" religious sects who are infamously prejudiced against homosexuals. This provides a clear reason for why Ezekiel's sexual exploits going public could prove so damaging to him, whereas the Boys of the comic books simply unveil Shout Out as a gay man to the general public and achieve the same uproar - something that seems dated in 2019.
Hughie's personal viewpoints are also flipped in Amazon's The Boys. While attempting to blackmail Ezekiel, Hughie resorts to accusing the hero of having sex with him at a private club he and Butcher had been snooping around previously. Hughie then begins making up a story in glorious and graphic detail, including the immortal line, "you played my butt like jazz, with poise, skill and willingness to improvise." This is the exact opposite of Hughie's comic book counterpart, who couldn't even enter a gay bar, let alone painstakingly describe a fictional sexual encounter with another man.
In perhaps the best example of how the TV series reverses the comics, the prejudices that hampered comic book Hughie's investigative skills are removed in Jack Quaid's version of the character, and this immediately proves beneficial to his mission in compromising Ezekiel. Both iterations of The Boys take shots at homophobic attitudes, but the TV series does so in a less ambiguous and controversial manner. The Amazon adaptation doesn't pull many of its punches, but this particular story benefited greatly from a more modern and direct reinvention.
The Boys season 2 is currently without a release date. More news as it arrives.