One of the best things about Amazon Prime's The Boys is that it handles sexual violence much better than the comics. Based on the Garth Ennis comic of the same name, The Boys is a dark, adult take on superheroes, and unsurprisingly, for an Ennis adaptation about vigilantes trying to murder twisted superheroes, there is plenty of gratuitous sex and violence in both the comic and the series. In eight, short episodes, The Boys manages to include multiple instances of assault, peeping, attempted assault, referenced assault, coercion, and general sexual depravity at the same time.
It's no longer shocking to see sexual violence on the small screen, of course. Game of Thrones, Outlander, and many more series deal with scenes of rape or abuse on a regular basis. In and of itself, this isn't an issue. Sexual violence happens in the real world, and that means that it should be something that can be portrayed in the fictional world. However, there's no denying that this is an incredibly sensitive subject, and that it's necessary for series to be taking care to show assault in a way that is as sensitive and victim-centric as possible.
Thankfully, this is something that Amazon's The Boys does well - or at the very least, does significantly better than the comics. While the original books have been criticized as borderline "rape porn" in parts, the TV show chooses to shift focus. It even adds some instances of sexual assault in order to create a more nuanced, carefully considered portrayal of characters who aren't defined by their trauma, but who are definitely severely impacted by it.
Sexual Violence Is A Huge (Often Unnecessary) Part Of The Boys
Anyone who read the original comics shouldn't be surprised by the level of gore and sexual violence in Amazon's The Boys. Like many other Ennis books, The Boys is filled with explicit sexual violence, as well as less aggressive, (but extremely pervasive) depictions of over-sexualized and objectified women and prostitutes, as well as a huge amount of graphic sex, in general. This is part of Ennis' style, but it's also something that he has been roundly criticized for. From the objectification of women to the inclusion of unnecessary sex scenes for the sake of titillation, to the balance of male and female characters (or lack thereof), Ennis is not a comic creator who is known for careful or complex depictions of women.
In The Boys, the rape or murder of women is often used as a plot device (from the first moment that the reader meets Wee Hughie, when his girlfriend is literally run through by A-Train, to Starlight's story with the Seven). In addition, because the Supes are specifically described as perverse, sexually driven, and not particularly concerned about consent, there are many, many scenes of sexual violence when pulling back the curtain on these supposed heroes.
Throughout the comics, the majority of characters are male, with female characters relegated to helpless victims or caricatures of sex workers. Even The Female, theoretically a badass female character (and member of The Boys) is given neither a name nor backstory. While some of the violence fits with the theme - that the power of superheroism has corrupted the Supes in every possible way - in many ways it often feels like simply being violence for the sake of it. Fans were hoping that this would be dealt with more sensitively in The Boys, and thankfully, they were right.
How The Boys Changes Starlight's Story
One of the biggest (and most welcome) changes from page to screen is that of Starlight, the innocent young hero who is exposed to all the grime and corruption of the Seven behind the scenes. In both comic and TV show, Starlight is assaulted when she first joins the Seven, and struggles to cope with what Vought expects of her, and with the corruption she sees in her fellow heroes. However, there are some major changes made for the series, which make her story more empowering, but also more complex. Her initial shocking assault scene is present in both versions, but in the comics, multiple male members of the Seven are involved, while in the series, it is only the Deep. While this is still appalling, it keeps the focus on the individual dynamic between two people, rather than taking the situation to its furthest extreme. Her reactions to this attack, and the way that she learns to stand up for herself and to speak up about her assault are also far more pronounced in the series - while the comics see her becoming unhappy and turning to drink, there is more going on with Starlight, and with her reactions to Queen Maeve, in the show.
Most importantly of all, however, is the fact that in the series, Starlight's arc has to do with so much more than just her assault. While what happened with The Deep is a huge part of what makes her change her perception of Vought and the Seven, her character isn't defined by it. Instead, the assault becomes a part of her disillusionment with Vought, but not the entire driving force behind her decision to stand up to them. The discovery that her parents lied to her, her confusion about her identity, revisiting her old Christian stomping grounds and discovering bigotry that she never used to see, her frustrations with crime schedules and marketing ploys - all of these lead up to her eventual big speech and choice to protect Hughie at the end. Choosing not to define Starlight by her assault gives her more depth and agency, and makes her arc significantly more empowering.
How The Deep's Story Makes A Difference
As well as changes to Starlight's story, the changes made to the Deep are a huge step up from the comics, too. For one thing, his assault isn't simply ignored, but has actual consequences for him - and is revealed to be one in a string of similar incidents. This is not only a timely commentary on the #MeToo movement, but one that manages to walk the line between making an aggressor complex and sympathetic while not justifying or being apologist for his actions. The combination of an exploration of his own insecurities and his issues within the Seven alongside the way that he treats Starlight and the insincerity of his apology shine a light on how an attacker isn't always going to be obviously evil in every aspect.
After the assault comes into the public eye, the Deep's story becomes even more interesting. Vought's response is fascinating, one that shows that the corporation has been willing to turn a blind eye up to a point, essentially condoning this kind of behavior, until it becomes necessary to take a different public stance - a neat skewering of the idea that profit is everything in the corporate world. The Deep's own sexual assault also does something important; showing that men, even attractive, strong, heroic men, can still be assaulted themselves. Male sexual assault is something that is often swept under the rug, and seeing this happen on television, as well as seeing a significant and complex trauma response to it, is an important part of accurately portraying sexual violence. Neither the Deep nor Starlight are defined by their assault, and neither bounce back from it within a day or so.
Where The Boys Could Have Done Better
These are not the only instances of sexual violence in the show, of course. Starlight helps save a girl from attempted rapists, and Homelander rapes Butcher's wife - a huge part of his storyline. In many ways, these are dealt with in reasonable ways as well, however, many may think that this is a whole lot of rape for an eight episode series, and that makes it unnecessary. It may be significantly less sexually driven than the comics (and we are thrilled to see fewer random prostitutes kicking around in the background, as well as more of a backstory for The Female), but that doesn't mean that quite this level of assault is necessary. Starlight in the series may be better than Starlight of the comics, but that doesn't mean that she really needed to be assaulted at all - and the Deep's story could have worked just as well if he was simply attempting/pushing/generally being an asshole, rather than actually assaulting her in the end. These may be positive steps forward, but TV still has a long way to go.