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How 'The Boys' Uses Satire to Tackle Black Issues
How 'The Boys' Uses Satire to Tackle Black Issues
Credit: Prime Video

How 'The Boys' Uses Satire to Tackle Black Issues

The Boys understands satire as a tool to hold a mirror up to society, especially as it pertains to Black issues.

Since its 2019 debut, The Boys has shown masterful skill in satire, tackling pop culture and societal issues in a raw but entertaining style that makes it hard to look away. As season three comes to a close, The Boys’ grasp on satire has only gotten better as it continues to offer a commentary on capitalism, cancel culture, and racism (among other issues) as the titular team continues their fight against The Seven (and Vought). But this latest season in particular seemed to really hone in on issues that Black people face — from police brutality to the subtle — and overt — racism that not even superpowered Black people can escape in a company that could care less about them.

In both of these instances, Seven member A-Train is at the center. Although initially presented as a safe, conservative, and self-absorbed Black superhero (think Carlton Banks in a super-suit), A-Train becomes more of a redeemable figure in this latest season. At first, A-Train is trying to salvage his spot on The Seven and show Vought he's still an asset after too much compound V weakened his heart. This identity crisis leads him to a performative "woke" rebrand to appear more concerned about Black issues and the Black community, pitching two terrible ideas — a docuseries called A-Train to Africa and a video game about the slave trade called The Middle Passage — all while wearing a redesigned Africa-inspired costume. That he declares this is all “for the culture” only makes it worse, highlighting how the phrase is often used to justify something that usually isn’t bettering the lives of Black people in a substantial way. This all comes to a head when A-Train decides to do a commercial for his sports drink Turbo Rush that mirrors the infamously bad 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial about police brutality.

How 'The Boys' Uses Satire to Tackle Black Issues Credit: Prime Video

However, by the end of the season, A-Train’s concern becomes more sincere as he deals with Blue Hawk, a violent racist supe who terrorizes Black communities. Initially, he’s diplomatic, trying to get Vought to address the issue. However, it’s minimized by both acting Vought CEO Ashley, as well as The Deep’s wife, Cassandra, in two separate instances. With the former, she disregards A-Train’s concerns until she realizes how serious he is, performing allyship (laughably sharing that Black Lives Matter is her favorite hashtag and her Instagram is nothing but black screens) but clearly not planning to do anything about it. With the latter, she texts Deep a script to say to Homelander that leads him to shrugging off the issue when A-Train brings it up during a meeting with The Seven. With A-Train, it’s interesting how a commentary on white women’s role in upholding racism is made, with both Ashley and Cassandra wanting to maintain their power (in the case of Cassandra, through The Deep’s white male privilege) that they’re willing to ignore A-Train’s very valid concerns.

Only when A-train shows his loyalty to Homelander by telling him that Starlight and Supersonic are conspiring against him, does it lead to Ashley bringing A-Train and Blue Hawk together for a resolution. Addressing the issue on Vought’s terms, he brings Blue Hawk (with a camera crew in tow to get publicity for Vought) to apologize at a community center in the neighborhood he terrorizes. As expected, everything that could go wrong does: he refers to A-Train as his "Black friend" to prove he isn't racist (a common tactic among racists); yells “All lives matter” and “Supe lives matter” in response to community members saying “Black lives matter”; and attacks the members, including A-Train’s brother, Nathan, who is left unable to walk from Blue Hawk’s attack.

This experience opens up A-Train's eyes to his failings as a superhero, the collateral damage he's left in his wake, and how Vought's — and superheroes' unchecked power — affects the world. The writers handle this pivotal moment for him in a realistic way, as social justice is often taken lightly until it affects someone directly. He ultimately ends up taking matters into his own hands, ditching a path of respectability and killing Blue Hawk by dragging him across the pavement.

How 'The Boys' Uses Satire to Tackle Black Issues Credit: Prime Video

This season also highlights how Vought's racism-fueled capitalistic business practices have been a crucial part of the company for a long time as it tells the backstory of Black superheroes who came before A-Train, like Black Noir.

How satire comes up with Noir is less in a humorous way, and more in the irony (and absurdity) of him having to be masked because he’s Black. Noir is the only supe to be a member of The Seven and its predecessor team Payback, during which he was just known as Noir. The season offers a flashback of this time in the episode “Barbary Coast,” where an unmasked Noir is talking with a young Stan Edgar about why he no longer wants to wear a mask, wanting to be taken seriously as a Black superhero and aspiring actor. Although he’s told that he has to hide his race because of his marketability to kids as the silent ninja of the group, the reality is that Vought feared the reception below the Mason-Dixon Line of a Black superhero having a central role in Payback, because it was meant to be the country's premier superhero team.

Unfortunately, after having his face severely scarred by fellow Payback teammate Soldier Boy, Noir would have to don the mask as a shield from the outside world, forced to continue wearing it even though he didn’t want to.

How 'The Boys' Uses Satire to Tackle Black Issues Credit: Prime Video

Aside from A-Train and Black Noir, the third season also offers some backstory on Mother’s Milk (M.M.), and why The Boys’ fight against Vought means so much to him. With the introduction of Soldier Boy in this season, it’s revealed that the supe killed his grandfather when he threw a car through the Harlem brownstone the family lived at while dealing with some car thieves. Feeling guilty for his grandfather’s death (M.M. woke up his grandfather so they could watch Soldier Boy as he dealt with the thieves), it manifested in not only lifelong trauma but OCD, believing if he didn't do things in a precise and specific way, Soldier Boy would return and kill his daughter and ex-wife.

Like Black Noir, satire functions with M.M. in an ironic way: that a hero he looked up to would be the one to cause him and his family (M.M.’s father worked himself to death trying to sue Vought over his father’s death) so much grief and, in reality, be an incompetent, ignorant and insincere racist. That the season ends with M.M. having to tell his daughter Janine the reality of how bad and corrupt supes can be emphasizes this irony, the conversation akin to Black parents having to give their children “the talk” about racism, especially in regards to police. This is a contrast from Janine’s white stepfather Todd, who’s basically satirized as a QAnon-esque Homelander fanatic, letting Janine watch the supe’s rants and taking her to rallies where the supe is present.

The Boys understands satire as a tool to hold a mirror up to society, especially as it pertains to Black issues. Whether through throwaway lines addressing the CIA's involvement in Contra cocaine trafficking (and selling the excess amount to Black neighborhoods to destabilize and demoralize them, while staying out of white communities) and tongue-in-cheek critiques of corporations commodifying social movements (BLM BLTs), or characters like A-Train and M.M., The Boys isn’t only intent on entertaining viewers but providing a necessary commentary on real-life issues, too.

Daric L. Cottingham (she/her) is a Black Southern queer multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. She is from Ruston, Louisiana, and grew up in Dallas, surrounded by streetwear, sneaker, and hip-hop culture. This environment fueled her interests, which lead to her passion for pop culture news. Daric loves analyzing the intersection of society and culture in a nuanced digestible way.