A Chat With Eric Kripke – The Boys, Supernatural and Crafting the Icebergs Under the Water

 

I was introduced to the new Amazon Prime show The Boys at San Diego Comic Con and was immediately intrigued. I was already excited about it simply because Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, is executive producer (and we all know how passionate I am about Supernatural...). So I went to the “activation experience,” which took you inside the first episode of the show and let you help some of “the boys” solve a superhero-related crime. That’s right, the superheroes in this show aren’t exactly the good guys. In fact, they’re a bunch of assholes. Most of them anyway. Propped up by big corporate money and power, the “Supes” are essentially the worst kind of fabricated and manufactured celebrities, their personas carefully constructed to appeal to the unsuspecting masses as the only hope for an increasingly frightened and powerless humanity. If that sounds a little too close to real life right now, that’s exactly the point.

That’s the premise of the comic on which The Boys is based, and the premise of the Amazon series as well. The show has something to say about who holds power in our current culture and how they wield it, including the role of social media and propaganda in shaping people’s views and keeping them in a perpetual state of fear – which makes a superhero who swoops in to save the day and claims to be able to keep everyone safe very appealing indeed. It’s a dark, gritty, cynical world that The Boys inhabit, but it reflects the fear-mongering and online manipulation that is all too real, that make people long for “saviors” and turn the other way when those saviors turn out to be the actual monsters.

All that hits a little too close to home, and if that’s all the show was about, the darkness would be too much to take on top of the overwhelming dose of darkness I get every day through every type of media. What makes The Boys instead as hopeful as the traditional superhero tropes it subverts were intended to be is the existence of a resistance. In the tradition of Supernatural’s Sam and Dean, the resistance comes in the form of a bunch of just plain humans, who nevertheless are willing to go against the odds and try to do what’s right. Instead of taking out demons and wendigos, the Boys are going after the Supes. Outgunned in terms of powers and definitely the underdogs, nevertheless the Boys are every bit as invested in the “always keep fighting” mantra that has made Supernatural such an inspiring show. I’ve only watched one episode so far, and I’m already rooting for them.

For a show whose first episode begins with an ultra violent occurrence and includes a decadent sex-fueled club scene and some full frontal (equal opportunity) nudity, The Boys tackles complex and relevant themes with a surprisingly deft hand. Main character Hughie, whose quest for revenge is instigated by one of the Supes callously running through his girlfriend at super speed and exploding her, has his trauma examined instead of just tossed out there as an explanation for what happens next. And while everyone on the show seems to live somewhere in the morally ambiguous grey area that I love seeing characters struggle through, that goes for the Supes too – or at least one of them.

The premiere episode also takes the time to examine new Supe Starlight’s recruitment into the elite “Seven”. Presented as young and naïve and fully buying into the cult of celebrity that she thinks she craves, Starlight soon finds that the Supes are not who she thought they were when she had that poster of The Deep on her wall. It’s a pointed commentary that was fascinating to me as a psychologist who’s studied celebrity and fandom for the past decade plus. There’s significant sexual assault-based trauma for Starlight that happens with that realization, and it too is not glossed over but explored realistically. That story line pulled on my heartstrings more than anything else in the first episode, and anchored the show in a feminist slant while critiquing the misogyny and power dynamics inherent in that world – and our own.

At the Comic Con press room, Erin Moriarty (who plays Starlight) said she loved the fact that you initially believe that Starlight is going to fit into the familiar stereotype, but it turns out she’s a lot more than that. So far, one episode in, she feels like the moral compass of the show, along with Hughie, who she just so happens to meet on a park bench as they struggle to come to terms with their respective traumas and how those traumas have changed how they view themselves.

The Boys is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Eric Kripke, based on the comic series by Garth Ennis. It stars Karl Urban (Billy Butcher) as leader of the Boys, along with recently traumatized Hughie (Jack Quaid), Karen Fukuhara (The Female), Laz Alonso (Mother’s Milk), and Tomer Kapon (Frenchie). The Supes include Anthony Starr (Homelander), Dominique McElligott (Queen Maeve), Jessie T. Usher (A Train), Chace Crawford (The Deep), Nathan Mitchell (Black Noir) and Erin Moriarty (Starlight). Elisabeth Shue plays Madelyn Stillwell, the corporate PR person who pulls the strings with a chilling smile.

As a passionate Supernatural fan, I was initially interested in The Boys because of Eric Kripke, who created the characters I love so much on Supernatural. I asked him a question at the press room for The Boys at Comic Con (see video link below), but couldn’t wait to talk with him some more about his new show and its similarities to his first ‘baby’, Supernatural. We’ve stayed a little bit in touch over the past decade by email, but having a chance to actually chat was a treat.

E: Hey Lynn, how are you?

L: It’s been like ten years since we’ve had an actual conversation!

E: It probably has been, but I follow you on twitter and we’ve had some twitter conversations and you seem like you’re doing great, so I know what you’ve been up to. And thank you so much for all the support over the years.

L: Pretty sure I should be thanking you – I’ve written six books about your show (Supernatural) that helped me get tenure and promotion to professor. Thank you for that!

E: Well, you’re welcome!

It really had been a while. I first chatted with Eric Kripke way back in 2008 when I began researching and writing books about fandom and celebrity, mostly focused on the show he created that I had fallen head over heels in love with, Supernatural. (Here’s Eric the first time we met at the Supernatural Creation convention in Burbank – he was a baby!)

Photo Lizz Sisson

We did a few phone interviews and met up at Comic Con that year to chat some more. We talked a lot about fandom and of course about fannish creativity and fanfiction. Eric’s first question: Am I ever in it?

Me: Umm, I guess? I may have run across a few…

Kripke: Oooh, is it porn? You have to send me that!

Fast forward to 2019 and Eric’s Reddit AMA when someone asked him if he’d read any Supernatural erotica and he said yes, and then described the definitely-not-G-rated fic…

L: I had to laugh when I saw you mention that fic with you and Jared from back in the day (laughing). I mean, what you said is true, you were assertive in it…

E: Exactly!

L: I had forgotten what it was actually about and was like OMG that’s right…

E: Yeah (laughing) I’ve never forgotten it, it made a major impact that’s for sure.

L: Well, either you’re welcome or… I’m sorry?

E: (still laughing) Yeah right, I think a little of both.

Side note: Eric has always been fine with fans “playing in his sandbox” and understands transformative works as a sign of affection for his characters and his worlds. There’s a whole chapter on our early conversations about Supernatural in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls if you’re curious.

L: Anyway, The Boys! I’ve watched the first episode, I’m a bit old school in that I like to watch one at a time and space it out and sort of digest it. I LOVED the first episode and I think other Supernatural fans will really love the show too. There are some similarities to Supernatural for sure.

E: Mm hmm

L: For one thing, the protagonist is sent on a hunt for revenge because the love of his life is violently killed – Mary burning on the ceiling is an iconic image for Supernatural, and so is Robin being decimated and Hughie standing there still holding her bloody hands!

E: Hmm. That one, I mean yes, now that you’ve pointed it out, there are similarities to that. Robin dying in The Boys is taken almost frame for frame from the comic book so it’s funny, that hadn’t really occurred to me about that connection, because in The Boys the instigating incident is so infamous for anyone who’s a fan of the books. It was my job to capture it as faithfully as possible and that’s mostly where my head was, but yeah. Also, I think where they’re similar is there are a lot of tonal and thematic similarities. In a lot of ways, The Boys is a hard R Supernatural.

L: (silently) A hard R Supernatural….ohgod yes please…

E: And it’s funny because you don’t even realize these things until it’s hindsight. I don’t set out to say oh I’m gonna make something for Supernatural fans, I just make stuff – the only person I really try to please is me. But because I love Supernatural and those are the kind of things that I love, I guess it stands to reason that if left to my own devices to make another show that I put all my love into, it will have some similarities.

L: That makes sense.

E: What The Boys is really ultimately about is these kind of very down to earth middle class blue collar people taking on these arrogant ultra powerful forces that are overwhelming and all powerful. In Supernatural it’s angels and demons and (laughing) God…

L: lol

E: And in The Boys, it’s the sort of pantheon of superheroes. The incredibly big guy with magical powers basically is something that I’m clearly interested in. I think I really like the idea of blue collar no bullshit guys taking on and puncturing these huge myths and kind of having to bring them down to earth just through their own wits, because they’re outmatched…

L: Yeah, and that’s all they have, their own smarts.

E: And that says something to me, I think, about the world. Like we’re always up against these seemingly insurmountable forces, but there are things we can do to get some equality. You just have to – it’s not easy and it’s not fair – but you just have to keep banging away at it.

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Eric Kripke Talks “The Boys” at Comic Con – and Why Supernatural Fans Should Watch!

I was very excited to attend the press conference for Eric Kripke’s new show, The Boys, after experiencing the activation installation at Comic Con last weekend. Instead of round table interviews, invited press sat in front of the panel, and cast and Kripke and took turns asking questions. Eric recognized a few of us and gave us a friendly nod, which I admit made my fangirl heart happy. You were supposed to wait for the room person to give you the mic in order to ask a question, which meant I was having a near panic attack trying to get her attention while other people just yelled theirs out. Finally I got a turn to ask a question – one for Mr. Kripke.

Me: One of the things that sets your first baby, Supernatural, apart is that on the surface it’s a show about two brothers hunting monsters but it really is so much more. It’s a show about family and loyalty and how family don’t end with blood. Are there underlying themes on The Boys as well?

Eric thanked me for the Supernatural centric question and gave a thoughtful and interesting answer, which you can listen to below (once I managed to stop just smiling at him and push the record button…)  But come on, SPN Family, it’s Kripke!

Eric: I think this show is also about family. It’s about ‘the boys,’ who are the heroes because they stick together and they’ve got each other’s backs, and they’re willing to admit vulnerability and weakness. They’re scared and outmatched and outgunned, but they’re taking on these powerful forces – not dissimilar to the way Sam and Dean take on monsters and demons. What I love is that the heroes of this show are the ones who can express vulnerability and weakness and be imperfect….

Supernatural has been unique in its exploration of masculinity, especially when it comes to emotional vulnerability. Sam and Dean have gone from “no chick flick moments” to being able to cry with each other and to have each others’ backs quite literally. The theme of the ordinary man taking on the super (natural) or super (heros) is a compelling one that is a part of The Boys as well as SPN. Finally, the theme of family – and especially that ‘family don’t end with blood’ seems to be woven into Kripke’s new show too.

Eric: We spend a lot of time building the iceberg under the water with the emotion, and with the satire…

That time and effort to build the ‘iceberg under the water’ is what has set Supernatural apart from the beginning, so if The Boys can pull it off, that bodes well for its longevity.

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“The Boys” At San Diego Comic Con

One of the first things I did when I got to San Diego Comic Con this year was check out the press preview for the Amazon Prime activation for some of their highly anticipated new shows. I was especially excited to get a taste of the new show, ‘The Boys’, based on the comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The show flipflops our usual expectations for a superhero show by taking a no-holds-barred look at what happens to superheroes once they succumb to the lure of fame and fortune and power. (And if you think that’s a handy dandy way to look at the very same dynamics in our own real world, you’re absolutely right).

The show seems to be all about the gray, so nothing is black and white, but the good “guys” (who are not all guys) are the mere humans trying to fight back against flawed superheroes and the multi billion dollar organization that essentially manages their social media presence. It’s ‘the boys’ versus ‘the supes’ and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun. I was also intrigued because I fell in love with one of showrunner Eric Kripke’s first “babies”, Supernatural, and have watched all he’s done since. I love the way he isn’t afraid to go meta or to weave in sometimes surprising combinations into one show, from the violent to the irreverent to the heartwarming – and the heartbreaking. So I was excited to experience a little bit of The Boys!

The activation took you inside the world of The Boys and right into a case, as we all teamed up to help some of ‘the boys’ crack a case and figure out what ‘the Supes’ are up to no (no good clearly). One of them had crashed a car right into an electronics shop, so we combed through the rubble for clues while ‘the boys’ used the F word more times than I may have ever heard in the space of fifteen minutes! It was high energy, gritty, dirty and did a great job of portraying the feel of the show. It also threw us all when one of ‘the boys’ suddenly turned on a guy who we thought was a guest just like us and freaked out about him filming on his phone.

The boy: Are you a supe??? Are you??? Why are you filming, huh?

He threw a punch and the guy fell to the floor, obviously bleeding, and a few people in our group actually gasped out loud because they didn’t realize he was part of the activation. Well done, Amazon Prime!

After I attended the press conference for ‘The Boys’ (and was thrilled to be able to ask showrunner and Supernatural creator Eric Kripke a question!) I jogged over to Ballroom 20 to catch the panel. (I seriously do not want to walk for a week once Comic Con is over…)

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