The pinned tweet on the Twitter feed for The Boys is a screenshot of one of the many one-star reviews the third season of the show has accumulated since it kicked off this month with an episode that featured an extremely, uh, vivid gay sex scene. “With each season it gets worse,” writes the reviewer Aj. “VERY political and VERY anti male. Plenty of male butts and wieners though! enjoy.” “Enjoy!!!” added @TheBoysTV.
Things have been getting interesting this season for fans of Amazon’s superhero satire that offers weekly skewerings of fascism, corporate capitalism, clout-chasing, toxic masculinity, and the very idea of fandom, in no particular order. “The Boys subreddit is chaos right now,” tweeted writer Ryan Broderick last weekend, after an episode aired that featured Blue Hawk, a vigilante with a tendency toward over-patrolling Black neighborhoods, having a violent freakout at a Black community center, yelling things like “All supes matter!” “Threads are getting locked, users rage-deleting whole accounts. …. Fans who thought Homelander was cool are in a meltdown.”
Homelander, a lab-created superhero in an all-American costume, is blonde, handsome, and all-powerful—also insecure, and hair-trigger in temperament, a guy who, in Season 1, lets a whole plane full of people die to save himself the embarrassment of admitting he botched their rescue. But back in 2020, after that first season aired, a few Trump fans showed up at the Million MAGA March wearing Homelander costumes and Trump masks, a fact showrunner Eric Kripke and Homelander actor Antony Starr commented upon with incredulity. These right-wing Homelander freaks are probably few and far between, but you find them in the corners of comment sections, as on a YouTube clip titled “That Scene Where Homelander Has a Meltdown And Kills Everyone,” which depicts the character’s Season 2 fantasy of mowing down a crowd of protestors with his laser eyes. (If you’re still thinking of starting The Boys, just know that there will be blood.) Under the clip, one user commented, “What’s hilarious about this scene, for me, is that during it my dad said ‘Homelander should just laser beam a couple of them to shut them up’ and I laughed and said he couldn’t do that. Then this happened and we both laughed like crazy.” A debate ensued over whether it was “immoral” to find this funny. “Sometimes you have to use force to get things done,” another commenter wrote.
It’s that sense of the character’s transcendence of the norm that fans respond to. Bitcoin enthusiasts who turned the eyes of their Twitter avatars into lasers to promote investment in cryptocurrency (“laser eyes channel action even as they protect from dilutive distraction,” one explained) used a meme of Homelander, taken from this scene—a side view of his face, murder eyes blazing, his mouth open in delight—to spread their hashtag: #laserrayuntil100K.
Homelander’s appeal is about power and domination, but also about the actor who plays him, perfectly, as a campy villain with bullying tendencies. Human Ken doll Antony Starr, who has extremely blue eyes and a thin, bitter line of a mouth, projects an unpredictable mix of petulance and steely confidence, shifting in and out of modes on a dime. Starr’s micro-expressions have launched a thousand GIFs: Homelander looking down, then, realizing the camera is on him, donning a manic smile. Homelander dreamily tonguing a bottle of pumped breastmilk. (It’s a whole thing.) Homelander acknowledging his fans’ applause with a super-fake display of charisma. Homelander saying “Really?,” Starr compressing his lips to their thinnest and hardest. Homelander saying “I can do whatever the fuck I want,” delivering an open-eyed, squeeze-mouthed stare.
Kripke admitted to Rolling Stone that Homelander’s similarity to Donald Trump, which he’d acknowledged in the past, was, in the show’s third season, growing more “bald.” “The world is getting more coarse and less elegant,” Kripke said. “But part of it is where Homelander’s story naturally goes. He has this really combustible mix of complete weakness and insecurity, and horrible power and ambition.” Like Trump, Homelander is willing to ally himself with Nazis if it serves him—he’s not picky about their ideology so long as he gets to dominate. Like Trump, Homelander is fatphobic, disgusted by anyone whose body deviates from his idea of perfection. He’s even got a little bit of the former president’s germophobia. In the first season, Homelander kills a man by inserting his fist in his chest, then withdraws his hand, looks at his sullied gauntlet, and wipes it on the dead man, muttering “Dammit.” It makes sense that in this week’s episode, which features the comics’ much-anticipated Herogasm sequence, he doesn’t actually partake in the superhero orgy. The Homelander of the comics, a much more muscle-bound and straightforwardly evil supe, is all over it. Starr’s Homelander shows up only at the end, and only because he’s looking for another superhero he wants to kill. He has no time for pleasure, only for domination.
Homelander, like any watchable, well-played villain, invites identification. “Been rewatching The Boys before I watch season 3, and Homelander is literally me,” posted @MovieCucks on Twitter, along with a meme of Starr in costume and the text “Just be yourself and force others to do whatever the fvck you want.” The show recognizes this appeal and plays with it. The Boys isn’t a subtle show (the episode that riled up that Amazon reviewer involved an Antman-esque supe shrinking down and crawling into his lover’s urethra), but it’s good at showing how this kind of a person—unhinged, cruel, barely hanging onto a tiny bit of a sense of social obligation—brings out the worst in everyone around them. In Season 3, Ashley, the PR person at Vought (the corporation that creates and controls—or tries to control—the world’s superheroes), has the world’s most stressful job: making sure Homelander toes the line. Their relationship gets more terrifying as Homelander loses more of the inhibitions that keep him from lasering people. He always seems to be three seconds from parting Ashley’s head from her body. In one memorable scene, he says to Ashley, with Starr-perfect delivery, “Is your idiot brain getting fucked by stupid?” Later, Ashley repeats the line to someone who’s displeasing her. She’s 95 percent terrified by him, 5 percent turned on by his raging sense of impunity. Later in the season, she debuts a new blazer: white with red stripes, just like Homelander’s American-flag cape.
Perhaps it’s the third season’s new, more baldly dominating Homelander that’s got his fans finally seeing the light about the show’s intentions. Trump, of course, could always charm those who liked him by being the most “authentic” celebrity they knew. Early on in Season 3, Homelander, who is still trying to project a bland, all-American, “just glad to be of service” public image, has to repeatedly apologize for having dated the secretly Nazi supe Stormfront (Aya Cash) last season, using the canned, Vought-approved line “I’m just as human as all the rest of you.” During a live TV special celebrating his birthday, a heckler goads him into cracking his shell, finally saying what he thinks, which is that he is superior and wants to act that way. “I am done being persecuted for my strength,” he yells. He feels better, and it works. If, at the beginning of the episode, he has been behind the likeable female supe Starlight (Erin Moriarty) in the audience reaction polls, by the end, he’s gained 21 points “with white males in the Rust Belt.” With this twist, he realizes that he can (as the meme goes) do whatever he wants. And his fan base consolidates. “Sure, his language is a little salty, but he’s just saying what everyone else is too afraid to say,” one of those fans says.
What more could The Boys do to drive off its confused right-wing fans? This week, a poster to r/OutOfTheLoop shared Broderick’s tweet and asked what had happened, and why the subreddit was banning “political” threads. A mod for r/TheBoys explained, sounding exhausted, and providing a window into the stalled-out circle of discourse around this show. “We get multiple political threads posted every day that are basically the same topic rehashed over and over again,” the mod wrote. “Right-wingers are finally understanding that the show is making fun of them, they get pissy and complain about the show. A user on the sub posts about it making fun of them. Something something ‘the show makes fun of both sides.’” (Side note: I’d argue that it does. Every season, Vought engages in a new kind of “woke-washing”; this season features a spoof of the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial; the show’s AOC stand-in is secretly a head-exploding supe.) Then, the mod went on, people say, “‘Actually it doesn’t really make fun of both sides, it makes fun of liberal fake wokeness from a leftist perspective,’” then, at last, “the thread devolves into people calling each other [names]… random racial hate speech … rinse and repeat, twenty more times that day.”
On r/TheBoys now, it is much easier to find thoughtful threads where users are picking apart the show’s subtext, debating whether it’s even possible to talk about the show without getting “political,” and marveling at the idea that anyone could watch this sly gore-fest for years and still be surprised by its politics, than it is to find people defending Homelander, Blue Hawk, and Stormfront. It may be that this recent exodus was the last hurrah for that confused specimen, the actual, real-life Homelander fan. “Me who leans right politically, learning that apparently I’m supposed to be boycotting The Boys and upset that Homelander is compared to Trump,” posted a user on Thursday. Underneath it was a gif of Antony Starr rolling his eyes.