Anthology shows have been all the rage for a while now. The format was popular in the 1950s and ’60s, but took a pretty hard break until 2011, when Black Mirror and American Horror Story revitalized the concept. The advent of streaming only added to the mix, leading to a slew of anthology shows which promised different storylines (and even cinematic styles) with each episode or season. From the sci-fi hit Love Death + Robots to the tender real-life romances of My Love, anthologies are able to unravel a colorful array of threads stitched together by one unifying pattern.
The incredibly popular superhero genre has recently jumped on the bandwagon, with What If…? from Marvel taking hypothetical looks at different superheroes with each episode. Now, the popular anti-superheroes of The Boys has led to a new animated anthology series with The Boys Presents: Diabolical. The Boys’ season 2 finished in 2020, with Covid-19 slowing production on the third season; in the interim, the creative gang behind the series decided to reach out to some friends and artists with the idea of anthologizing animations based around the universe of The Boys (often called the VCU, the Vought Cinematic Universe).
Diabolical Blood and Laughs
Like its parent show, The Boys Presents: Diabolical is a hyper-violent, irreverently absurd, but surprisingly incisive collection of blood and laughs. Each episode takes place in the VCU, where superheroes are normalized, but marketed and exploited by the corporation Vought International, which uses their super-serum drug Compound V to create superpowers. The animated spin-off is a fun, absurdist way to enter into that world again.
The short series on Amazon Prime Video is only eight episodes long, with each installment roughly 14 minutes. As such, it’s reminiscent of some better programming on Adult Swim; incidentally, the writer and creator of one episode, Justin Roiland, is most famous for his Adult Swim series Rick and Morty. What sets Diabolical apart from that and other Adult Swim shows is just how much it’s able to get away with, something which only streaming could provide.
In fact, seeing Roiland’s work on The Boys Presents: Diabolical makes one wonder just how much more brilliant (or simply outlandish) the man could be when all censorship and network regulations were taken away from his work. His is the second episode, which is just as angry and bombastically violent as its title, “An Animated Short Where Pissed-Off Supes Kill Their Parents.”
The hilarious but nihilistically nasty episode follows a group of orphaned superheroes with mostly pointless powers, like Boombox, who is a muscled man with a stereo for a head that just plays the Hootie & the Blowfish song I Only Want to Be With You, or Boob Face, which is descriptive enough. When they discover that their parents knowingly participated in Vought’s superhero program and then abandoned them when their superpowers sucked, the misfit gang goes on a rampage of revenge, murdering all of their parents. It’s a dark episode with an even darker conclusion but highlights the kind of angry, absurd hilarity at the heart of the show.
Star-Studded and Action-Packed
Roiland’s episode is humorously (and of course, meta-ironically) narrated by Christian Slater as Narrator, a superhero who’s only power is being able to accurately narrate events. Slater is but one of myriad guest stars in Diabolical. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Awkwafina, Andy Samberg, Simon Pegg, Don Cheadle, Giancarlo Esposito, Kumail Nanjiani, Kevin Smith, Ilana Glazer, Randall Kim, Ben Schwartz, Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera, Kenan Thompson — the list of stars here honestly goes on and on.
None of them are heard in the very first episode, though; “Baby Laser’s Day Out” plays on both classic Looney Tunes episodes and the children’s movie Baby’s Day Out to elaborate on some aspects of The Boys. It’s a dialogue-free, slapstick-heavy episode that follows a scientist trying to save a super-powered baby from the murderous mercenaries of Vought International. The baby, like the evil narcissist Homelander from The Boys, can shoot lasers from its eyes, but it can also barely crawl, so it hasn’t exactly mastered its powers yet. The Vought scientist runs around town, trying to save the baby from disaster when really he should be saving the city from this cute baby’s laser-eyed destruction. It’s an immediately engaging, fun, and bright episode to start the short series off with, and the incongruity felt when the epic amount of intense violence is unleashed is a surprisingly good introduction to this world.
At just 14 minutes an episode, The Boys Presents: Diabolical really leaves no room for boredom. Almost everything is energetic and (almost too) fast-paced, and the variety of styles between each episode keeps things constantly interesting. The Saturday morning cartoon style of the first episode, the Rick and Morty style of the second, the anime of Awkwafina’s fifth episode “BFFs,” and the Korean horror of Andy Samberg’s seventh episode “John and Sun-Hee” stand out visually.
Samberg’s episode is a startling stunner. A quiet reversal of the usual style and pacing of The Boys (Diabolical or otherwise), “John and Sun-Hee” is an immediately melancholic and grim break from the often silly (yet still intelligent) irreverence of what precedes it. Opening on a woman dying of cancer, this sad little masterpiece follows an aging janitor in Vought International as he attempts to steal some of the corporation’s super-serum Compound V to save his wife. He injects her in an attempt to save her life, but when agents come to arrest them, terrifying tentacles grow from the cancer-ridden woman, who proceeds to kill every Vought agent involved.
What follows is a powerful allegory for the way trauma and disease like cancer can spread and envelop everything and everyone it touches, and the often futile and destructive consequences of trying to stop mortality and nature. It’s filmed like a great Korean horror movie, but the anger at the corporate world and the despair at being a cog in a destructive machine is entirely of The Boys. The ending is beautifully sad, and the entire thing is a heartbreakingly great respite from the fun but usual cynical wackiness of Diabolical.
The series ends with its most obvious tie-in to The Boys, an episode following the origin story of Homelander, featuring Black Noir and Madelyn Sitwell. “One Plus One Equals Two” does something seemingly impossible for The Boys — it humanizes Homelander and creates empathy for this paranoid, egotistical, sadistic character. Like all great origin stories, the episode details the pain and cycles of violence that lead a person to become something monstrous. It ends with the viewer highly anticipating the new season of The Boys.
Aside from this episode, though, Diabolical doesn’t require any knowledge of The Boys to enjoy it, only a slightly wicked sense of humor. Altogether, the series is really only the length of a movie and is more of an appetizer for the main dish which is The Boys season 3, which premiers June 3rd. However, Diabolical seems to be the first shot across the bow of sorts, warning the world that the VCU is coming (as ridiculous as that sounds). The playful universe of The Boys is expanding.
An anticipated in-world series focusing on a superhero college is coming to Amazon, while another mysterious spin-off has been announced. Seth Rogen and others have comically petitioned Amazon to release Supe Porn, the adult superhero parody that’s an infamous part of The Boys universe. A sporadic news parody documenting all the comings-and-goings of the VCU, Vought News Network, is being launched to fill different story gaps between seasons, and there is interest in producing a variety of the in-world, fictional movies mentioned and featured in The Boys. With DC having originally created and produced the comics, and with the accolades and popularity of the Amazon series, perhaps the DCEU has room for The Boys in upcoming films.
Regardless of what the future holds, The Boys Presents: Diabolical is here, not just as a fun mid-season appetizer for the bigger Amazon Prime show, but as a delicious little meal in itself. Bloody, raunchy, over-the-top, and yes, even beautifully heartbreaking, it’s a suitably madcap collection of The Boys-inspired tales which fits nicely amongst other great contemporary anthology shows, even if it’s undoubtedly the black, blood-stained sheep of the family.
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