From rejected superheroes to a Homelander prequel, 'The Boys Presents: Diabolical' expands the universe of 'The Boys' in important ways ahead of Season 3.
Fans of the Emmy-nominated Amazon Prime Video drama The Boys have a lot of series characters and mythology to keep track of, starting with the titular vigilante group and their reasons for banding together to take down the corrupt superheroes known as The Seven. And that is not even counting the detailed source material — comics of the same title by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, of which there is no greater self-proclaimed fan than the man who adapted the material for the screen, creator and showrunner Eric Kripke. So, when Kripke was ready to expand The Boys' universe with an anthology series titled The Boys Presents: Diabolical, he was looking to disrupt what everyone thought they knew about The Boys.
"What we love about Diabolical is it's an idea incubator — maybe one day we'll find a story in there that we'll want to expand into a larger series, but the goal is to be completely experimental and not be beholden to any rules or the tone of the show or really any of the characters in the show," Kripke tells Metacritic.
To that end, the first season of Diabolical, which consists of eight episodes, features characters that would never be able to pop up on The Boys proper, including a young woman whose misadventure with Compound V brings her excrement to life, creating, as Kripke puts it, "a touching E.T. story with a sentient piece of sh--." (That woman is voiced by Awkwafina, who also wrote that episode, titled "BFFs.") Rick and Morty's Justin Roiland co-wrote an episode with Ben Bayouth about a group of kids who were given Compound V as babies to become superheroes, only they got ridiculous abilities.
"We just wanted to give really smart, creative people free rein to really execute their visions," Kripke says.
Chief among those new creatives he welcomed into The Boys universe is Diabolical showunner Simon Racioppa, who has been thus far best known as the showrunner of Prime Video's previous adult animated superhero drama, Invincible.
The Boys executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are also EPs on Invincible and really championed that show's leader for this new gig, Kripke says. Although Kripke knows a lot about live-action drama (he previously created and ran Supernatural, Revolution, and Timeless), he admits he did not know the world of animation prior to Diabolical. And he needed someone who did to run the show.
Although each episode of Diabolical is less than 15 minutes in length, they all come from a different writer, a different director, and a different animation studio, as the animation styles and therefore storytelling tones shift drastically from one to the next.
Goldberg and Rogen wrote an episode titled "Laser Baby's Day Out," for example, that follows an employee of Vought International (the company behind Compound V, the substance that creates superheroes) as he is tasked with charting the progress of a super-powered baby. This episode, directed by Crystal Chesney-Thompson and Derek Thompson, is inspired by the classic Looney Tunes style of animation.
However, the episode penned by Andy Samberg and directed by Steve Ahn, titled "John and Sun-Hee," follows a man desperate to get his hands on Compound V to restore his dying wife's health, and is inspired by Korean horror and anime. The team even convinced Ennis to pen an episode, "I'm Your Pusher," about a supplier of Compound V, that is directed by Giancarlo Volpe and done in the traditional Boys comic book style.
"We wanted to see Awkwafina's version of a Boys story, see Andy Samberg's version of a Boys story; we didn't want to make them do our version of a Boys story. We re-imagine the slate every episode," Racioppa tells Metacritic. "It's immensely more labor intensive, but also very much more rewarding. And one of the reasons we chose that, even though it was much more difficult, was we realized that to do their stories justice — to execute them as well as we could in the highest level of quality given our schedule — it had to be different styles. I feel like they would have been diminished in some way if we had to wedge them into the same style, into some sort of unifying lock."
Racioppa wrote the very special "One Plus One Equals Two" finale episode directed by Jae Kim and Volpe that uses a blend of American superhero animation and anime to dive into Seven leader Homelander's (Antony Starr) earliest days as a part of that team. It is a rare example of an episode that does delve deeply into someone the audience knows very well from The Boys. But although both Racioppa and Kripke recall having a lot of discussions around how to present Vought and Compound V on Diabolical because of what The Boys has already established, this Homelander prequel actually informed content to come on the mothership show.
When "he started kicking around ideas, I said, 'This definitely has to be canon. This, for sure, happened,'" Kripke says of working with Racioppa on the episode. "And so, at that time, because of the length of time it takes for animation, we were still working on some of the scripts for The Boys [Season 3] and I went back to them and made some adjustments based on this new piece of canon that we had."
Additionally, he teases, "There is an Easter egg in Justin's story that ends up being actually pretty important in Season 3."
It took 10 months for Diabolical to completed, with the process beginning with the executive producers reaching out to "people whose work we admired, who we wanted to work with, who we knew had been fans of the show, and we asked them to bring us stories," Racioppa says.
"We wanted to make sure everything actually had a certain amount of heart and substance. For as crazy as those episodes are, there is core of emotion in all of them, and I think that's something that helps really ground what we what we do," adds Kripke.
But the general sentiment, especially around big stunts and gore was to "go as nuts as you want," he notes.
The Boys certainly doesn't shy away from explosions, blood, guts, and gore (just see Season 2's boat-ramming-into-a-whale scene as an example), but the sky is often the limit in animation, where production does not have to pay for practical effects and visual effects in post on top of what is done on set.
"I feel like some of the things we do on Diabolical, if you actually did those live-action, it would probably be too much — would probably be over the top — and people would probably have a really negative reaction. It might actually cross a boundary because of how you take it in," Racioppa says. "We do revel in it a little bit more in the cartoon side, especially in 'Laser Baby's Day Out' because it's the juxtaposition of that in a kids' style cartoon that makes it fun."
The first season of Diabolical was done in animation, in part, Racioppa says, because of producing it during the COVID-19 pandemic. But should the show get to continue, he envisions doing some episodes in other animation styles, such as stop-motion and computer-generated, and some potentially with puppets or in live-action.
"The promise of Diabolical is all new things in new ways that you haven't seen before and you're not going to see on the mothership," he explains. "Season 2 would be new writers, new creators, some new directors. Even if we were going to do a second part to one of our episodes, I want to do it in a different style. It's not necessarily an animated series, it's an anthology series. I'd love to blow the doors off of it and give you a crazy grab bag of 100 different things."
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