It’s proving to be a long wait for The Boys season 3 – and the show’s chief creative team knows it. By the time the Prime Video series returns in June 2022, it’ll be nearly two years since its season 2 finale aired. Fans recognize the ongoing pandemic’s role in the third season’s delayed release, but many are champing at the bit for its return.
How, then, do you placate a fanbase desperate to be reunited with Billy, Hughie, Homelander and company? You create an animated anthology series, based in The Boys’ universe, that’s packed with the franchise’s unique blend of humor, heart, and hyperviolence. And, to tie it to the live-action show and graphic novel series, you give it a distinctly identifiable title: The Boys Presents: Diabolical.
“We wanted to create a spin-off series for the fans before season 3 came out,” showrunner Simon Racioppa tells TechRadar. “There was a long wait between seasons 2 and 3, but we didn’t want to make something viewed as a quick bit of TV. We wanted to make something worthwhile.”
Ahead of Diabolical’s March 4 release on Prime Video, TechRadar sat down with Racioppa to find out more about its development. We discover the inspiration behind its original tales, why certain animation styles were paired with specific stories, and whether Diabolical’s characters or narratives will carry over into the live-action show.
Crafting a Supe-d up show
Set largely in the present, Diabolical comprises eight standalone tales that expand The Boys’ universe beyond the franchise’s primary cast and plot. Each story follows a certain number of individuals – Supes or everyday citizens – whose lives are directly impacted by Compound V, the Vought Industries-developed serum that grants superpowers to whoever uses it.
Interesting as it may be to flesh out The Boys’ universe, an animated anthology series does pose some risks. The live-action show’s popularity is largely dictated by its compelling narrative and talented cast members, who truly embody the primary characters that they portray. Diverging from that successful formula, then, may not pay off.
For Racioppa, though, the decision to produce Diabolical as an animated anthology series was three-fold: one, the difficulties associated with live-action projects during a pandemic. Two, a desire to honor TV anthologies the show’s main crew adore. And, finally, to work with other well-known writers and artists to bring some originality to the franchise.
“We had to make it during a pandemic and on a very tight schedule,” Racioppa says. “When Eric Kripke [The Boys showrunner], and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg [The Boys executive producers] talked to me, doing it animated seemed the best possible way forward because we could do it remotely. We also really like old anthology animated series. Heavy Metal, The Animatrix, and even Love, Death and Robots, which is more recent. We wanted to go out to other creatives whose work we admired, and who we knew were fans of the show, to see what stories they could tell in this universe.”
Racioppa and company haven’t held back in bringing a whole host of talented individuals to the table, either. Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andy Samberg, Shang-Chi’s Awkwafina, and Garth Ennis – The Boys’ comic series co-creator – are some of those who created original stories for the series. Meanwhile, Marvel movie star Don Cheadle, Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, and The Boys’ Anthony Starr, Dominique McElligott, Chase Crawford, and Giancarlo Esposito are among its all-star voice cast.
With so many people involved, there was every possibility that Diabolical would wildly diverge from its intended path – “It’s a showrunner’s job to keep everybody in line with the vision for the show,” Racioppa explains. Nevertheless, Racioppa wanted each storyteller to be heavily involved in their episode, from conception right through to the final product.
“In every single case, the writer came up with the idea,” he reveals. “Once we knew they were interested, we said ‘Great, come back to us in two to three weeks, we’ll set up a Zoom call, and tell us your thoughts’. When we spoke again, we workshopped their ideas with Eric, Seth, and Evan. The writer would go away and pen a script and we’d do the same thing again a few weeks later. Then, we kept them involved throughout production, so they saw early designs, who we wanted to cast, early cuts of the episode, had input on the music, and everything else.”
Marrying story with style
Diabolical’s octet of tales may have taken some time to formulate, but other challenges lay ahead. Namely, pairing each story up with the right animation style.
For some episodes, the process was seamless. The 2D vector-based aesthetic for An Animated Short Where P****d-Off Supes Kill Their Parents, the entry co-developed by Roiland, will be instantly recognizable to Rick and Morty fans. The Awkwafina-led BFFs is heavily influenced by traditional Saturday morning anime cartoons. Samberg’s John and Sun-Hee – “Andy really wanted to explore the idea of loss and saying goodbye to your loved ones,” Racioppa reveals – is rooted in Korean horror-drama animated shows. Meanwhile, Laser Baby’s Day Out, co-created by Rogen and Goldberg, was always intended to celebrate the golden age of American animation, which took off in the 1930s.
“From the initial concept for Laser Baby’s Day Out, we knew we wanted to do a Looney Tunes-cum-Roger Rabbit style,” Racioppa explains. “So we found great Looney Tunes directors, composers who had soundtrack experience, and other designers to create a team to execute that as well as we could.”
There were some entries, though, whose animation techniques and visuals took a lot longer to settle on. Boyd in 3D, the episode conceived by Eliot and Ilana Glazer, required plenty of back and forth between collaborators before its eventual aesthetic was hit upon.
“That one took a bit of work through the script and talking with the Glazers,” Racioppa admits. "It felt like more of a storybook-style episode, so we went to French graphic novels for inspiration. That led us down the rabbit hole of French shorts and other illustrations, which guided us towards [2003 French animated comedy] The Triplets of Belleville and director Sylvain Chomet’s other works. That brought us to French animation studio Folivari, so we talked to them about it, they were keen, so we thought ‘yes, this style makes sense.’”
Back to The Boys
Wonderfully inventive as its stories are, Diabolical could arguably be viewed as just another animated anthology series.
That is, if not for The Boys’ DNA running through its artistic veins. The show is packed with Easter eggs and other references to its live-action and graphic novel cousins – not least in I’m Your Pusher, the Ennis-developed episode that uses The Boys co-creator Darick Robertson’s signature art style. One Plus One Equals Two, the Homelander-centric tale penned by Racioppa, digs deeper into the backstory of the franchise’s fan favorite villain, too.
How could Diabolical directly impact its older sibling, though? Could we potentially see elements from the animated series bleed over into The Boys season 3 and beyond? Racioppa believes it’s possible, but some aspects will work better than others.
“Some episodes feel like they could fit into the main show,” he muses. “The Justin Roiland episode, you're probably not going to see a guy with a speaker for his head in the main show. But I feel John and Sun-Hee could exist around the edges of The Boys – you could have shot that in live-action and it would’ve worked just fine. That's all up to Eric to decide, though. I know he likes things to cross over, but we’ll have to see.”
Potential crossovers are likely to be determined by Diabolical’s success. Amazon Studios has seen plenty of success with other adult animation offerings, such as Invincible and The Legend of Vox Machina. As the first Prime Video series to debut on Nielsen’s streaming ratings lists, The Boys has also proven there’s an appetite for R-rated content on the platform.
Diabolical, then, seems perfectly placed to intersect these audiences. But, based on the official trailer’s low YouTube views and current lack of social media traction, Diabolical may not be the dead-cert winner that Amazon hopes it’ll be. It’s possible, though, that Diabolical will steadily grow in popularity as the weeks go on. After all, it launched alongside The Batman, Warner Bros’ highly-anticipated superhero movie. Plenty of other films and TV series would similarly struggle against such a cultural juggernaut.
Still, in our view, The Boys Presents: Diabolical is a risky endeavor that pays off. It expands The Boys’ world beyond the confines of its main story, and lays the groundwork for the show’s other upcoming spin-offs to potentially succeed. Should they do so, Diabolical’s pioneering efforts to flesh out The Boys’ universe will have been worthwhile.
The Boys Presents: Diabolical is available to stream in its entirety right now on Prime Video.
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