It seems that The Boys can do no wrong. As one of Prime Video’s biggest hits among critics and audiences alike, there’s little criticism aimed at the live-action satirical superhero show.
There is one grievance, though, that can be leveled at it. The Boys’ universe is rich with eccentric, unlikable, and complex characters, and a fictional world that’s packed with humorous and gory storytelling potential. Outside of the show’s main players and plot – set to be continued in The Boys season 3 this June – though, we haven’t explored this compelling universe at length. Which begs the question: why not?
The Boys Presents: Diabolical, an original Prime Video TV show, looks to finally answer that simple question. Unsurprisingly, given The Boys’ chief creative team was involved in its production, the spin-off series delivers a sardonic riposte to such a query, too. Diabolical is a beguiling collection of short stories that provide as much humor, heart, and hyperviolence as its older sibling. Sure, some entries don’t quite stick the landing, but Diabolical does a largely effective and pleasing job of fleshing out a universe that deserves to be explored in greater detail.
What if… The Boys met Love, Death & Robots?
Billed as an animated anthology series, The Boys Presents: Diabolical comprises eight individual tales that build on the live-action show and graphic novel series’ universe. Each story follows a particular individual – be that a Supe or generic citizen – whose lives are impacted by Compound V, the Vought Industries-developed serum that gives superpowers to anyone who uses it.
It’s this employment – or, rather, misuse – of Compound V that simultaneously drives Diabolical’s individual narratives and links them together. Each story exists as a standalone entity, but the purposeful and accidental exploitation of Compound V – by each story’s protagonist – is the common denominator that roots them in this universe. It’s similar to the role that Uatu the Watcher plays in Marvel Studios’ What If…? anthology show; a character or item acting as a throughline between these individual tales. It’s not entirely necessary to tie Diabolical’s stories together, but seeing Compound V’s effect on The Boys’ wider world makes for pleasing if somewhat tragic viewing.
That level of satisfaction extends to each episode’s bite-sized nature. At 10 to 12 minutes apiece, Diabolical’s octet of tales are devoid of fluff or plot padding, making it easy to binge them in a single sitting. Think of Diabolical’s breezy runtimes as an even more concise version of Netflix anthology show Love, Death & Robots, and you’ll have a clearer understanding of its brevity.
What of the stories themselves, though? In keeping with other anthology TV series, including The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, Diabolical’s tales vary in levels of enjoyment and what they bring to The Boys' universe.
One Plus One Equals Two, for example, blends an emotionally weighty Homelander-centric narrative with The Boys’ trademark humor and gratuitous violence. An origin story of sorts, it leans into the childhood trauma and Vought experiments that turn Homelander into the narcissistic and psychotic Supe we see in the live-action show. It’s a small but significant study of a character that audiences love to hate, and one that makes him more relatable.
John and Sun-Hee, meanwhile, delivers a highly emotive gut punch of a story that’s arguably the most poignant of Diabolical’s eight entries; its stylization as an anime horror only adding to the terrifying and heart-wrenching themes explored as part of its moving narrative.
Given its wonderfully tight storylines, it’s disappointing that some Diabolical episodes feel somewhat flat in comparison to their siblings. An Animated Short Where P****d Off Supes Kill Their Parents – co-written by Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland – is the show’s funniest entry, but one let down by a rather abrupt ending. Meanwhile, Nubian vs Nubian, which focuses on two Supes heading for divorce unless their daughter’s intervention proves to be a masterstroke, just doesn’t go anywhere narratively. If not for the inclusion of two bit-part Supes – Nubian Prince and Ground Hawk – lifted from The Boys’ canon, Nubian vs Nubian arguably wouldn’t add anything of note to Diabolical as a series.
With the sheer amount of talent attached to the project, Diabolical doesn't always make good use of its sizeable cast. There are plenty of big names involved, including Stranger Things' Caleb McLaughlin, MCU movie star Don Cheadle, and even The Boys' live-action actor Dominique McElligott. Some of the show's talent, though, only have bit-part roles to play; a tad disappointing, given how much was made of their hirings.
Artistic licence and Easter egg surprises
Speaking of Nubian Prince and Ground Hawk, Diabolical is unapologetically stuffed with Easter eggs and references to The Boys. From cameo appearances including The Deep and Vought publicist Ashley Barrett, to in-universe Supes merchandise and memorabilia, Diabolical cheekily tips its cap to the fictional world it’s based on. It's possible to watch the entire show under two hours, but viewers will certainly want to re-watch each episode to discover every call-back to the comic series and live-action show.
Such Easter eggs aren’t the only visually appealing part of Diabolical. In the same vein as Love, Death & Robots, or Star Wars: Visions on Disney Plus, Diabolical’s eight episodes pay homage to a wide variety of celebrated animation styles. Each tale feels like it’s been suitably paired with a fitting aesthetic, too, elevating the thematic, emotional, and humor-based content.
I’m Your Pusher, a story written by The Boys’ co-creator Garth Ennis, has been charmingly re-created in the art style of fellow co-creator Darick Robertson. It’s the living embodiment of the duo’s original works, and perfectly captures the tonality and expressive vibe of The Boys’ source material.
Other entries honor the sheer diversity of global animation techniques. Laser Baby’s Day Out takes its cues from the golden age of US animation; its Looney Toons-esque stylization providing slapstick comedy and mature content in equal measure. BFFs, as well as John and Sun-Hee, commemorate the distinct visuals seen in traditional and modern anime and manga imports, including Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Studio Ghibli productions. Boyd in 3D, meanwhile, has an animation style that’s heavily influenced by French comics such as Tintin.
It would’ve been easy for Amazon Studios and Diabolical’s chief creative team to outsource Diabolical’s imagery to North American animation companies. There’s a significant number of them, after all. Assigning episodes to studios spread across the world, though, gives Diabolical an authentically global feel, and showcases the richness and variation of animation styles that audiences will (and won’t) be familiar with.
The Boys Presents: Diabolical is a splendidly striking show that plies The Boys’ universe with more gruesome yet emotionally gripping narratives. It fleshes out the series’ wider world without retconning what’s already been established, and ups the gratuitous violence stakes in a way that only animated shows – including Prime Video’s adaptation of Invincible – can. That’s the freedom that animation affords any project. Its satirical take on cartoons and other animated programs, which have delighted audiences for more than a century, is also certainly in keeping with The Boys’ parody-infused take on the superhero genre.
It doesn’t come close to usurping beloved animated series including Batman: The Animated Series, nor will it give shows like Arcane – Netflix’s League of Legends animated series – a run for its money. The Boys Presents: Diabolical, though, is a show that fans of the comic series and live-action show will lap up. With The Boys season 3 set to premiere in three months, Diabolical is a tasty apéritif that’ll tide viewers over until the main course arrives this summer.
The Boys Presents: Diabolical launches exclusively on Prime Video on Friday, March 4.
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