It's time for the superhero genre to stop upping the ante. When it comes to capes and superpowers, I want the ante to go down. With the current output of superhero fare, the stories are strongest when the stakes are lowest.
Take Gen V, for example. The Boys spin-off series, which follows superpowered youngsters enrolled at the Vought-run Godolkin University, is at its best when the plot deals with adolescent mundanities rather than potentially catastrophic disasters. To be honest, the wider superhero lore is secondary to me – it's the characters that I care about, teen angst and all.
At the center of Gen V is Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), an orphan who grew up in the system after accidentally killing her parents with her blood-bending powers. It's through Marie that we meet the rest of Gen V's ensemble: her roommate Emma (Lizze Broadway), who can shrink (and grow) Alice in Wonderland style by eating or purging, gender-switching TA Jordan (London Thor/Derek Luh), Cate (Maddie Phillips), who can manipulate people's feelings and memories with a touch of her hand, and Andre (Chance Perdomo), who can bend metal with his mind but spends most of his time scowling about his father.
Out of the core group of young Supes, Emma's powers are, on paper, the least impressive. She pursues performing arts rather than crimefighting as a major, and other students mock her abilities. As a character, though, she provides comic relief and a solid grounding for the series. Her budding relationship with Sam (Asa Germann), the brother of Cate's deceased ex-boyfriend Luke and test subject at Godolkin's secret lab, The Woods, is a highlight of the season, peeling back the layers of both characters.
Gender-shifting Jordan, meanwhile, is grappling with their bigender identity. As a woman, they can fire energy blasts, while their male form has the power of superhuman durability. While ostensibly switching gender based on which powers they need to use, their gender-shifting brings anxieties rarely explored in this genre to the forefront.
However, as the season progresses, and especially in the finale, Gen V's character-driven plot lines are pushed to the side in favor of higher stakes. The ante, inevitably, has been upped. Sam and Emma have a fight that only just feels believable and only serves to push them to opposite sides of a Supes versus humans conflict that's now come to a head.
Superhero fatigue is very real, with box office numbers on a downward spiral (with some obvious exceptions – looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3). For me, at least, weariness with the genre also comes from a lack of investment in characters. If we don't see characters interact with each other beyond clunky exposition-heavy exchanges or eye-roll-worthy quips, it becomes very difficult to root for them or care whether they live or die.
The world of The Boys isn't exactly brimming with likable characters, but that doesn't matter – it's not a matter of liking them, it's about connecting with them. In Marie, Emma, Cate, Sam, and the rest, we have a group of characters who we can invest in. We care whether they live or die.
Back to basics
The problem with Gen V's progression, too, is the race to catch up to The Boys. Laying the groundwork for the next installment of the original series, it seems obvious that the deadly, contagious Supe virus cooked up by Dean Shetty (Shelley Conn) in a lab underneath Godolkin University will have a big part to play in The Boys – especially now in the hands of Victoria Neuman. As the big bad of The Boys season 4, it's clear that this spells bad news on a grand scale for Supes going forward.
The show still has plenty of opportunity to nurture its high points in season 2 (it's already been renewed for another installment). Emma and Sam's bust-up in episode 8, if handled correctly, could add another layer to their relationship. Jordan and Marie's cautious flirtation, too, has the opportunity to dig deeper into both of their characters. While further crossover with The Boys could widen the scope of Gen V, introduce some fan-favorite characters in the mix (hello, Gen V episode 8 post-credits scene), and deepen the conspiracies that made Gen V's cliffhangers so juicy, it shouldn't come at the expense of the smaller, quieter moments, which remind us why we should care about these characters in the first place.
What made Gen V a breath of fresh air was its character-driven arcs – there's no point introducing us to a batch of interesting, frustrating, funny Supes if they're sidelined in favor of high stakes and bigger-picture storylines. Keep the teen angst in season 2, Gen V. It's the superhero fatigue antidote we've been looking for.
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