What do a baby with lasers for eyes, a man with hammers for hands and a girl with personified poop all have in common? They are all superpowered characters featured in “The Boys Presents: Diabolical,” the insane animated anthology series set in the world of Amazon Prime’s hit live-action NSFW series “The Boys.” Like its distant cousin “Invincible,” also created by Eric Kripke, “Diabolical” is a violent, bloody adaptation of an equally violent and bloody graphic novel with a star-studded cast of voices. But that’s where the similarities end.
Where “Invincible” primarily pulls from its comic book canon directly, “The Boys: Present: Diabolical” is a series of shorts set in the universe of the superheroes The Seven, their merciless corporate benefactors Vought and the rogue CIA squad nicknamed The Boys – without making much use of them.
Except for two episodes, the series does not focus on the myopic world of The Seven at all. Instead, “Diabolical” uses the anthology to focus on brand new characters and expand an existing universe. Whether these characters will end up in season 3 of “The Boys” as live-action walk-on roles remains to be seen.
However, unlike other shows with a similar structure such as “The Animatrix” or “Star Wars: Visions,” these hit-or-miss shorts don’t feel like they creatively move the needle much past the Vought Industries parking lot, but fans really won’t care. Those familiar with “The Boys” graphic novel scribe Garth Ennis’ work (“Preacher,” “Hitman”) will feel right at home with the exploding heads, disemboweled bodies and mangled mandibles.
As violent as it is, the series doesn’t push its debauchery as far as Kripke and Ennis’ highly anticipated “Herogasm” adaptation. But when you witness an adorable toddler in a onesie eviscerate a SWAT team like Cyclops at the ophthalmologist, in the words of The Boys leader Billy Butcher, “It’s downright diabolical.”
The animation, overseen by Titmouse (“Star Trek: Lower Decks,” “Legend of Vox Machina“), is masterfully executed in a different style every episode. For example, “Laser Baby’s Day Out” is a classic Looney Tunes-style toon that stands out from the Cal-Arts design of “BFFs” and the Art Deco look of “I’m your Pusher,” which looks ripped right from the pages of the comic.
Vought’s canon-based heroes are exposed as nothing more than badly behaving lab experiments injected with a serum called Compound V, which gives them a myriad of superhuman abilities. The anthology expands on real-world takeaways from that revelation.
Since Vought’s moral compass is out for repairs, the company has no problem testing Compound V on children at a young age, which turns scientists into adoptive parents trying to corral superpowered mutant babies who could kill them at any moment. And what happens when said murderous children don’t make the cut for superhero training and find out that their birth parents intentionally subjected them to agonizingly painful experiments?
And when you mix parenthood with life-threatening missions, crazy schedules and injuries, it’s understandable why the marriage couple in “Nubian vs. Nubian” are having issues. Hilariously voiced by Aisha Tyler and Don Cheadle, their anime-inspired vicious fights escalate until their daughter takes extreme measures to keep them together.
In “Pusher” (the only episode to feature members of The Boys and The Seven together), Jason Isaacs’ Butcher (played by Karl Urban in “The Boys”) is hell-bent on bringing down a supe through the creative use of an enema, while Simon Pegg’s Hughie Campbell tags along as a horrified accomplice. Pegg was Ennis’ original character muse but was too old to play him on the live-action series. (Jack Quaid wound up with the role, though Kripke cast Pegg as Hugh’s father).
While most of “The Boys Presents: Diabolical” swings wildly from bloody battles to a literal s— storm, “John and Sun-Hee” is a departure that follows an elderly couple facing a terminal illness. It unveils portals, magic and a lyrical love story wrapped in body horror.
Prior knowledge of “The Boys” is not required to enjoy this series. Even Highlander’s origin story “One Plus One Equals Two” can be followed without viewing the characters’ live-action counterpart. And with run times less than a quarter of an hour each, it’s perfect for an entertaining evening binge. (Just put the kids to bed first — and don’t eat while watching.)
“The Boys Presents: Diabolical,” debuts March 4 on Amazon Prime Video.