Episodes 1-3 were made available for review.
The first time that Starlight (Erin Moriarty) appears in The Boys season two, she's dressed in her skimpy Vought-approved costume. It's a look that is emblematic of everything we're rooting for her to stand strong against; not because a woman can’t be both sexy and empowered, but because she was instructed to wear it.
For a moment, the disappointment that Starlight had sold out and become just another cog in the corporate superhero machine was palpable. She was, after all, the only female character afforded any agency or character development in the Amazon Original's premiere run – and even then, it was hardly the blueprint for strong female representation.
The superhero genre doesn't exactly have a reputation for treating its female characters – or for that matter, any that don't fit the heteronormative, white, male mould – with much care. We'll grant you (before you fly on over here and point it out) The Boys is hardly a traditional take on heroes and villains. The series has carved its own niche in that it plays up to tropes and, to be frank, takes the piss, living very much in a space that's shrouded in a cape of irony.
So while a case might have been made that The Boys, by extension of its title, had intended to view its women through peripheral vision in order to make a comment against that very pattern, it was still a failure regardless.
Instead, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) – the only other woman in The Seven at that point – got very little dialogue, and was spotlighted only ever to further the storylines of those around her.
"Just be original, for f**k's sake," she told Starlight back in season one. "Be the annoying goodie two shoes arsehole that you are. One of us has to be." It's heavily implied that she was once the fresh-faced and bright-eyed newbie that wanted to help people, before Homelander and Vought International saw to it that this shining optimism was dimmed.
Thankfully, despite season two's first appearances, Starlight has far from been extinguished. We soon see her, hiding behind dark shades and a hood, leaving the glare of photographers and the world's gaze to meet with Hughie (Jack Quaid) in the privacy of an underground train.
She's playing the role of dutiful superhero – and sidekick to Homelander who, let's face it, is everything that’s wrong with the patriarchy and power structures all wrapped up in an American flag – only to help bring down Vaught from the inside. It's a narrative decision that marks a continuation of Starlight's character arc, cementing it as one now eclipsing even the much-loved male protagonists on the show.
But what of the other women?
Despite a particularly powerful and bloody introduction, Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) wasn't afforded much in season one either. Known only as The Female in the comics, her character was always a mute – but that's by no means a justification for pushing her to the background of the narrative. Even showrunner Eric Kripke admits that they mishandled her transition from page to screen back in season one.
"One of the things that I wished I could have done better in season one... was to give Kimiko more of a voice," he acknowledged during a recent interview with Digital Spy. "I think we stumbled inadvertently into a little bit of a trap. You know, there's the stereotype of a quiet Asian woman, and I was very conscious of not wanting to do that."
It was a much-needed issue to be addressed in season two, and this fed directly into the development and expansion of Kimiko's role in the new episodes. "We really have to make sure that that character has a very strong voice and a very strong point of view," Kripke later added. "And just because she can't speak verbally, it doesn't mean that she can't speak. And that she has opinions, and she's a real person."
This fresh focus on female empowerment is further underlined, with a big fat Sharpie, by the introduction of Stormfront (Aya Cash). The Boys' newest addition to The Seven was originally a male character in the comic books, but instead her on-screen persona is an unabashed and staunch feminist.
Stormfront absolutely doesn't play by the rules and goes entirely off-script during her debut press conference, steering the conversation away from Vought's orchestrated and performative brand of 'girl power' to discuss the impracticalities of the female superhero costume. In what was reminiscent of Birds of Prey's hairband moment, this was a subtle way of centring the female perspective in a medium that is usually dictated by the male gaze.
We don’t want to hold Stormfront up as a beacon of positivity though; the character from the pages of The Boys' source material was heavily intertwined with Nazi ideology, and absolutely not in any way a role model. For season two, we know that white nationalism and systemic racism are on the show's hit list. Potentially exploring this through someone like Stormfront could make for an interesting interrogation of feminism though, especially given its poor history when it comes to intersectionality.
"I love how [the female characters are] very much at the forefront of this season and for me at least, with the exception of maybe one female character... they remain to be the... strongest and most rational characters of the show," Erin Moriarty, who plays Starlight, told Digital Spy recently. "I think that's a fair representation of women in general in the world at the moment."
The Boys season one is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video now, with season two beginning on September 4.
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