Everywhere is metaphor. And in the world of Gen V, that is almost literally true.
Gen V is the latest (and perhaps first fully fledged) spin-off from the deliriously brilliant, ultraviolent satirical superhero series The Boys. It is set between series three and the forthcoming series four of the original, with characters from those series showing up at various points, and it centres on the upcoming generation of “supes”. They are the first to know that their superpowers are derived from Vought’s elixir Compound V that was given to them by their parents.
Even deliberately created superheros need a traumatic origin story and Gen V begins with that of Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair). If you were a teenage girl, what would be the worst way to find out that the elixir your parents gave you as a child had given you blood that can be weaponised? That’s right – your parents’ bursting in as you start your period and your first gouts whizzing off and killing them. And with that opening set-piece, the creators of the show – Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg and Craig Rosenberg – announce their intention to follow in The Boys’ boundary-pushing footsteps. They confirm it shortly thereafter with a scene involving Termite-like miniature superhero in training Emma (Lizzie Broadway) that possibly outdoes even Termite’s most famous outing in its ability to make you rub your eyes and wonder if you did just see what you thought you did. You did. It is quite something.
As a result of her parental manslaughters, Marie is placed in a home for delinquent proto-supes until she gets a coveted place at the elite Vought-run Godolkin University of Crimefighting. This is the first step on the path to fulfilling her ambition of becoming the first Black woman to become one of The Seven. There she and we meet Luke (Patrick Schwarzenegger – the answer to your next question is yes), a fire-wreathed Superman who is the one to beat on the school’s all-important leaderboard. We also meet shapeshifting Jordan (Derek Luh and London Thor), metal-bending Andre (Chance Perdomo), mind-bending empath Cate (Maddie Phillips) as well as Emma and mandatory mean girl Justine (Maia Jae Bastidas). The core group is soon involved in solving a mystery about Luke’s supposedly dead brother, Sam, a mysterious facility known as The Woods and – of course – Vought itself, which viewers know is a wildly corrupt and dangerous organisation.
As it has fun with these traditional tropes, Gen V also does a nice job of using the nascent superheroes to explore the power of the media (the number of followers the students have on social media is almost as important as their powers) and race and class privilege. Marie is shunted on to the lesser programme at the university, and has to be careful at all times not to draw attention to herself because, unlike the moneyed rest, she has no safety net to catch her. Other issues of the day are also neatly encapsulated: non-binary character Jordan can change sex; Emma miniaturises herself by vomiting, evoking the world of eating disorders and self-harm; and the pornifying and other social pressures of the internet are everywhere.
At its best, Gen V stirs memories of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its illumination of the teenage experience via vampire mythology. Beneath the cartoonish gore is a careful intelligence that makes the whole hang together. There is not yet, however, too much in the way of characterisation, though I haven’t got to the end of the series. Only Marie, with her churning guilt and ambition born of the need to redeem herself, and Emma, with her quiet loneliness, are more than ciphers. Hopefully, the stew will thicken a little more in time. Until then, it is enough just to enjoy the frequently extraordinary ride that happily helps fill the time until The Boys returns. Remember to protect your prostates when it does.
Gen V is on Amazon Prime Video.