Season 3 of The Boys, Amazon Prime Video’s sharp, darkly funny drama about superheroes with nasty private lives and debauched intentions, is still three months away. Good news: Its spinoff, the eight-episode animated anthology Diabolical, arrives just in time to remind you of all things you love about the original show — its bleak premise, wicked sense of humour, and heightened violence — but sets itself apart with a surprising undercurrent of emotion. Each episode, featuring animation styles ranging from anime to Hanna-Barbera Looney Toons to Rick and Morty-inspired, takes just 15 minutes to tell a distinct story set within The Boys universe.
Tales of revenge form the basis of An Animated Short Where Pissed-Off Supes Kill Their Parents and I’m Your Pusher. The first is an inventive exercise that imagines the worst powers children in The Boys universe could be bestowed with, from extreme slow-motion to the ability to squirt ranch dressing. When these children are subsequently dumped by their embarrassed parents, their vengeance plot gives the show a reason to zoom into the violence. The second features the more familiar The Boys characters Billy Butcher, a firsthand witness to the sinister side of superheroes, and his apprentice Hughie. They spike a superhero’s drugs, sending him into a brutal tailspin.
The body count spills over into the hundreds in Laser Baby’s Day Out, but still doesn’t detract from the sweetness and lightheartedness of the episode. The wordless short, designed like a Saturday morning cartoon, follows a Vought corporation scientist tasked with assessing the powers of a baby that can shoot lasers from her eyes. Having grown attached to her, he must find a way to keep her safe despite the firm’s order to have her exterminated. What ensues is a citywide chase with with moments of mayhem and murder that take a backseat to the tender relationship between scientist and baby. Emotions also run high in John and Sun-Hee, a Korean short that explores the relationship between a Vought janitor and his dying wife. Desperation pushes him to steal a vial of Compound V and administer it to her, and while the results are unpredictable, the episode knows that stylised violence or dark laughs would only detract from its point, instead choosing to etch a heartbreaking portrait of love and loss.
Fraying relationships are also at the heart of Nubia Vs. Nubia and Boyd in 3D. The first short, a reference to Kramer Vs. Kramer, follows a child’s efforts to prevent her two superhero parents from divorcing by recreating the battle at which they first met. The couple’s angsty arguments are ho-hum but writer Aisha Tyler’s sense of dark humour shines through the rest of the material. She manages to elicit belly laughs with a pedophile joke, an astonishing tightrope act that speaks to her deft touch. In Boyd in 3D, an experimental Vought face cream helps a smitten product tester change his appearance and land the girl of his dreams. The plot, and its accompanying takedowns of social media and image curation, are predictable but the episode’s inherent charm helps. It makes its point effectively and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The same can’t be said about BFFs, in which a girl befriends the sentient turd she produces after drinking Compound V. A brief appearance from The Boys’ The Deep enlivens the episode but its gross-out sense of humour doesn’t always land and its cutesy moments don’t mesh well with the squeamish premise.
Though most of Diabolical isn’t required viewing for those looking to keep up with The Boys, its final episode is canon to the main show, according to showrunner Eric Kripke, and will only make you wish its third season got here sooner. One Plus One Equals Two chronicles the early days of Homelander, his emerging narcissism, paranoia and attention-seeking behaviour evident, but still diluted by a naivete. On a rescue mission with Black Noir, things get ugly, which the episode handles in true The Boys fashion, subtly weaving in commentary on mass manipulation, rebranding and the art of spin. It’s an intriguing bit of backstory, and if this is a taste of what’s to come, season 3 of The Boys can’t get here soon enough.
Recommendation in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video.