Video of The Boys.
Cell phone cases, charging cables, Duracell batteries, and computer accessories. All normal items you’d find in your everyday electronics store – well, except for that Cadillac with New York plates that’s crashed through the front display window. Oh, and now that you mention it, there’s a nice human-shaped hole in the wall. But where’s the person? Where’s the blood..? Maybe this large man with the British accent can help. He’s yelling, guess I’d better listen: My boss hates Supes! These c%cks go around like it’s f#ckchella 2019 and we’re just the dried-up dogsh!t on the floor. But my boss, Butcher, disposes of Supes, and my partner and I, well, we clean up the mess. And that’s where you come in – are you in? Guess I am – let’s clean up some mess!
Written by Tom Salamon, The Boys is the last of the three experiential San Diego Comic-Con activations by Tool of North America aimed to bring awareness to their new show of the same name. Instead of offering tracks or an immersive sandbox (Carnival Row), the entire twenty-minute experience takes place in one room with only three actors. But the two main actors (Larry Brown and Krystle Martin) carry the weight of the narrative on their shoulders with ease – not an easy task when the room fits about twenty-five guests at a time. Charged with uncovering what happened following the aftermath of the car crash and then covering it, The Boys has audiences and actors alike working together to figure out the mystery, detective-style, by putting together clues and finding objects around the room. It’s not quite an escape room – but a wonderfully designed immersive experience with puzzle elements.
As it is not an escape room, the emphasis here is not on the puzzles – but rather on the narrative and interactivity. The atmosphere is fun, humorous, and playful – as it mirrors the irreverent take on what happens when superheroes are universally hated due to their gross abuse of power. Cleverly illustrated posters line the queue outside; at first glance it looks like kids revering the superheros in dynamic action poses–but upon closer inspection, the Supes are killing the children with blades, laser eyes, and super speed. Further, inside, Brown and Martin are constantly making colorful jokes, bantering with each other, and interacting with the large crowd of bystanders that they have corralled to help with their dirty work. They are both perfect at their timing, and the main male, Hammer, even has a mic attached; whether it’s to emphasize his superhuman abilities or ensure that every audience member hears him (or both), it’s an appreciated touch.
As the narrative unfolds, the layers and depth become apparent: there’s a clandestine organization (Vought American) that is covering up secrets and manipulating Supes from behind the scenes. Just like modern day celebrities and politicians, Supes are just as influential and revered – and just as abusive, drug-addicted, and terrible, as well. The combination of satirical humor, mysterious depth, and allegorical commentary could make this show a real success – just like the activation.
The puzzles are relatively simple, consisting of finding various objects around the room and working together to communicate them to the group. More complex puzzles could have been a nightmare with such a large group, so the simplistic approach of including participants in the action while making it easy enough to succeed is applauded. With the wonderful set design of the electronics store, the clues are cleverly hidden in plain sight. Often, something we were looking for was something completely unassuming that we passed over prior. Various clues help illuminate the secrets and dealings of Vaught – and that one of The Seven, the Supes from the show, was involved in this accident. The mission then changes to covering up the action by stomping on a VHS surveillance tape – a welcomed opportunity to take out the built-up frustrations of the long SDCC lines. Having participants accomplish these tasks is a simple and powerful way to create a memorable moment, and much more fun than watching an actor do it.
Finally, I mentioned three actors, but have only discussed two thus far. A third, cleverly hidden plant (Gerardo Flores Tonella) hides among the audience for the majority of the experience. Yet, near the end, Hammer begins to fear that all the bystanders are Supes in disguise, and his paranoia gets the best of him as he jokes with a participant: Are you a Supe? An unassuming man with the onomatopoeic POW on a white shirt jokes, Yeah – and then Hammer stabs him in the chest. Blood goes everywhere, and the comic fan collapses dead. This signifies the moment that we should probably leave or face Hammer’s knife ourselves. With casting by Ross Tipograph, the inclusion of the plant is a clever twist and a strong way to end the experience.
The Boys is a satirically humorous immersive experience that intimately includes audiences in the narrative through clever dialogue and fun puzzles. It engages a large group at once, ensuring that everyone who wants to be seen is, and accommodates many different play styles. The theming of superheroes hiding in plain sight is reinforced in both the unassuming puzzles and the planted actor. And most importantly, The Boys captures the essence of the television show, introducing it to a new audience, and getting people excited to yell “f&ck Supes!” from the comfort of their own living room.
Check out The Boys on Amazon Prime when it premieres on July 26th, and catch up on more of our Comic-Con 2019 coverage here. Follow our Event Guide for more immersive entertainment throughout the year.