The Boys‘ supes are neither beacons of justice nor protectors of the innocent. They are amoral, self-centered agents of death and destruction, willing props for a society that turns great power into great profits. Starlight and Kimiko are exceptions that prove the rule exemplified by sociopaths like Homelander and Soldier Boy. That inversion of traditional superhero stories and its resulting exploration of unfettered power is a big reason why the Prime Video show is among TV’s best. And since monsters come from somewhere, it was easy to assume the incredible youngsters on Gen V, The Boys‘s new college-set spinoff, would follow in The Seven’s awful footsteps. How could its batch of Compound V-filled co-eds not be their show’s main villains? Especially when its proverbial big man on campus is literally called Golden Boy?

Because just like its predecessor, Gen V succeeds by playing against expectations. Only, the series is flipping its own franchise’s superhero script. The burgeoning supes of Godolkin University aren’t antagonists like on The Boys. They are a group we cannot only root for, they are worthy of our compassion.

Marie in Gen V trailer with bloody tentacles coming out of her hands
Prime Video

Despite filling the roles of stereotypical college assholes out of an ’80s movie, the students Marie and Emma met at school are actually good people. That includes the literal Golden Boy of Godolkin and his beautiful blonde girlfriend. Same for the nepo son marked for greatness and the renowned professor’s beloved student. They’re far from perfect, yes. That near-fatal incident at the bar certainly proved they’re capable of The Boys‘ level mayhem and lack of accountability. But they’re not evil. More than that, they want to be good. Unlike The Deep and his ilk, these kids have the capacity to feel empathy. It pushed them to be real heroes who stand up for others when needed, even at great risk to themselves.

That’s enough to make them supes worth rooting for. And with no Billy Butcher to serve as a counterpoint, the show needs protagonists beyond Marie and Emma we want to see win. But in just three episodes Gen V established itself as a worthy companion to one of television’s smartest, most entertaining, most thoughtful shows by doing more than just giving us likable main characters. Gen V‘s stars are also compelling because they themselves are victims of a system that abused them in hopes it would one day profit off them.

Every superhero in the world of The Boys had parents who pumped their babies full of powerful, life-changing drugs. Whether well-intentioned or not, those caregivers put their kids on a path of unknown consequences none of their children ever consented to. That revelation was so powerful it helped humanize even the worst adult superheroes on the original show. (Something the original series excels at.) It’s an unimaginable betrayal by the people who should love you most. But Gen V, by the very nature of its setting, cuts even deeper into that monstrous act. It highlights how a corrupt capitalistic system—exploited by Vought and the government eager to empower itself on the back of America supes—manipulates its victims. It takes kids, given abilities they never asked for, struggle to control, and in many cases never wanted, and turns them into the monsters we know from The Boys.

In this world you can accidentally kill your own parents with powers you didn’t know you had. Then the people who did that will throw you into an orphanage to deal with your trauma alone. From there you can meet an educator who claims to care about you while she secretly uses your trust for her company’s own gain. Your own mother can even turn your pain into a reality show pitch, no different from a fame-hungry jerk in the dorm room next door.

Prime Video

Being everyone’s Golden Boy and a kind, generous kid won’t protect you, either. All your powers won’t stop your mentor from locking your brother away. And when you stop a real monster, the same people who championed you will tell the world you were a villain. Only then will your friends who knew your true heart care enough to right that wrong.

The students of Godolkin University are incredibly powerful. But that’s exactly why they should be treated and cared for as the innocent, vulnerable young people they are. They should be nurtured during a time when they’re learning who they are and who they can be. They have a burden most will never know. Instead, just as it has been their entire lives, the adults who should look after them use those kids as pawns in a game they never consented to play. They’re not treated or even thought of as real people with real feelings. They’re commodities in a society that raises them to think they’re special specifically so it can exploit that specialness.

Prime Video

And now, because we’ve seen what the young supes of Gen V could be and want to be, we know that if the real villains stopped worrying about making money and instead worried about making the world a better place, they could do just that. The cadre of super cretins that populate The Boys are not an inevitability; they are a tragedy. They could have been real heroes with just a little nurturing.

Gen V‘s main characters are good people now, but they might not end their story that way. Like Homelander, Black Noir, and the rest, they will ultimately decide what path to go down in life. They will then own the responsibility for their choices. But it’s obvious how easily the very system that created them actively pushes them in the wrong direction. It doesn’t want or reward them for doing the right thing. It actively punishes them when they do. Even Marie, who knows better than anyone the true horror Vought creates, almost lost herself that way in just a matter of days.

Prime Video

That sad truth makes for an engaging, heartbreaking story that is both of The Boys and different from it. Because supes aren’t born, they’re made. Just not by Compound V alone. They’re made by the worst kinds of monster. They are people who victimize kids, because the only power they believe in is the power of money.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. He doesn’t have any super powers as far as you know. You can follow him on   Twitter and   Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.