The “Evil Superman” trope has become a ubiquitous part of the pop culture landscape. From Brightburn‘s Brandon and Invincible‘s Omni-Man to Marvel’s Ikaris and Scarlet Witch—plus the Man of Steel’s many sinister iterations—all-powerful figures capable of destroying the world are nightmares made flesh. Where their counterparts are hope personified, they’re death incarnate. They’re sentient nuclear weapons who could decide at any moment to detonate. And they likely will eventually, since they have no moral compass or an obvious off-switch. But the first three episodes of The Boys third season has upped the terror by making its best villain scarier than ever. The unstoppable sociopath Homelander is willing to forego the one thing he cares about: adulation. And with no one left to keep him grounded, he stands on the precipice of total madness. Which means the world stands on the edge of annihilation.
It’s an understatement to say The Boys ended its second season on an ominous note. Stormfront was filling a crucial role in Homelander’s life. His mommy issues put Oedipus to shame, and he created a massive emotional maternal void in his life when he murdered Madelyn Stillwell. He requires a personal connection to keep him from flying off the psychopathic deep end. Love doesn’t make him a better person, but it does keep him somewhat in check. But he lost that vital figure in his life again when the public learned the truth about Stormfront and Ryan turned her into a husk of Third Reich degree burns.
Homelander could have had his son in his life, which might have kept him in line. But Queen Maeve blackmailed the Seven’s leader with footage of them letting a plane crash. That was enough for Homelander to let Butcher take Ryan, because Maeve knew Homelander loves being popular more than any person. Rather than ethics or empathy, Homelander values Q-Ratings and approval scores. Without Madelyn, Stormfront, or Ryan, the only leverage anyone on the planet—even other superheroes— has ever had over an unstoppable monster is his desire to be “loved” by everyone.
But his final moment in the season two finale showed that leverage might not hold for long. He ended the season pleasuring himself atop a skyscraper while repeatedly screaming, “I can do whatever I want!” It’s horrifying to see Superman slightly lose his cool. If Clark Kent climbed to the top of the Daily Planet‘s building and did what Homelander did, the rest of the Justice League would immediately start mining for kryptonite. What they wouldn’t do is antagonize him further, which is exactly what everyone had done at the start of The Boys’ latest season.
The promotional tour for Vought’s blockbuster Dawn of the Seven doubled as Homelander’s apology tour for dating a literal Nazi. Then, because she had record polling numbers while his were in the tank, Stan Edgar offered Starlight the position of the Seven co-leader. (This led to the funniest stare in TV history.) She not only accepted the position, she actually tried to use her power. Starlight planned on picking the two newest members of the group. And Stormfront, still alive (barely) “Million Dollar Baby’d” herself, leaving Homelander with no one to turn to for genuine affection. He found himself alone, with no one he trusts, and cornered. That’s when a deadly animal is most dangerous—especially on his birthday.
Homelander’s unscripted tirade during his live birthday celebration special was not the disaster everyone thought it would be. It was a totally different kind of disaster. His rant about Vought neutering and controlling him was actually a huge hit. It didn’t matter he told the entire world that he’s better and stronger than them, or that he’s a literal god and no one can stop him. They liked his honesty. As he said, he showed people the “real me” and they “f***ing love” him for it. Rather than realize they should be terrified of a murderous lunatic with unlimited power who thinks his equals are Jesus Christ and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the American people decided this he’s actually a down-to-Earth guy they’d like to get a beer with. What could go wrong!
Homelander told Starlight exactly what could go wrong. After he reasserted his authority by putting the Deep back on the team, she threatened to release the plane footage. Homelander didn’t cower like he did when Maeve first blackmailed him and he let Ryan go. This time, he told Starlight to do it. Everyone will hate him, sure. But while he’d prefer to be loved, he won’t allow that desire to keep him under anyone’s thumb any longer. Instead, he’ll respond by doing the other thing he cares about—doing whatever he wants.
That won’t end by making Starlight play his pretend girlfriend. When the whole world hates him he will take over the world. He’ll start by wiping out the US government, destroying New York City, and turning every place and everyone Starlight cares about into ashes. He will go full scorched-eyes on Earth. And he’ll enjoy every second of it.
We know he can do it. He has the capability and he’s a mass murderer with no remorse. We also know no one can stop Homelander yet. Butcher thinks he’s on the hunt for a weapon that might, but The Boys season three trailers have shown that effort might be futile. If Homelander decides at any moment to kill everyone on the planet, he can do it. Popularity is the only thing that has ever stopped him from doing that before, but those who knew how to leverage his weakness overplayed their hand. He’s not ready to call their bluff, he’s ready to flip over the table when they put their cards on it.
The Boys already had one of the scariest iterations of an a terrifying trope. An evil Superman is as horrifying as a good Superman is hopeful. But with Homelander ready to fully embrace who he is, the world has never been in more danger.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.