A recent episode of Amazon’s superhero satire The Boys ended with a great twist, as new heroine Stormfront – an apparently right-on, social media-savvy addition to The Seven played by Aya Cash – was actually revealed to be a psychotic racist, muttering racial slurs as she committed a gruesome murder in season two episode three’s final moments.
Really, we shouldn’t have been surprised. Pretty much every “supe” in The Boys has a dark side, from A-Train’s (Jessie T Usher) secret addiction to Homelander’s (Patrick Starr) continued egomania and violent outbursts, all feeding into the general “power corrupts” feel of the series – but as the action continues in The Boys’ second season, it becomes clear that Stormfront’s story is a little more involved than the usual superhero sadism.
Rather, the rise of Stormfront makes for an elegant analogy about the way that hate can be repackaged, sanitised and redirected online, to the same dark aims of division and violence that it’s always been striving towards – and if we’ve learned anything over the last decade or so, its that this online approach to spreading prejudice works.
“We wanted a character that when you first met her you’d be like, ‘Oh, wow. What a free thinker. She’s so attractive and interesting.’” showrunner Eric Kripke told The Wrap of his plans for Stormfront.
“And then you sort of reveal that she’s peddling the same s**t that people having been peddling for a thousand years.”
And in the series’ newly-released fourth episode this analogy becomes even clearer, with Hughie, Mother’s Milk and Starlight (Jack Quaid, Laz Alonso and Erin Moriarty) discovering that Stormfront has been around for a while, committing racist atrocities decades in the past under a different superhero identity.
Back then she was an All-American B-list hero called Liberty, but now she’s rebranded and repackaged herself to better sell her ideas to a new generation – and apparently in future episodes she’s set to use the threat of super-powered terrorists to stoke paranoia about immigrants and ethnic minorities crossing America’s borders.
“We sort of intentionally misdirected [her] in the beginning for the frankly disturbing reason that, if you look at a lot of nationalism and white supremacy these days, it’s online,” Kripke said.
“It couches itself in very savvy, friendly terms to attract young people. And we wanted to reflect that, because hate doesn’t come at you with a big neon sign that says, ‘Hey, we’re hate.’ They come at you in pretty insidious and attractive packages because they know how social media works.”
And the idea of repackaging prejudice goes further than The Boys’ script. In the original comic book written by Garth Ennis Stormfront is presented as a very different character, a male ex-member of the Hitler Youth and part of the Third Reich’s superhero programme who is brought to America and given a new backstory as a “reincarnated Viking” (which itself riffs on the Marvel character Thor).
The character’s name, incidentally, comes from a white supremacist, neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denying website called Stormfront founded in 1996, which itself hints at the evolving power of the internet in spreading dangerous messages.
Openly racist and an enthusiastic supporter of Nazism, the comic book Stormfront was a more explicit riff on fascism, which makes this new version of Stormfront all the more interesting. Today, hate and racism aren’t always right there in your face – they’re bubbling under the surface, hidden, less openly espoused but still worked towards.
And the new TV Stormfront shows just how appealing and persuasive these ideas can be when put in a new package, even for those who should know better. In this day and age, you need to pick your heroes carefully.
For more on The Boys season three, read our guide to Soldier Boy, the new character played by Jensen Ackles.
The Boys releases new episodes on Amazon Prime on Fridays. Want to watch something else? Check out our full TV Guide.